Untitled 909 Podcast 186: Cadence Weapon

In the ever-evolving landscape of music, few artists possess the versatility and creative depth of Cadence Weapon. Born Rollie Pemberton in Edmonton, Canada, Cadence Weapon is not just a rapper but a true sonic visionary, seamlessly weaving his talents as a poet, writer, producer, and DJ into a unique tapestry that defies genre constraints. His innovative approach to hip-hop and electronic music has garnered critical acclaim, making him a defining voice in contemporary music.

Cadence Weapon’s journey began in the early 2000s, emerging from the vibrant underground scenes of Edmonton and Montreal. His early albums, “Breaking Kayfabe” and “Afterparty Babies,” showcased his ability to blend intricate lyricism with eclectic beats, earning him Polaris Prize nominations. But it was his relentless pursuit of musical exploration that truly set him apart, leading to collaborations with artists across genres and pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop could be.

His writing has seen Rollie appear on Pitchfork, The Guardian, Wired, The Globe and Mail and Hazlitt as well as publishing a memoir, Bedroom Rapper: Cadence Weapon on Hip-Hop, Resistance and Surviving the Music Industry in 2022. On his Substack, Rollie curates thoughtful essays, think pieces and recommendations, in a way that isn’t about going viral or maximising engagement. This has led to him writing about topics such as ways of digging for new music, what’s it like to tour in the pandemic era, what defines being a successful artist and much more.

Earlier this year, Rollie released the new, highly-collaborative album ‘ROLLERCOASTER’, marking his sixth full-length release. To celebrate the release, Rollie provides a mix filled with album influences, with most of the tracks aligning with the theme of technology. Diving more into the album theme and concept in the accompanying interview, we also chat through how each of his creative fields feed into each other, his approach to the album format, how Canada has influenced his work over the years and more.



Hey! How are you doing? What have you been up to lately?

I’ve been doing well! I’m on my way back to Edmonton for the Stanley Cup Finals. I wrote a song about Connor McDavid on the Oilers and I’m going to shoot a music video around all the fans celebrating. Other than that, I’ve just been hanging out at home with my son Yari, he’s eight months now. It’s been really amazing to see the world through his eyes.


Let’s start from the very beginning, what was your first introduction to music in general and then more specifically electronic music?

My dad was a radio DJ who specialized in funk, soul, R&B and rap so I grew up in a library of music. My initial introduction to electronic music was probably Nintendo video game soundtracks. I remember playing Mega Man and Double Dragon and falling in love with those glitchy theme songs. ‘80s synth pop was a big gateway for me too, stuff like “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Rock Me Amadeus.” Synthesizers made a major impression on me early on.


Who was the first artist or band that you were a fan of?

It might be James Brown. I used to run around the house dancing to his music when I was a small child.


Was there a formative moment growing up, whether that’s seeing your favorite band live or an incredible DJ set, that led you to this path?

One thing I always think about is seeing the video for “Lithium” by Nirvana. I remember the first time I saw it during the Wedge on MuchMusic. I felt really strongly that whatever they were doing was what I wanted to do with my life.


How does your environment inform your work?

Living in Canada lends itself to introspection and deep study. It’s snowing for half of the year so there’s plenty of time to do research and work on creative projects. The isolation, especially growing up in Edmonton which is more remote than other big cities in Canada, has had a positive impact on my work. I  feel like that contributes to it being different than other stuff out there.



You’ve just released your new album, ‘ROLLERCOASTER’, which the press release notes ‘addresses the contradictions of modern culture and technology over hyperpop and electro inspired production, intended to replicate the internet’s “sensory overload.”’ What inspired you to explore this narrative in an album?

I spent some time in Los Angeles when I first started working on the record. I noticed that everything was so optimized and futuristic there. Everyone was drinking some miracle serum or taking some mystery drug. Lots of the stores have you order at a kiosk, sometimes you don’t even interact with a human. It’s the physical representation of the internet. I wanted to analyze the human cost of this tech utopia in my music. I wanted to reflect on my formative experiences of the early internet, which feel really far removed from the way we use the web today.


What resources did you use for research and inspiration for this album?

A lot of going down the internet wormhole. I watched a documentary called We Live in Public that was very prescient in showing where the internet would eventually go. The Social Dilemma was also something that I watched that stuck with me. ‘80s synth pop with unconventional lyrics and topics inspired me, groups like New Musik, Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, New Order and D.A.F. Much of the album was influenced by my own experiences online, particularly as an artist attempting to reach my audience.


How do collaborations feed into ‘ROLLERCOASTER’? What is your approach to collaboration?

ROLLERCOASTER is one of my most collaborative albums. Most of the songs were made in the studio with the producer, usually from scratch. On this album, I was pretty clear about the themes and topics I wanted to approach from the outset so I’d share that info with my collaborators. I wanted to have as many voices as possible on the album, everything from working with Bartees Strange on the intro and interludes to having a non-musician doing one backing vocal. I love to connect with someone and feel the vibe in the same room whenever possible. I feel like you can really harness the magic and the songs come alive that way.


With this being your sixth studio album, what do you enjoy the most about the album format?

I feel like only recently am I getting comfortable with the album process after making music for two decades. You can stretch out and build a world on an album in a way that isn’t possible with just a single or an EP. It’s fun to weave themes throughout a record and leave breadcrumbs for listeners to discover. I absolutely love having thematic consistency over the span of a body of work. Some of my favourite songwriters like Lana Del Rey, Beyonce, Dan Bejar and Kendrick Lamar are incredible at world-building and making sure their work exists in conversation with itself.


Working within many creative fields including writing and poetry, how does each outlet feed into the wider Cadence Weapon story?

I usually have a lot of ideas but need different containers for them. The different mediums help me to organize my creativity. Music and writing are different sides of the brain for me. When I’m rapping, I’m going for a naturalistic performance or just trying to catch a vibe. When I’m writing, it’s very analytical. I’m trying to squeeze every drop out an idea. They used to be more separate but lately I’m noticing that when I write about a subject, it will later find its way into my music and vice versa.


You’ve contributed a mix for the 909 series, what’s the concept behind this one?

I leaned into a lot of ‘80s synthpop, techno and electro, I wanted to play some stuff that influenced the album weaved in with some of my tracks. Many of the songs have themes of technology.


A track you’re obsessed with at the moment?

“365” by Charli xcx. I’ve had that on repeat for the last little while. The whole Brat album is such an incredible feat of vulnerability. I appreciate her boldness and dedication to the album as an artform. I love how possessed she’s made her party girl persona on this song in particular, how she doesn’t go home, sleep or eat because she parties so much.


A recent discovery that you’re obsessed with or excited by?

I recently signed up for Tracklib and I’ve been having fun experimenting with it. I think I want to mostly self-produce my next album, maybe I’ll use some of their samples. The transparency around the sample clearing on there is really interesting to me.


What are you looking forward to the most for Summer 2024?

I’m playing Osheaga this year. My wife, son and I are gonna take our first road trip from Hamilton to Montreal and it’s an opportunity for my old pals to meet our baby for the first time. I can’t wait!


‘ROLLERCOASTER’ by Cadence Weapon is out now – buy here.