Since his 2005 breakthrough, Breaking Kayfabe, Cadence Weapon has been an artist to watch. The two-time Polaris Music Prize nominee, writer, producer and rapper is known for his innovative musical style and has made waves worldwide.
Following a five year hiatus – which included a move from Montreal to Toronto and a stint as Edmonton’s poet laureate – Cadence Weapon returns with a new self-titled album. Cadence Weapon is armed with furious flows, big collaborations and themes that include dance-party politics and dystopian futures. For his latest effort, the rapper is noticeably more focused and is reintroducing himself in a big way. Georgie caught up with Cadence Weapon to talk about the new album, his musical journey, and the L-word: legacy.
G—Your new self-titled album is being called a “reintroduction to Cadence Weapon.” What does that mean?
Cadence Weapon—I feel like I’ve matured a lot more and the music really reflects that. There is a reason why this album is self-titled. It feels like a rebirth for me; it feels like my first album in a lot of ways. I feel like the creative process for this album is what I’ve always wanted to do in my career. I was able to work with different producers and hold onto a distinct vision. Everything came together in a way that I’ve kind of always hoped for.
G—Your previous album, Hope in Dirt City, was released five years ago. How did your new album come about?
CW—It really started when I moved to Toronto a couple years ago. I created a really good infrastructure for making music and I was just making more music than ever. In two years I recorded 80 songs, which was much more than my creative output in Montreal. In Toronto, I was doing more collaborations, meeting different producers, and it all just came together. It wasn’t a conscious decision like, ‘I need to do an album now,’ but it really felt like the sum of the parts I put together.
G—Did you expect that creative momentum to hit you when you moved to Toronto?
CW—I didn’t know what to expect when I first moved here. What I ended up finding is that it’s been a very productive place for me. I think it is for a lot of people. It’s the kind of place where I felt a push to hustle harder and be more productive. The environment here is really focused on working. I think that really went into my process for making this album.
G—You are a very thoughtful lyricist and the idea of a sense of place is a strong theme throughout your music. What is it about a sense of place that inspires you?
CW—The music that I really resonate with has a really strong sense of place, like a lot of rap music. Typically, rappers represent where they’re from – they talk about the details of their environment and that’s a very natural thing. I also feel that there is a literary influence for me. I tell a lot of stories in my songs and I feel like describing the setting is really key. I even like to do it with the music, behind the lyrics as well. I try and make it feel like the environment where the story would take place, sonically. I did that a lot on my second album, Afterparty Babies, where I was in different club environments and different social scenes. I tried to literally soundtrack those environments with the music I was making.
G—The artwork of your new album is really fun and filled with lots of details that throwback to old hip hop albums. Can you talk a bit more about the artwork on your album?
CW—Yeah, I’m really happy with how it turned out. It was done by a friend of mine named Adam Waito. He’s kind of famous for doing show posters in Montreal. We came together and conceptualized the artwork. I wanted the cover to be like the inside and outside of the club that I was performing at and it was inspired by a couple of specific venues. I wanted to have many Easter eggs for people to find when they buy the record because that was something I always loved when I was younger. I loved being able to pick up A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul or Beastie Boys records and look through the liner notes and see all the photos and inside jokes. I wanted to bring that visual aesthetic back because I think the amount of details in the artwork reflects the details put into the album.
G—You have some big collaborations on the album. What do you look for in a collaborator?
CW—I don’t usually collaborate with people. In the past I had trouble giving up ownership of the music. I was very controlling about how I would produce my albums. On this album, I wanted to let go of that and I think the result has been really nice because the music ends up sounding like there’s more life to it. It was important for me to have as many different voices as possible, different sonic backgrounds. For me, the most important thing I look for in a collaborator is [that] I want to actually know the person. I think that’s important. All the people that contributed vocals on the album are my actual friends. I worked with Blue Hawaii on a track called “Five Roses” – they’re my really good friends from Montreal and it’s an obvious thing for me that we would make music together. But I think a lot of people would be surprised when they hear the result of our collaboration.
G—On this album you work with Kaytranada and Harrison on a couple of tracks. Both are well known for their mixtapes and for being rapidly rising beatmakers. Do you feel inclined to bring young beatmakers along your own musical journey?
CW—For sure. The way I see it – particularly with those producers – they have something in common with me when I was younger. They remind me of me when I was first coming out with music and making weird beats coming from Canada. Whenever I see people like that I definitely want to work with them; I want to support them in whatever they’re doing. I think it was really cool to have them both on the record. I really see so many parallels between myself and them.
G—The album starts off with a clip for your father’s radio show, The Black Experience in Sound, on CJSR radio in Edmonton. He’s often credited for bringing hip hop to Edmonton. And is it true your grandfather has a park named after him?
CW—Yeah, that was actually the working title for the album: Rollie Miles Athletic Field. My grandfather played for the Eskimos. He was a major sports figure and he won three Grey Cups. He’s in the Hall of Fame and he was an important black Edmontonian. He and my grandmom, Mary-Anne Miles, would be the welcoming committee for any notable black figure that would come to town. If Muhammed Ali came to Edmonton, he would meet my grandparents.
G—I don’t want to intimidate by throwing this word around, but your family has a “legacy” in Edmonton, complete with you being named the city’s poet laureate (2009-2011). Is it heavy to carry such a legacy or is it just so ingrained in who you are?
CW—To me, it’s just who I am. I don’t feel any pressure about it. It just kind of comes naturally to me. I’ve always been around strong adult figures growing up and it was something I wanted to be when I was younger. I probably wouldn’t have predicted that I would have done exactly what I’ve done so far, but when you look back at the legacy of my family it makes a lot of sense that I ended up doing what I did.
G—What are you looking forward to now with your new album dropping?
CW—The cool thing about where I’m at right now, despite the fact that I’m promoting the new album, is I’m still recording a lot of music. I’ve had such a good workflow that I just didn’t want to stop. I’m trying to make it habitual in my life so I don’t have a period where I’m not putting anything out for five years again.
G—Did you feel the absence of not releasing any new work?
CW—Not really. Once it [got] past a certain point I didn’t think about it at all. I’d be making music but I never thought, ‘Oh shit, I need to put out an album right away.’ Now that I am doing that now, I’m realizing what I’ve been missing. It’s a really important part of my life that I didn’t prioritize. Right now I’m going in some new creative directions that are exciting to me because I feel like they’ve never been done before, like nobody has made anything that sounds like it. For me, that has always been the most exciting thing – to be able to make something that sounds unlike anything else.
G—How do you feel when you release new music into the world?
CW—That’s the funny thing. It’s just the beginning because now the music can take on a true life. Once it goes out into the world I see the reflection of what I created. I get to hear feedback from people and see what songs people like – and it’s never what I expect. I’m really excited about that happening now and what’s going to happen to these songs a year from now, two years from now. You never know what’s going to resonate with people. I’m really excited to see what the future life of this music will be.
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