Review ·

In the four years since the release of his last record, the excellent Afterparty Babies, Rollie Pemberton, aka Cadence Weapon, has hardly sat idle. Whether serving as poet laureate for Edmonton, Alberta, DJing parties in Montreal, or tweeting about masterful Yo Gotti verses, Pemberton has kept involved with music even while he wasn’t making much of it himself. Cadence Weapon’s moment of silence ends with Hope in Dirt City, his new album, which shows the rapper’s snotty charm giving way to a more sophisticated appraisal of the world around him.

Both Afterparty Babies and Breaking Kayfabe, Cadence Weapon’s debut, relied on hard, electro textures and Pemberton’s cleverly acerbic raps, as he railed against hipster clichés and bad hip-hop while managing to stay humble in his any-rapper-from-Edmonton-Alberta-can’t-take-himself-that-seriously kind of way. On Hope in Dirt City, the textures have softened and the rapper has grown wiser and more confident. Pemberton produced the album himself, throwing soul samples and live instrumentation into the mix for a sound that is at different points hazy, strident, melodic, and bass-heavy, and all the time engaging, as you never know whether to expect a blip of Curtis Mayfield hook or a sax solo.

Lyrically Pemberton remains in his own world, geographically and mentally. Using Edmonton as his own postage stamp of native soil, he describes the people and places of his hometown in vivid detail, as in the syrupy nightlife tales “There We Go,” the insidery DJ world of “Jukebox,” and the somber hometown anthem “Hope in Dirt City.” He’s also willing to put himself out there to a degree most rappers would avoid, evidenced by the first-person romance narrated in “No Names (Adita).” And while Hope in Dirt City is not as ebullient as its predecessors, preferring moodiness and tension to outright joy, it does contain plenty of Pemberton’s inventive wordplay and impressive tongue-twisters. Plus, Pemberton gives ample evidence of his surprisingly powerful vocal chops. 

Pemberton breaks out into song numerous times on the album, and although he eschews autotune and his voice is hardly as radio-ready as Future’s, the effect is similar to that of the ATL pop-rapper. Cadence Weapon is complicating what it means to make hip hop, or what a listener should expect of a rap song. It shouldn’t be surprising Grimes remixed “Conditioning,” one of the standout tracks on Hope in Dirt City. In fact, Cadence Weapon arguably has more in common with Grimes’s fiery dance music than he does with Tyga’s rote thuggisms. As a genre that’s saturated with trends, micro-trends, and anti-trends, it’s rare to find someone doing something that makes a legitimate claim at being totally unique.

***

Artist twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/cadenceweapon

Audio: http://exclaim.ca/MusicVideo/ClickHear/cadence_weapon-hope_in_dirt_city_album_stream

Label: http://upperclassrecordings.com/cadenceweapon

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