By: Gemma Mastroianni
Cadence Weapon (Roland Pemberton) is an Edmonton born and Toronto based rapper. He recently won the 2021 CBC Polaris Music Prize for his groundbreaking album “Parallel World” which captures many of the hardships and struggles we have gone through as a society over the past few years in an artistic and impactful light. Intrigued by this powerful album, I was honoured to have a chat with him and feature him as our artist of the month.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I'm a rapper and producer. I like to think of myself as making my own Canadian grime music. I make underground rap with an electronic edge.
That's a great description. When did you start making music?
In junior high when I was thirteen.
What or who inspired you to start making music?
Well, my Dad was a hip hop DJ and he had a radio show called ‘The Black Experience in Sound’ on CJSR in Edmonton, which is where I'm originally from. I grew up with rap around the house all the time, you know, so I was just always listening to it. It was something that I kind of picked up. I also had a friend in math class and he started writing some raps to me and I sort of ran back and passed notes, and that's really how I started rapping.
Fantastic. Back in those days, who were some of your early artist inspirations?
Paroahe Monch, Aphex Twin, and even some others artists who weren’t rappers really influenced me back then.
In terms of ‘Parallel World’ I absolutely love the record. How long did it take you to make and where did you spend most of your time writing it?
It actually came to me quite quickly. I really have been going through the whole pandemic, and I started writing it in July of last year, and completed it around December and January. I wrote it here in Toronto and I recorded at a Greenhouse Studios and it came together quite quickly.
When you were recording, how long were your sessions typically?
Usually I would do a night session and record only in three hour blocks, usually between eight and 11 p.m., sometimes later. I usually will write up the songs at home and then I'll come to the studio and be prepared and ready to record with my engineer. And then we'll just be going back and forth until we have something that's really solid.
The record obviously tackles a variety of different social issues. Can you further describe the concept of this album and what sparked your interest in creating this project?
Well, I was really inspired by the George Floyd protests, I think that was one of the things that really set me off working on this record. But it was really just the stuff that was resulting from the murder of George Floyd. When you're seeing all these different institutions talking about systemic racism for the first time, all these businesses being like, ‘We stand with Black Lives Matter,’ I mean thing to really like, deconstruct why these businesses are doing that and seeing how some of these decisions are taken can take huge businesses weren't able to handle, you know? The pressure of the pandemic is everything.
They need to think about deconstructing our society in general, which is what this record really is about. It’s these thoughts and ideas I've had for a long time, especially as a black person just thinking about Institutional racism and micro-aggressions, but which they explain that, you know, they've always been on my mind. Seeing this perspective being shown back to me by the media really made me want to go harder on this subject.
I have so much respect for that and I absolutely love the title as well. I think it's a really good description of where we're at as a society and as a world. Did you decide the title before or after writing the record?
I came up with it afterwards and was thinking about the album. I didn't have a title for it but the more I realized, basically, you have seen people walking down the street and living in the same city and having some of the same circumstances, but they might live their lives completely different, depending on their race. They can live in totally parallel worlds, right?
That was like really the big idea that was the primary meaning around it. It was also the idea of being stuck in my house for so long, with lockdowns and everything and just thinking about how music has been this great escape for me and the idea of creating a parallel world for people to be in, you know, when we were all stuck in that place.
Absolutely. In terms of creating the album, what are some key pieces of gear that you use to make the album?
I used the microphone U87 Vintage (not AI.)
In terms of the album art, the colour palette is gorgeous. Who shot and edited it? And where did the concept come from?
So the cover is designed by Scott Pilgrim and yes, that was real name. He was the creative director for the album, and he is an old friend of mine.
We originally were just doing a photoshoot and we were like, ‘Let's create some press photos with experimental beers.’ So we were doing a lot of photos that were using screens that you could take photographing for a screen or we were using like mirrors in my work gear and stuff and photographing the mirror with me, reflecting it. So we were doing a lot of messing with perception and that was just one where it's a motion thing rather than moving really quickly. And it was kind of just a happy accident. When I looked at it I was like, “That's the cover.”
I knew it would be the cover, you know, so that's the thing. And it's not treated at all, it's just the regular photograph.
It really was poignant because it is how I feel when I'm on my phone. It’s a visual representation of being on Twitter; this kind of overwhelming feeling of ‘Wow, I'm getting so much information, I can't handle it,’ That's what I felt like.
What a cool story. Just looking at it right now, you wouldn't think it's just a photograph. It looks like it could also be a painting.
The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) actually wrote about the album cover and you know, it felt great. I thought that was very rad, that they did that.
That's really, really cool.
You obviously have a ton of different collaborations on the album. Could you tell me what your approach is to collaboration? And do you have any tips you can share on making that process as seamless as possible?
Yeah, I mean, it was definitely challenging because it was all done remotely. I mean, with the pandemic, that was our only option at the time. But over the last few years, I got more into collaboration. I used to just make all of my music totally by myself. I would produce it alI by myself and it was very insular from probably my first three albums but, over the last two albums and particularly this one, I really got more into working with the outside producers and, you know, sharing ideas, whereas like they seem to be and then like I do with them over it, and then we change elements of the beat based on how I recorded or new ideas.
When it comes to working with other artists and other vocalists it is definitely a lot of sending ideas back and forth.
I know you just got back from touring. Being an artist from Toronto, what is your favorite venue to perform at in this city and why?
I think my favorite place to play is The Garrison, and that's where I played a couple of shows. They were all socially distanced and really seeded shows. I played two shows right before my tour and at the end of September. And there's just something about that room where I feel really comfortable there. I feel like I have had so many good nights there, and there's just something about it that feels like a classic venue, you know?
That is probably my favourite place to play, but a place I really want to play in the future is Massey Hall. If my big dream right now is that I want to play, and be all like Neil Young or something and maybe record it, you know?
That venue is stunning. It's for sure one of my favourites in the city, and I'm so excited it's reopening.
Congratulations on winning the Polaris Music Prize! What does this mean for you in terms of what's next?
Well, I feel like it is very life changing for me. It definitely puts me in really great company. You know, all these artists like Arcade Fire and Kaytranada. And, you know, we don't have the answer. Like Belkacem releases all these amazing artists, and now I'm like alongside them. So it feels really good. I feel like it's really just going to help me translate my ideas for my next record in the next project that I want to have. I feel like this is going to make things a little bit easier because now I can come in there and be like, ‘Hey, let's collab.’ I just want to play as grace, you know, playing it like I have a new calling card or something.