Canadians get shit on for all kinds of reasons I rarely feel the need to dispute, but sometimes something gets me worked up about an entire nation being dismissed as a bunch of loons with ear-flapped winter hats. Herewith, the independent rapper Cadence Weapon, a.k.a. Rollie Pemberton, a sprightly, jokey dude from Edmonton who I totally thought was white until I saw his MySpace pic. So why’s it matter? Because, and if you’ll allow me to get carried away here a bit, Pemberton maybe represents the fully assimilated, advanced multicultural being we were all supposed to be by now, this sort of jumbled hyperaware pop-culture geek who namechecks Kindergarten Cop, Dipset, Wire magazine, Fleetwood Mac and Tina Fey with equal dollops of ardor and candor.
Okay, yes, I am getting carried away. There’s hasn’t been anything particularly groundbreaking for a long while now about thinking Juelz Santana and Lindsey Buckingham are both great, especially for someone like Pemberton, who (as I’m contractually obligated to mention ) did a bid in journalism school and wrote reviews for Pitchfork before pursuing this rap stuff full force. But Pemberton’s not just a hipster rapper, namechecking the prerequisites. He’s genuinely influenced by every bit of low-brow/high-brow detritus he’s ever digested: perhaps the blatant Biggie favoritism demonstrated by his father, a prominent Edmonton hip-hop deejay, or reruns of Happy Days. Some of it does happen to overlap with stereotypically hipster fare. But he’s acting, not reacting.
And it’s refreshing. “Do I Miss My Friends?,” the album’s opener, is jarring because of a skeletal doo-wop beat, but it sticks because of Cadence’s endearing nostalgia tack. “Back in those days, back in my end,” he tells us, “We would bro down every weekend. I miss those times.” It’s not clear how much a twenty-two-year-old has to be nostalgic about, but the charm is how insulated it is. References to epic lost weekends connect the most, of course, with the kids he was splitting bottles of Jameson with outside shows or whatever.
Throughout the album, over jolly eight-bit electro tracks that always cede the spotlight to his funny-sounding voice, Pemberton is completely immersed in his own tiny slice of the world: house parties (“True Story”), local dance-nights (the talking bit at the end of “House Music”), and, above all, his friends (“Juliann Wilding” is named for a particularly good pal.)
Over and over, we get the sense that Cadence makes records for that gaggle of kids on the album cover, for the look on their faces. If any of the rest of us likes it, all the better. It works: We’d like to know more about Mr. Weapon, and his buds.