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First Play: Cadence Weapon, self-titled

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Melody Lau

Editor's note: strong language warning.

Rollie Pemberton likes to recite famous quotes. He quickly becomes self-conscious of the number of sayings he slings around in our hour-long conversation, but each of them works in the context of the discussion surrounding his work ethic, his outlook on life and his latest self-titled album, his first under his moniker of Cadence Weapon in five years.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned,” a well-known Leonardo Da Vinci quote, is just one of the few he rhymes off. This one is meant to explain the process behind his new record, which took shape differently from his previous ones, in a few ways.

First, Pemberton wrote nearly 100 songs for the album. It’s a speed and workflow that he mostly credits to his move to Toronto two and a half years ago. “I feel like I’ve made twice as much music here than I did when I lived in Montreal,” the Edmonton native admits. But, as someone who almost never wrote more than he needed, how did he whittle down all that work into one cohesive album?

“It’s a lot of refinement,” he admits. “You can do it forever…. I tried to do it forever. But eventually, you’ve got to stop.” So, he had to learn to let go. That strategy to constantly revise things, though, worked in Pemberton’s favour. With new ideas percolating along the way, he was able to improve with each try and, with the help of producers who took the reins on beats for the first time, Pemberton was focused on strengthening his storytelling and rapping.

And it has definitely paid off: Pemberton takes on each producer’s sonic soundscapes with a looseness that allows him to soar. On “Destination,” he coolly bops along to Harrison’s shimmering funk rhythms; he tangos between the lines of “Infinity Pool” and on standout track and single, “My Crew (Woooo),” Pemberton is a nimble force as he sprints through Kaytranada’s futuristic bounce.

That collaborative spirit is the second notable change in Pemberton’s process that has allowed him to achieve some of his most “autobiographical” work yet. In this open space, his monologues become dialogues; his walk down memory lane on “Five Roses” is amplified by the voice of Blue Hawaii’s Raphaelle Standell-Preston; and his thoughts on dancefloor politics ("System") are echoed by Brendan Philip.

It’s a record that invites listeners in and finds us truly getting to know Pemberton on a new level. Perhaps, in the near future, this album will inspire some famous quotes of his own.

More to explore:

The rebirth of Cadence Weapon: how the rapper is making his biggest shift yet

10 Canadian albums to look forward to in 2018

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