Cadence Weapon on hope and dirty cities
Since the release of his first album in 2005 (Breaking Kayfabe), Cadence Weapon has had a busy career making music and touring both across Canada and internationally. He's become known for the heavy electronic influence in his music and more recently his experimental production styles. The first single and music video "Conditioning" off of his new album has received some pretty strong feedback so far.
The rapper just breezed through town to play a set at Wrongbar in support of his "Hope in Dirt City Tour." The album is the hip hop artist's third official studio effort and was shortlisted for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize. I took some time to ask him a few questions about his new album and his views on being a Canadian hip hop artist.
What's the relevance of the title of your new album, Hope in Dirt City? Could you explain a bit about how you came up with that title?
It originally came from a poem I wrote as poet laureate of Edmonton called "Dirt City (New Strathcona)" but it's a colloquial nickname people have for Edmonton. It's a self-deprecating thing, joking about being artists in a hardscrabble town. It may be specifically about Edmonton but I think it can apply to anywhere in the world where artists feel disenfranchised.
You worked with a lot of different musicians in producing this album. Could you explain the production process? Does this process differ from how you composed on your previous albums, and if so, how?
My first two albums were totally electronic so I wanted to branch out and try something more organic with Hope In Dirt City. I started with samples, drum machines and recording myself and then I took those demos to Toronto and jammed them out with a session band I put together. We recorded the songs with live instruments at Chemical Sound. Then I took those sessions home and sampled them to make the final beats you hear on the album. Basically I made my own samples.
There seems to be a bit of an experimental sound on the new album. Some critics have suggested that it seems like you are trying to "get somewhere" with the development of your music. Do you agree with that? Do you feel like this album is a stepping stone in the process of you "getting somewhere" musically?
I feel like I've consistently grown as an artist with each release. I think that goes along with getting older too. I've matured a lot. I don't see this album as being a stepping stone, just a progression of my style.
There are times on the album where you are flowing really fast and on point, and other times where you sound a lot more laid back, even lazy with how you're rapping. Was this contrast intentional? Why'd you switch the style up like that?
There's a double standard with how people approach different genres. If you're a rock singer and you sound disaffected or whatever, people understand how to parse it. "Oh, it's slacker rock." They appreciate that it's a conscious decision by the artist. With rap, there's this expectation of fast syncopated vocals and precise flow. I like to represent different moods and characters when I rap so if I sound exasperated or out of it, it's because I'm playing a character who feels that way. Some people misinterpret that as me not trying or being lazy but it's something I do to express specific emotions.
If you had to pick one, what's your favourite song on the new album? Why?
"Hype Man" is probably my favourite track on the album. Victor Bongiovanni killed it on the beat and it just feels good to play and listen to. It's a concept that really came together. Shooting a video for it this Fall!
What's your favourite part about being on the road touring? What do you like the least?
My favourite part is meeting new people. I write the best when I am socially active so it's good that I frequently meet so many people through touring. When I make the music, I have a vague idea of what people will respond to and what will resonate with people but you only really know once you go out and meet folks after they've heard the record. The worst part is just the physical toll that extended periods of travel takes on you but it's a small price to pay for adventure.
Do you think there's a "Canadian hip hop sound?" How do you view your role in developing the musical landscape in Canada and for hip hop in general?
Canadian hip hop is very diverse. A lot of West Indian influence, a lot of electronic sounds, it's hard to pin down a consistent thing. That said a recurring theme I've noticed is that there is often an emotional, contemplative aspect to Canadian rap. Maybe it's writing music in the cold or something.
I see myself as an ambassador for Canadian music, not just rap. Whenever I tour other countries, I want to represent the new guard of Canadian music. I try to show people around the world an example of how creative and different Canada can actually be.
Why do you want the Jukebox kept away from you?
It's funny, I actually love jukeboxes! The song "Jukebox" is a metaphor for a DJ I knew who would only play well-known songs when they spun. We were friends but had clashing ideologies about records versus computers and what songs should be played at dance clubs, things like that. They would show up to parties I was DJing at already with their own records and just try to start DJing. It's a song about the different ways people play music and the role that music plays in our lives.
Photo by Tess Parks