Cadence Weapon

Cadence Weapon
Back with a hot new album, Cadence Weapon remains one of the most interesting and dynamic hip-hop artists in the world. From the great Champion City of Edmonton, Alberta, he emerged out of virtually nowhere to become a critic’s favourite with his 2006, Polaris Prize-nominated album, Breaking Kayfabe and he’s toured the world over ever since. He’s so convincing as an artist, he signed a unique record deal with the prestigious American label, Anti- Records but is sticking with Upper Class Records here in Canada for his latest album, Afterparty Babies — another challenging, surprising, and innovative record.

I understand that Afterparty Babies has a coming-of-age concept floating within it, specifically when it comes to young celebrity culture. Can you maybe speak to that and elaborate on whether you’re exploring any specific themes here?
Well, that’s definitely one aspect of the album. I wanted to make a time capsule for a certain period of time in my life, mainly based on the summer of 2006 — the people I was meeting, experiences I was having, and independence. But it’s definitely rooted in how the youth culture will appropriate media culture in general. Like how people will be more interested in People magazine and stuff, or the whole new rave bit. It’s just that, what people do and why they do it interests me a lot.

So, it’s like the activity being reflected back at people by the media and them actually going to the media as their primary source, rather than living the experience themselves?
Yeah, totally, yeah; it’s a weird mirror effect.

It is kind of strange. Are you yourself an "afterparty baby” then?
Well, that’s the idea I guess. At the time of making the album, it was a weird gestation because originally I was making an album about housing.

Right, there’s still a few references to real estate and homes.
Uh-huh, but I think I managed to spin that enough so that I could make house music about house music. Or houses. "House house.”

[Laughs] Right. But yeah, with Afterparty Babies, I was thinking about my dad and it was something he used to call me occasionally. Like, "Rollie? Yeah, he’s an afterparty baby, for sure.” I used to think that meant I was an accident or whatever but I talked to my mom and she’s like, "Uh no, you weren’t an accident but you were conceived after a party.”

Yeah, it’s interesting that you draw a connection between "accidents” and "afterparty babies.” It seems to me that, what better time to make a baby — so to speak — then after a party? That’s when you’re feeling all good and happy. Why does it have to be an accident?
Well, I just assume that you’re drunk and it’s like, "Whoops.” Sure, maybe you have the baby making mentality but maybe you didn’t want to and you were drunk and you did it. "Whoops.”

Ah, right. Accidents do happen in that state; that’s true. Well, one of the most striking aspects of your approach to hip-hop is your production and choice of backing tracks. Afterparty Babies is being described as a "dance rap party epic” and I’ve heard other people describe it as a hip-hop videogame in terms of the sound. How would you describe this record sonically and how it relates to your artistic aesthetic as a whole?
I never really set out to make completely different sounds for this album. The way I make beats is fairly organic; it’s based on the way I’m feeling and the concepts around the songs. It turned out that all these songs about houses and people I know ended up turning into dance-rap records.
I would say that I have this problem; I don’t want to be pigeon-holed ever. So, I think, subconsciously, I will try and make every album I do completely different. Like, almost completely not connected to the last album and I feel that this is the same thing. I completely tried to get away from the video game sound so it’s funny that you said that [laughs]. There’s definitely one song that is more video game-y than the rest.

Right, "Limited Edition OJ Slammer.”
Yeah.

That’s a unique title by the way…
Well, lemme tell you, that song is all about pogs.

Oh. Like Pictionary pogs?
Yeah. Specifically when I was growing up, I had this pog slammer and it was a gold-plated razor blade with a caricature of O.J. Simpson on it in the Bronco and it said, "The Juice is Loose” on it. I felt like this was the perfect metaphor for celebrity culture. Can you believe that?

That’s great; unbelievable.
And what am I doing? I’m like nine years old, how do I even know what this means? It was heavier than most slammers, like fake metal or something, so I had a distinct advantage in the pog game.

Let me ask you this: do you think O.J. did it?
He definitely did it.

Now which "did it” are you referring to: the extortion for his Heisman Trophy or whatever it was, or the Nicole Brown-Ron Goldman horrible tragedy there?
Here are things I think O.J. did: both of those, and won the Heisman Trophy.

That is true. That’s pretty clear that he won that trophy.
Oh, and he never won a Super Bowl; that too.

What is going on with O.J. or what is wrong with him that he does these things?
You know, I’ll tell you what it is: I think he’s just really bored. There are no Naked Gun movies to make right now, so he feels he needs to be in the spotlight. So, kill some people that are close to you…

You think that’s the rationale? I mean, maybe he’s just a bad guy. Like Michael Jordan never... actually Michael Jordan has had his fair share of post-career issues.
Michael Jordan’s a bad guy too. I think there’s a thing about really competitive people like that, that really draws them to be psychos in the rest of their life. Like, I wouldn’t want to meet Magic Johnson because I think Magic Johnson would punch me in the face for no reason. You wouldn’t wanna hang out with people like this, like Mike Tyson. Mike Tyson, I feel like he’s completely crazy but in a different way, like almost a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest sort of thing. Like, he’s placid now and he’s not gonna bite your ear off because it’s like he’s had electroshock therapy.

See, I think that Mike Tyson is completely aware of what he’s doing.
Have you seen him lately?

I, no I don’t think I have actually.
He’s got a tattoo on his face!

Oh no, I’ve seen that, yeah. He’s had that for a while. The issue with him is, you see him before a fight and he’s crazy. Like at the press conferences and things. Then at the fight, he’ll completely loose, and then at the end he’ll be kind of complacent and like, "Yeah, I can’t do this anymore, I don’t wanna do this any more.” He’ll just say he’s being forced to do it. So, the insanity is all contrived bravado really.
It is now I’d say. When he first came out he was just this crazy street kid who was actually crazy. Now, I think he’s been a little domesticated. I think of him kinda like a dog in that way.

Yes, yes [laughs].
Yes; he’s a dog.

I hope Mike Tyson doesn’t read this interview.
I really hope not. But now, when you see him on Jimmy Kimmel, he’s so relaxed. I feel like that last time he had a fight, he was like "I’m gonna eat your children” and that bit, and then he got killed. Like, what happened to you?

Yeah, he didn’t do so well. I was just on YouTube the other day and found this amazing clip of the Arsenio Hall Show with Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Sugar Ray Leonard.
What was that like?

It’s pretty great. Ali was the principal guest and Arsenio was the king of walk-ons. Like, he doesn’t really announce it and then Tyson and Sugar Ray just walked out and sat beside him and it became this crazy thing. One time he had Eddie Murphy on, and Michael Jackson just walks out and gives Eddie some kind of award.
That show was pretty cool because it was completely open-ended. Just like, "And here’s Bell Biv DeVoe,” and they’d just start playing or something y’know?

Yeah, it was a good show. Any way, we’ve really digressed here.
[Laughs] Yeah!

I wanted to ask about your lyrics a bit because I think you present a unique perspective on pop culture in your songs. At the same time, I feel like you have a pretty specific sense of humour and many of the songs are kind of inside and personal. I mean, there are many instances on Afterparty Babies where you openly chuckle at things and people might be like, "What’s so funny?” Do you think you’re amusing and entertaining yourself and maybe your friends before your audience?
Yeah, for sure. I personally like, when I listen to a record, and it’s an alternate reality or somebody else’s language with different meanings behind things. When I listen to grime coming out of the UK, I have no idea what they’re talking about half the time; they’re talking about places, things, and slang that I don’t understand but I appreciate where they’re coming from and that it’s different, y’know?

This record really seems to centre more on things happening in Edmonton. Is that fair?
No, definitely, this record is more Edmonton-centric than Breaking Kayfabe was for sure.

And the album cover features you with a bunch of people behind you. Can you explain that?
Yeah, we took the photograph in the basement of the Black Dog, this pub in Edmonton. It’s kind of like a high school class photo except that it’s like the class of 2007 hipsters. Like "Hipster High.”

They’re not all afterparty babies necessarily?
No, no, not really. I feel like, more than anything, the album’s about my friends, so I thought, "Why not put as many of my friends on the cover as possible, right?” I also tried to get a lot of people who were involved in making the album, like DJ Nato and Nik Kozub from Shout Outs, and other musicians from the scene. I also have ex-girlfriends I’m talking about in the photo and my current girlfriend is in there.

Wow, that’s pretty bold.
Well, who knows who she is, right?

Well, we don’t know again but you would know of course.
I do know.

You should know those things.
Yeah, I know what my girlfriend looks like. But yeah, I wanted to make more mystery out of it. I like that; I like the idea of "Oh, I wonder who Audra is in this photograph?”

Yeah, yeah or "Stephanie,” whose name keeps coming up.
Stephanie is not in the photograph. She didn’t show up.

Oh. Out of spite?
She told me she forgot.

You’ve dedicated the whole record to her and you write, "I’m sorry for everything.”
Yup.

Okay, and that’s just some enigmatic thing that we’re going to have to live with?
Well, I mean I did write a whole song about part of it. I might have to make a remix of that song one day that has all the dumb shit I did.

Is it fair to say then that you do miss your friends? You have a song called "Do I Miss My Friends”?
Yeah, that’s all about touring and coming to terms with the fact that I’m not going to have a normal coming-of-age. I’m gone all the time and I felt during that period that it wasn’t really likely that I’d be able to have normal stuff like other people, like a girlfriend or stability. I had a severe lack of stability and I felt like my friends weren’t necessarily there for me.

Even though, in real terms, you weren’t there for them — you were gone.
Yeah, it really is my fault in the end but when I was there, I was feeling like, "Will I miss these people when I’m gone anyway?” In "In Search of the Youth Crew,” when I’m like, "I remember that summer up in the crib,” it was the summer of 2006, just hanging out perpetually in my living room playing Halo and then going to a club called Halo in this routine that we got into. By the end of the summer, I was feeling kinda burnt out and was like, "Who are these people I’m hanging out with? What do they stand for? Why am I hanging out with them? Who are my real friends?”

Yeah, that comes across in the song. It’s a very captivating opener because it’s low-key and reflective. Moving on, you continue to quote Bob Dylan songs here; I caught two things.
Okay? I know one of them off-hand but what’s the other one?

Well, you quote "Blowin’ in the Wind” overtly but another time you — and it could be a reference to the Chemical Brothers — but I think it’s "Like a Rolling Stone” when you say, "How does it feel?”
Yes, yes!

So that’s Dylan?
That’s Dylan.

That is Dylan. Are you proud of me for catching that one?
I am really proud of you because I feel like some times people do not actually listen to my lyrics, ever. I feel like they’re completely not cognisant of what I’m doing because I’m highly referential of different things and even myself and my own other songs.

There are also subtle disses and I like that. On the last one, you made fun of Talib Kweli for his punch lines and on this one you make fun of Common a little bit…
Yeah, totally, totally! I mean, I used to be a huge Common fan — don’t get me wrong. It’s so funny. I truly believe that it’s like complete off-beat rapping back in the day and I used to love his style…

I think it’s funny that it’s very precise criticisms.
[Laughs] But now, he’s trying really hard to sound tough some times and it’s really funny to me. Like, he used to be the world’s softest artist and now he’s extremely tough. It’s pretty cool. I’m glad, I’m glad you’re catching this.

I’m trying to catch some things and I do what I can. Obviously you can only catch things in your frame of reference, right? I gravitated towards things that are slightly more popular. It’s funny because, as you know, my wife is from Edmonton and so I can catch some of the geography and metropolitan references. At the same time, I can see how someone would be like, "I don’t get this record.”
Oh yeah, totally.

Back to Dylan; is he a favourite musician of yours?
Yeah, yeah, he’s one of my primary lyrical influences. I’ve recently been most influenced by folk artists lyrically, like him and Leonard Cohen’s stuff. Leo’s the homeboy for sure. The whole idea behind folk music that I find so interesting is that it’s socially aware and specifically about people and life going on around the artist at the time. So, I wanted to make a vital, current album that is completely about what’s going on right now. I feel like people try to get away from that and make something "timeless.” I feel that if you try to make something timeless, it’s instantly not gonna be timeless. But, by completely dating myself on purpose, I think it’s more likely that people will regard it highly in the future.

That makes a bizarre kind of sense but it makes sense. Finally, I’m wondering where your head’s at these days with this great new record coming out on a prominent record label. Have you thought much about where things might go for Cadence Weapon in the next few months or are you just taking things as they come along?
I feel like I’m gonna be rapping everywhere more, which is okay with me. I like rapping at people and I like rapping with people and to them as well. A lot of people think that this album could be a lot bigger for me than the last one and that would be cool.

Well, for one thing, you’ve got more of an international perch with Anti-. That must feel good?
Yeah, it definitely does. I’m really excited to see what all these developments will mean when the album comes out. So much stuff has been going on: I’ve got the Big Dada deal in the UK, Epitaph/Anti- in the States so, I dunno. It should really pop off; that’d be cool.

Ultimately it’s up to you though isn’t it in terms of how hard you tour and stuff?
Yeah, that’s true. I’m willing to tour for a full year or something, like straight. It doesn’t bother me.

And is DJ Weez-l still with you?
Oh yes. Weez-l has stood the test of time.

[Laughs] He didn’t always seem like he’d stand the test of time but I think I can see him being solid as a rock.
If he doesn’t fall out of the van while we’re driving or something weird, I think he’ll be around for a while.

Wicked, and in April you’re heading out on tour with Buck 65?
Yeah, the homeboy. I’m really excited about it because we did a show in Montreal and it was insane! People were going crazy and it felt like the specific audience that we both have always thought about liking us was there at the same time. It was one of the best shows I’ve done and it was a really good feeling because it was this completely organic, really good party and everyone was so positive. It was a rap show where everyone was feeling it; it was weird. I didn’t get yelled at or attacked or anything.

Well, the tour makes sense and you were on the song "Benz” from his last record.
Yeah, yeah that was really fun. I went to Halifax and did that with him and Skratch Bastid and it was a really great experience. Those guys are the real deal, complete super pros and made me feel like I was bushleaguin’ it. We also recorded another song that I was gonna put out on this album. But then I didn’t because I psyched myself out. Maybe we’ll put it out one day.

Hey, did you not also do a verse on a song from Noah23’s upcoming album?
Yeah, I did.

That’s exciting; I can’t wait to hear that.
Aw man, I love the song we did. Oh, Noah23 is an incredible rapper. I really like his style. He killed that song! [Gasps] He had one of the illest lines: "I like girls that are Half Japanese like Jad Fair/and pay half of the cash for the cab fare.” It’s like? What a styler!