Cadence Weapon—AKA Rollie Pemberton—has been at the forefront of experimental hip-hop for over a decade.
Whether he's publishing poetry or pushing the limits of beat-making and creating, Cadence Weapon is constantly bucking conformity.
I remember the first time I heard "Black Hand" (From 2005’s Breaking Kayfabe). The production blew my mind—sounds swirled into colors upon first listen. His tradition of pioneering sound and pushing boundaries continues on his freshly released Self-Titled album. We caught up to talk collaboration and true independence. Read the interview and grab his exclusive free sample pack at Wavy.Audio
What was the process behind your new self-titled record?
It was a very different process than what I normally do. Usually I make all my own beats—my last three albums were like that, I self-produced everything.
But one of the main ideas behind this album was collaboration. I wanted it to be less of a solitary process. I felt like you could hear that in some of the previous music I made—like it was just the mind of one person, a solo expression in a way that was almost kind of lonely.
This time around, I decided to link up with different people for the production and go to their studio. We would hang out and come up with ideas. For example, two of the beats are by Jacques Greene—"The Host " and "High Rise." The idea was: "let's just get together, jam out and see what happens." That's definitely not my typical process for making music, and it's been very fun.
There's a lot of different producers on this album: Kaytranada, FrancisGotHeat... I linked up with this guy named Gibbs from Ottawa, and we made about 20 songs together. We caught a vibe! Two of them made it on the album, Soju and Own This.
The reason for me to collaborate so much on this record—aside from my music being so solitary before—is also because I had a realization about production.
When I do an album, produce all the music, write all the lyrics, it's a lot of work. It would get to a point where I was also mixing it myself. My mind was very fractured in that process. So when I have other people doing production, I'm way more focused on the lyrics. I think that comes through a lot on this album—I really put a lot of thought into what I'm saying.
One of the main ideas behind this album was collaboration. I wanted it to be less of a solitary process.
Do you identify with the idea of an independent musician or DIY? What's your thinking about that concept nowadays?
The idea of being an independent artist has changed so much over even 10 years. I don't think ‘indie’ exists anymore, because there's so few companies that are actually independent. The label I'm signed to is an indie label technically, eOne Music Canada. But they're also a very large corporation. So there's a weird duality with that.
But I still think of myself as an independent artist. I've always considered myself to be an experimental musician because I combine all these electronic music influences with rap. I always felt like I was the only person who made music like this. And I feel like that is the real essence of my music. That freedom to experiment is very important to me.
Independence is a big theme on the album—self-reliance and knowledge itself. These are things that I've thought about a lot, not just in moving from one place to another. It’s been shaped by my experiences with my old record label and my old management. I was dealing with a lot of people who didn't have my best interest in mind. So it's about taking back control over what I'm doing. I feel like ever since I've done that, things have been so much better. I’m in charge of my own career more. A lot of the album is about that.
You wear many hats: you're a rapper, but also a poet, journalist, narrator, producer and DJ. In your song "Large," you talk about making those side hustles work. What's your take on that?
It's a necessity nowadays, I think. One of the things you need to do is look at history, because if you don't look at history, you're doomed to repeat the past.
I look at the history of rappers that I grew up listening to who are no longer active anymore. They were really stubbornly focused on one thing: "I'm gonna rap, and do it this way, and do this for 20 years." And they don't have anything else going on. And I never wanted to be like that—even though it's never been a conscious decision. I've always tried to be creative in whatever way I felt like at the time.
So that leads me to go into different periods of creativity, where I'll feel like “this is album time.” So I want to do an album right now. Or I'll write a book of poetry right now. I feel like I'll always be like that. The recurring theme with all of this is that there is musicality to everything I do.
It used to be that labels dictated the terms, now it's coming the other way around. Now they're playing catch up.
Now with the internet, the independent side-hustle is getting bigger. The internet provides an infrastructure to do it. You can now just make music and put it on SoundCloud. It's a roll of dice to get heard by the right person. It's a democratization of the music industry. It used to be that labels dictated the terms, now it's coming the other way around. Now they're playing catch up.
I don't think ‘indie’ exists anymore, because there's so few companies that are actually independent.
One of the things you need to do is look at history, because if you don't look at history, you're doomed to repeat the past.
I wanted it to be an album that you could put on and listen to the whole album in your house. You can do stuff around while it's playing.
Where does LANDR fit into that picture for you? How does it fit for independent artists at large?
My favourite way of using LANDR is to test mixes out when I'm traveling. It gives me a chance to experiment with how the final version of songs will sound in a way that I wasn't able to do in the past.
I also like how it democratizes mastering and makes it less of a scary thing for young artists to think about.
In an interview you talked about how putting out music for free is the right way to gain an audience. What's your take on that now?
I think it depends on the kind of music you're making. But I generally do think that it's a good way of thinking. You'll see it with certain artists, SoundCloud rappers like Lil Peep—they're just flooding the world with so much music, and getting exponentially more fans. I guess the idea is that if a person doesn't like one song, maybe they'll like the next one. And you keep giving them a chance to like you.
Where I'm at in my career though, releasing physical records really appeals to me—having it at the store. My new album is getting pressed on vinyl. But I also feel like with Spotify, music is basically free. If someone wants to listen to my album, they don't have to pay for it. And I think that's better than the way it used to be, where if somebody leaked your album it was the end of your life—the worst thing that could possibly happen. And you would just never make any money from that record ever.
But now with Spotify that's changed. And that's one of the only good things about the streaming era. You don't have people out there on black market websites trying to download an MP3 of an album. That feels really gauche now.
Do you also collect vinyl yourself?
I love vinyl, I have a bunch of records. I kind of changed the way I think about records. I used to collect all my favourite singles to DJ with. Now, I listen to vinyls more domestically. I want all my favorite albums ever and I want to have the hard copy, so I can put it on when I'm cooking. That was a weird thing that influenced this album: I wanted it to be an album that you could put on and listen to the whole album in your house. You can do stuff around while it's playing. I always felt like the music I made was super intense and you had to focus only on that. This time around, I want to give people a choice.
What are some of the topics on your mind that made into songs on your new album?
There's a few themes that were present when I was making this album: the idea of self-reliance, independence and knowledge of self—getting to know yourself and who you really are. I think that's something that happens when you get older and I've seen it happen for myself.
Another recurring theme in the last part of the album—the last three songs—is all about conspicuous consumption and our relationship to products and technology. I've found myself wrapped up in how I engage with social media and technology. In the song "Infinity Pool," I talk about the experience where I almost fell off a mountain cliff trying to take a selfie for my Instagram story. That would have been so embarrassing if I died doing that!
There's also a lot of meditations on what I call 'dancefloor politics' on this album. The song "System" is all about micro-aggressions. Whether you're a black man or a woman, there are different little things that can happen to you over the span of a day. Going to the club is supposed to be a release for it, and sometimes it doesn't work out that way—even though that's what we're searching for when we go to the club. I love analyzing stuff like that, rapping from different perspectives, thinking about how other people feel.
I haven't put out an album since 2012, it feels good! But I was doing stuff the whole time, I've been productive and alive.
To quote Andre 3000: "You're only as funky as your last cut" ... it's a nice feeling to have something new out there!