Although each Cadence Weapon album could be billed as his 'return to form,' the truth is that the Toronto-via-Edmonton rapper has never lost his form in the first place. But it may be the infrequency in which Rollie Pemberton releases his albums that makes each one a standout event.
On his fifth full-length, Parallel World, you can tell just how hard Pemberton works on his craft, ensuring the album's 10 tracks don't just pass by passively. His beats are exploratory, his flow enormously flexible, his guests relevant and his lyrics eloquent. Although it's been three years since his stellar self-titled album, Pemberton has kept himself extremely busy. He's made music with Montreal electronic producer Jacques Greene, acted in Sean Nicholas Savage's Please Thrill Me musical, written a forthcoming book, been a mentor at the Banff International Songwriter Residency and advocated for the Edmonton CFL team's name change. This may be why Pemberton sounds so confident and poised on tracks like on the rubbery tongue-twister "Play No Games."
Although the record clocks in at a brisk 27 minutes, Pemberton nonetheless packs the album with a bevy of ideas and moods, from the brief Kool Keith-style futurist opener "Africville's Revenge" to the minimal whisper rap closer "Connect." Though the music of Parallel World is powerful, the message is infinitely more so. The bouncy "On Me" (featuring grime MC Manga Saint Hilaire) has the duo rapping about facial recognition technology's links to racial discrimination, while the plain-spoken but commanding "Skyline" explores Pemberton's struggles with gentrification within the city of Toronto, featuring the immortal couplet, "Ford Nation's for the corporation but he don't care about the public / Whenever we ask for what we need he says there's no room in the budget." "Eye to Eye" explores his fear of being targeted by the cops for the colour of his skin. Even when Pemberton switches gears to boast on the dank "Ghost" (featuring a bone-shaking turn from Backxwash) and the jittery "Hard to Find," he still manages to come off commanding and stimulating.
Although producers Greene (on the aforementioned "SENNA") and Jimmy Edgar (on the Fat Tony-guesting "Water") disappointingly deliver of-the-moment trap beats that just yearn to sound dated by decade's end, Pemberton still figures out how to save those tracks with his buoyance and clever songwriting skills. While it's true that Rollie Pemberton is known to release music on his own unpredictable schedule, Parallel World proves that a Cadence Weapon record is always an event. (eOne)
-Daniel Sylvester, exclaim.ca
Will the third time be the charm for Edmonton-born, Toronto-based Cadence Weapon?
With the rapper’s latest opus, “Parallel World,” contending for Monday’s $50,000 Polaris Music Prize with 10 other worthy contenders, will Cadence, a.k.a. Rollie Pemberton, enjoy a victory lap following previous Top 10 finishes for his albums “Hope in Dirt City” and “Breaking Kayfabe”?
“I’ve been saying that I don’t want to be the Susan Lucci of Polaris,” joked Pemberton, reached in Montreal before an appearance at that city’s Pop Montréal International Music Festival, and days before local appearances at the Garrison Sept. 28 and 29.
Soap opera fans know full well who Lucci is: the “All My Children” actor whose Daytime Emmy nominations became a running joke. Nominated for Best Actress 21 times beginning in the late 1970s, Lucci won once, in 1999.
Unlike Lucci, Pemberton hasn’t been relegated to one role when it comes to churning out his astute hip-hop observations, always changing it up and being rewarded for his stylistic reinvention.
His fifth album, “Parallel World” mixes electronic synth sound effects with themes of social injustice.
“There’s a few themes that I’m really homing in on, but I think the main one is about systemic inequality and the many forms that it takes on in our lives, especially with regards to racialized people,” Pemberton said. “Even on a song like ‘On Me,’ I’m talking about surveillance and specifically how it affects us … the idea of facial recognition technology — faulty when it involves a Black face — and that’s something that’s important to me to talk about.”
Are we making ourselves and our personal information too available?
“Definitely,” Pemberton said. “I think the big lesson with ‘On Me’ is that we do so much of this stuff voluntarily that we don’t really examine it and it becomes normalized. My role as an artist is to point out things and hopefully you can interpret them in whatever way you want.
“People perceive what I do in different ways: many feel that my music is dystopian … For some, it’s a dystopian future but, for me, it’s a dystopian present. I’m just reflecting what I see in the world as it is.”
“Eye To Eye” is about racial profiling, inspired by a 2020 incident in New York’s Central Park involving a Black man named Christian Cooper and a white woman named Amy Cooper (no relation). She “tried to weaponize the police on him. She was Canadian, but that was just another thing that wasn’t just a Canadian issue,” Pemberton said.
“There’s also the erasure of Black Canadian history, inspired by me living up on Eglinton West and seeing what was happening with Little Jamaica and the Crosstown LRT construction. The history of this is happening not only around North America, but in Canada in places like Amber Valley or Africville.”
Formerly Edmonton’s poet laureate, Pemberton said he’s not holding anything back on “Parallel World.”
“These are things that I had tapped into in the past, but never this overtly,” he said. “I think I would analyze things here and there, but never with the level of specificity that I do here.
“The thing that really tipped off for me was the George Floyd protest last summer, when I was starting to see how getting people organized can really have an effect, you know. I was thinking of ways of doing it through my music but also my platform … for instance, that I made a tweet comparing the (Adamson BBQ owner) Adam Skelly GoFundMe campaign and the amount of money that was raised for that versus the GoFundMe launched for Black business in Little Jamaica.”
Skelly is the Toronto restaurateur who opened an unlicensed establishment in defiance of pandemic lockdown orders in 2020, was arrested and raised more than $341,000 toward legal fees.
The GoFundMe set up to create grants for Little Jamaica businesses disrupted by LRT construction has raised only $44,483.
“When I posted the GoFundMe of Little Jamaica, thousands of dollars came in,” Pemberton said. “And I’ve been thinking like, ‘Wow, saying things like that can really have an effect. How can I do that more with my music?’”
He found some of that answer during the pandemic, which he found creatively galvanizing.
“For me, it really brought me back to when I first started working on music, which was in isolation, on my own, and it really made me feel like I was a teenager again … back in my mom’s attic making beats again,” he said. “ And I feel like I haven’t been able to have that level of sustained focus that I had while making this album since my very first album in 2005.
“There were no shows, no tours and not as many distractions, especially during the early part of the pandemic, because you can’t go anywhere. That actually had a really productive effect on me. I didn’t know what to expect, it was such an uncommon situation, but I completed an album and I’m nearly done a book.”
The book, called “Bedroom Rapper,” to be published in May 2022 by McClelland & Stewart, “is mostly autobiographical with an element of cultural criticism, deconstructing different elements of my career, but using them to talk about larger subjects.”
The night after he performs his final show at the Garrison, he and rapper Fat Tony fly to Denver for a three-week tour of the U.S.
“I couldn’t be happier to be doing shows,” Pemberton said. “It really is one of the great joys of my life and I’m seeing a greater significance in it than ever since the pandemic. I really realized that virtual can’t take the place of a real show and I feel like I’m providing a really important public service, especially in fraught times where people can have some relief.
“I played a festival in Sudbury called Up Here, and I’ve played Rouyn-Noranda and northern Quebec. I’m playing places that don’t get shows all the time, you know? It becomes a lot more meaningful.”
“Parallel World” contributor Backxwash, last year’s Polaris Music Prize winner, joined him on the Quebec date earlier this month after he invited her to work on the track “Ghost.”
“Once I saw her win Polaris, I was so excited about that record because it was nice to see some weird rap be successful in Canada and I instantly felt a kinship,” Pemberton said.
Now that “Parallel World” is on the books, Pemberton is planning the next Cadence Weapon album and looking to make a significant statement.
“I already have a pretty good idea of where I want to go with this and, for me, the next record is definitely going to be going deeper into themes of Black identity and relating physically to the African diaspora.
“I really want to make a multimedia experience. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time but didn’t really have the capacity before, and now I think I’m ready to do it.”
-Nick Krewen, thestar.com