[ECLECTIC HIP-HOP] Expectations are high for 26-year-old Canadian rapper Rollie Pemberton, also known as Cadence Weapon. He was a poet laureate for his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, so people expect his music to be philosophical. He was a journalist and a full-time writer for Pitchfork, so his lyrics are expected to be full of literary references. And, he says, people often expect his real-life persona to be as serious and intricate as his music.
Pemberton does live up to some of those expectations: For example, he references Jean-Paul Sartre many times on his new album, Hope in Dirt City. But, when it comes down to it, the MC really just wants his listeners to expect one thing: to have fun.
"I want to enlighten people and make people feel good," Pemberton says. "I'm like a traveling fun machine for other people. Life is so fucked up. People need an escape. People need to listen to music, jump around and have fun. That's why I take it so seriously."
Pemberton has not always had this upbeat mindset. He describes himself as a shy person, stemming back to his days producing music on a laptop alone in his bedroom. That timidity stayed with him when he picked up a pen and started writing anything he could—whether it was a poem about Edmonton, a song about a girl or a review of a Ghostface Killah album.
Only now, after nearly a decade of performing and releasing music—he dropped his first project when he was 18—is he becoming "the life of the party." Maybe the transformation was to be expected: His late father was a well-known DJ and an ambassador of funk, soul and hip-hop in Edmonton, and Pemberton says he is becoming more like him everyday.
"He was always the person you wanted to be around," he says. "I feel like I'm becoming more like that. His influence is all over what I make, from the things he told me to the music I grew up with."
His father's influence can be heard on Hope in Dirt City, a project that constantly blurs genres, from the dub-tinged "Small Deaths" to the electro-laced "Crash Course for the Ravers." The album is deeper and more elaborate than his first two, featuring live instrumentation. And his lyrics are as dense and meditative as ever: On "Conditioning," Pemberton raps in his low gurgle of a voice about how the rough conditions around him growing up affected his physical well-being.
But the heaviness of the project should be taken lightly, Pemberton says. While dark in texture, Dirt City's overall themes are based in triumph. It's a survivor's soundtrack. As he has gotten older, Pemberton realizes more and more the importance of this type of music.
"I want people to reach a part of their brain they thought they didn't have access to normally," he says. "People will work the worst job ever, constantly struggling for money. [Music] is so important—there are people in the world that don't have that outlet."
SEE IT: Cadence Weapon plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., on Sunday, Oct. 28. 8:30 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.