Let's get this out of the way—Rollie Pemberton (aka Cadence Weapon) hails from the frozen hip-hop no-man's-land of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. But this is probably the least interesting thing about him. And he's definitely not too fond of fielding the inevitable questions about his hometown.
“Everybody asks me about it all the time, which I think is kind of funny,” Pemberton says. “If you're a rapper from New York, that's not very interesting at all. It's like saying, ‘I make pizza, and I'm from Italy.'”
He makes a good point. But then Pemberton isn't shy about voicing his opinions on music and culture. That perhaps explains why he's become something of a hip-hop iconoclast and why he recently signed to Anti-Records, home to a diverse roster that includes Nick Cave, Neko Case and Tom Waits.
“Maybe I'll have [Waits] beatbox on a track,” Pemberton jokes.
That collaboration actually wouldn't be much of a stretch, considering Pemberton's sound is in a constant state of flux.
At age 22, he already has two superb albums and a mixtape to his name. He's also a triple threat, serving as producer, MC and DJ on each of his releases.
The latest Cadence Weapon album, Afterparty Babies, shows an artist expanding beyond typical hip-hop boundaries into electronica, house music and even indie rock. Pemberton's music manages to bang like Daft Punk and confound like Aphex Twin while maintaining a distinctly punk-rock spirit.
“Rap right now is kind of in an interesting place. I understand what's going on, but a lot of people are really threatened,” Pemberton says. “It's kinda like dancing is cool again—it's cool to have fun, which I think is OK. The kinda rap I listen to now is just like party shit…. For instance, I like Fabo from [Atlanta rappers] D4L a ton.”
Here's where indie hip-hop fans usually scowl and turn their backs, but Pemberton's logic is too studied to be scoffed at. He's conflicted about the current crop of indie rappers and fans mostly because he's one of them.
“Don't people remember the whole thing was, like, ‘We're underground, so we can do whatever we want?'” Pemberton says. “You could break boundaries, or you could make songs about whatever, because you didn't have the problem of dealing with major labels and shit. And now people have completely forgotten the point.”
The former go-to hip-hop writer for powerhouse e-zine Pitchfork Media, Pemberton knows music and thus is capable of both observing trends and picking them apart piece by piece. In light of Pitchfork's rise to indie-rock prominence, he looks back on his time working for the company (in '03 and '04) with mixed feelings.
“Back then, it wasn't so cool to be [working for] Pitchfork; I never even really thought about it,” Pemberton says.
“But then, after I stopped writing there, it became this extreme tastemaker and everybody I knew read it.”
While he's immersed in hipster culture, Pemberton has some reservations about the scene-and-be-seen lifestyle.
“I feel like I identify with a lot of the things hipsters identify with,” he admits. “But… I'm not really identifying with the trend-hunting bit, I'm not into the drugs and I'm not into the cattiness of the scene. All these people I hang out with are kind of like character studies to me.”
Pemberton makes it clear his observations are not intended to be derisive but, rather, just part of his ongoing examination of a generation that's been weaned on television, technology and pop culture.
For instance, on the Afterparty track “Your Hair's Not Clothes,” Pemberton becomes the first rapper to allude to Cheers (the sitcom), Jason Kidd (the NBA point guard), The Stooges and Carson Daly in the same song. In lesser hands, this could come off as a pointless checklist of low-brow reference points, but his wordplay reflects a consciousness that extends beyond triviality.
“It's not even just hipsters—it's youth culture in general,” Pemberton says. “I feel like everything has been done before, even if it's outwardly original. Everything can be traced back to something else…. I'm sure people said the same sorta shit in the '70s, like, ‘These fucking hippies, they're exactly the same as the Beat Generation.'”
Does he think youth culture's hit a point where there's nothing truly novel to explore? Not exactly.
“I try to do stuff that's completely original, especially when I'm making music,” Pemberton says, “but I'm sure people still try to draw a lineage between what I'm doing and what someone was doing 10 years ago.”
Call it hipster-hop, if you will, but there's no denying that the man has a point. Cadence Weapon performs at 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, with Born Ruffians and Inberst at The Casbah. 619-232-HELL. www.cadenceweaponmusic.com.