Cadence Weapon - Interview - 3-26-21Written by Chi Chi Thalken on May 3, 2021
Cadence Weapon is a Canadian hip hop artist that has been paving his own path since dropping his first album, Breaking Kayfabe, back in 2005. He recently took the time to talk us about his exciting new album, Parallel World, recording and filming under the pandemic, and what he has lined up for the near future.
Scratched Vinyl: You’ve got the new album coming out, Parallel World. What was your general approach coming into this album? Did you have a specific idea, or was this something that you started to write and then figured out a theme and title as you were working on it?
Cadence Weapon: Well, the way it happened was quite organic. I didn’t have a specific idea in mind when I was just creating songs. It all really happened during the pandemic, where I was just in this environment where I couldn’t tour any more, everything stopped, and I actually took some time where I just didn’t work on anything. I just existed in that free space, and that’s where the ideas started to come from. Seeing everything from the George Floyd protests, and being inspired by events like that, but then also seeing the failure of so many institutions that you expected to hold up to all scrutiny, but they’re actually very flimsy. That was the thing that really influenced me to write about what I wrote about on the album.
SV: Where did the title come from? What does that phrase mean to you?
Cadence Weapon: Parallel World – well, the way I thought of it…I thought of it in several different ways, actually. I was thinking, during the pandemic, at the beginning, I was thinking, ‘Man, I wish there was an alternate reality that I could be in instead of this one.’ And I think that’s the way a lot of people felt at the time. But then I also thought, music can function as that parallel world. I wanted to create something that was a really self-contained musical universe that people could exist in, you know? But I think the most specific use of using the term ‘parallel world’ is about the idea of you could be two different people walking on the same street in the same city, and you can experience the world in completely different ways, based on what your race is. That’s the ‘parallel world’ that I’m really talking about.
SV: When it comes to the sound of the album, was this something that also happened organically, like you heard a couple beats and were like, ‘This is the direction!’ Or were you seeking something out in particular?
Cadence Weapon: I think one of my big things on this record that I haven’t done in the past, I wanted it to really sound like music that I like to listen to. That was a big thing. I listen almost exclusively to UK rap. UK grime, drill, a lot of electronic music from England and the rest of Europe. Those kinds of sounds really resonate with me and always have, so I wanted to keep in that realm of groundbreaking electronic sounds. The thing is that I’m always recording a little bit. I’m always ambiently recording, to the point where I record like a hundred songs a year. I know, though, when something is happening, and album is starting. And usually, all the songs that end up on the album have been recorded really close together. And it’s like, “Okay, I tapped into something.” The last record I did was a lot of production from other producers, and a lot of collaboration, and that was the first time I had really done that, on a record, because my first three records were all produced by me. I really enjoyed that experience, because I felt like it added a little life to things, different perspectives and different vibes. I wanted to do that again, but this time, I had to do it all remotely, right? That was the really weird thing about it. I feel like it still sounds very cohesive, like we all tapped into a similar type of hive mind of what we wanted the record to be.
SV: One of the things that hit me in listening to the album was just how urgent it all sounded. Was that something that you clicked into as you were making the album and discussing the topics you mentioned? Like this is the sound that matches what we need to address?
Cadence Weapon: Yeah, definitely. I feel like I was really inspired by artists like Gil-Scott Heron, Public Enemy, The Clash. Just thinking about political artists, and how I feel like that idea isn’t as popular these days. People don’t really make music in that tradition anymore, and I really wanted to make something ‘of the moment,’ that spoke to the time that I’m living in. Also, I just feel that it’s a unique circumstance, being in the middle of the pandemic, being in the middle of an uprising, and I feel like it would be a disservice to my audience to not reflect that. I feel like all of these great albums that I grew up listening to – There’s a Riot Going On – things like that, they speak to the times. All great art needs to speak to its times.
SV: Getting a little further into the album, it opens with a track called “Africville’s Revenge.” For those not in Canada and not familiar with what Africville is, can you explain what it is, and then we can get into the song?
Cadence Weapon: Yeah, for sure. So Africville was a small community of primarily African Canadian people just outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia. They were a disenfranchised neighborhood – the city proper wouldn’t give them garbage disposal, so there would just be trash everywhere. And then they would build their most distasteful businesses around their community. Like they would put a butcher house over there, and the garbage dump.
SV: Just to clarify, you’re talking about how the City of Halifax was putting it’s least desirable things right next to Africville?
Cadence Weapon: Yeah, yeah. It was like, they wouldn’t fix the roads that were over near them. It was this systemic history of mistreatment, until they just got rid of the town. And got rid of everyone’s houses. It’s something that in Canada, people don’t even really know about it. It’s only something that I learned about over the last ten years. I’ve done more and more research about it, and there’s more communities that were Black communities in Canada that were disenfranchised in similar ways, related to transit gentrification, building a highway in the middle of the neighborhood so that it could improve the lives of white people. For example, Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver. That was a very multicultural neighborhood that got turned into the Georgia Viaduct. I’ve become quite passionate about this, recently. Especially because I live in a neighborhood, Little Jamaica in Toronto, and they are going through something similar right now, where there is an LRT [Light Rail Transit] being built, and the project has been going for the past ten years. Over a hundred businesses have closed, and there’s been no support from the city, so I’m kind of an activist for the city.
SV: To the song, “Africville’s Revenge,” what to you is Africville’s Revenge, and what made it your opening statement to the album?
Cadence Weapon: That’s the thing – in Canada, as a black person, I definitely feel disenfranchised from Canadian identity, from Canadian history, even. Our Canadian history is super whitewashed. I feel like Africville’s Revenge is my existence, my art. The fact that I’m out here doing what I’m doing? That’s Africville’s Revenge. Everytime I see African Canadian’s succeeding? That’s Africville’s revenge. It’s like, you tried to get rid of us, but we don’t die, we multiply.
SV: I will say, as an American, the perspective of Canada that we’re given is that it’s a completely white country. They’re polite, it snows, and they like hockey. We have no idea about the multiculturalism.
Cadence Weapon: And Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan, diverse, multi-ethnic cities in the world! In my neighborhood, there’s no white people in it, right? My perspective on Canada is maybe not what’s advertised by the country at large. And that’s something that I really want to change. This is how I feel!
SV: The next song on the album is “On Me,” where you get into another nuanced area, which is the idea of race as it relates to technology and social media. Again, I’m sure it’s something that you are familiar with, but most white people are like, ‘Facial recognition software? How can that be racist?’
Cadence Weapon: Right? I found it very interesting when I began reading about this stuff. One of the first things that tipped me to the dangers of it was I read an article about Clearview AI. This company is an app that indexes every photo of you online, and you find out who anyone is just by taking a photo of them and putting it in this database. And so, this company has been contracted by every police, FBI…everybody uses them. But obviously this is some technology that is a little too godlike. Like you can see an attractive woman in the coffee shop, and you can find out who she is by taking a little photo. It’s ripe for exploitation. When it comes to race, I think the real issue that I was talking about was the idea of the programmers who do this facial technology are usually white. As a result, the coding is less accurate when it comes to a Black face. If the police use this technology, and it pulls up someone who doesn’t look like me at all, but it says it’s my name, and they’re coming to my house with a warrant? And it’s the wrong person, based on this technology? That’s the fear I’m talking about in “On Me.” That’s the primary focus of it.
SV: Another track that stood out to me was “Senna.” I found it interesting, just the reference. In hip hop, if you had made a basketball reference, I wouldn’t have batted an eye, but there aren’t too many Formula One references. What was your relationship to [Ayrton] Senna, and how did you find him to be useful as a metaphor?
Cadence Weapon: Some of it just happened naturally. I was just vibing in the studio with Jacques Greene, who produced the track, and this was pre-pandemic, obviously. I was just hearing the beat that he was making live, and I was like, this makes me feel like I’m racing through the forest in Gran Turismo, it just had this racing feel. And then I was like, “Senna!” It kept coming to my mind like a mantra. I think about him occasionally just because of the documentary that came in 2010 that I thought was amazing. And I thought that he was just an incredible maverick figure that I could relate to, the way he was repping so hard for Brazil. He wanted to be the best, or die trying, that was the idea.
SV: You end that song on sort of a statement of purpose about who you are and what you’re doing. Was that something that came out in the studio, or was that something that you wrote out?
Cadence Weapon: That just came out in the studio. That was me catching a vibe. I was really feeling myself, and I was like, “You know what? Who else would do a track like this?” That’s what I feel like sometimes when I’m making music, that nobody else would do some shit like this. And I just need to indulge in that sometimes. That was a moment of feeling myself that I had to do.
SV: Doing the video for “Senna,” was this something that you filmed under pandemic?
Cadence Weapon: Yes. That was something that was very challenging, but I had a really good team that I knew very well, and we did everything super safely, and it was outside, so that was very helpful. We rented a racetrack in Innisfil, Ontario and it was produced by this crew called Pique. And it was directed by my friend Scott Pilgirm – he’s not the comic book character, but he has the same name. And yeah, we just had fun in the racetrack. Jacques Greene sourced out some friends that had some Porsches, and we just had fun with it.
SV: How fast did you get going around the track there?
Cadence Weapon: Incredibly fast. I wasn’t driving – I was always in the in passanger seat, but one time I got in, and he was like, “Yo, I gotta try this turbo thing.” So there’s this thing you can do, and it was like going into warp speed! It was the coolest/scariest moment of my life.
SV: Was that your first time in a proper race car?
Cadence Weapon: Yeah, that was my first moment. It was so much fun to rap in the car, when it was moving. We had the camera strapped to the car and it was like…it just felt really vibey.
SV: Was that something where you had to adjust to the G-Force you’re feeling on yourself before you could do it?
Cadence Weapon: Maybe not the rapping part, but when I’m outside the car, and hanging off of it, that was crazy. ‘Cause it was insanely cold, middle of November in Canada, and I’m like trying to rap and look cool, but I’m hanging on for dear life on the inside of the car, but it turned out good. I didn’t fall out, which was a huge plus.
SV: That’s number one, right?
Cadence Weapon: Hey – safety first.
SV: The other video you just released is “Eye to Eye.” Another video that you had to be clever with filming under the pandemic. How did you come up with the treatment of the video, where you are essentially walking in circles, but you’re keeping interest and keeping the meaning of the song there?
Cadence Weapon: Yeah, okay, so the concept that Scott and I came up with was basically that we wanted something that could be focused on looking at me. ‘Cause that’s the core meaning of the song, where I’m talking about racial profiling and the idea of my experiences of being tracked around a corner store. Where it’s like, everywhere I go I’m being looked at and suspected, right? So, I feel like the video where the camera is constantly moving is like the roving eye. The clerk, right? I definitely like the idea of doing something simple – probably would have done the video the same if we weren’t under pandemic anyway. I feel like we ended up doing something artful, which was important to me. I wanted to do something that was still cool, something that I haven’t really seen before. It’s amazing, because to do a one-take type of situation, but we had to do some trickery. But it was fun to make, for sure. We actually shot that in Montreal. About a month ago.
SV: There is one Easter egg in the video – I had to pause it. There’s this writing on a piece of paper in the background. What did that come from?
Cadence Weapon: Okay, that’s Scott Pilgrim – we actually shot it in his studio, and that’s a piece of art by Jim Joe, the same person who did the art work for the Drake album, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.
SV: Now that you say that, that is the same handwriting.
Cadence Weapon: It’s that guy. I can’t remember off the top what it says, but actually if you read it, it is significant to the song. So I feel like it was a fun thing that Scott happened to have that. And that’s the thing with Montreal, it’s just kind of vibey and magical whenever I’m there. Cool things just happen to be there.
SV: You have a few guests on the album, but the one that hit me like a ton of bricks was when Backxwash comes on “Ghost.” How did you make that connection, and what was your reaction when you first got that verse?
Cadence Weapon: Well, after Backxwash won Polaris Prize, and I heard her record, it was like I was blown away by that record and I was so excited for Canadian rap, to hear something that was truly original. To hear something totally new. I always scope out people like that, who want to do something different with rap in Canada, because there’s not a lot of us out there. So, I was really amazed that she knew my music and was a fan and really wanted to be a part of the record. I knew that this track in particular was going to be perfect, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Also, the track was a certain way when I was first writing it, but when I got her verse back, it was like, “Okay, I gotta go harder.” I actually re-recorded my verses after that.
SV: That was going to be my next question.
Cadence Weapon: Yeah, it was one of those hip hop situations where I had to re-record. I had to also because my energy level was different before I heard the Backxwash verse, and I had to be like, “Okay, let me get on my rapper shit just a little bit more.”
SV: As you’re going through the album, it’s got this very urgent grime/drill/trap sound to it, and then you get to the last song, “Connect,” it’s got this really pleasant vibe to it. Was that something that you always planned on doing, or was it something that you figured out as you worked on the album?
Cadence Weapon: As soon as I recorded that song, I knew that it would be the last song. That’s produced by KCMQ, who we’ve done some tracks together before. He produced a song on my last record. I really wanted something that had a hyperpop feel to it. I like a lot of that music. It’s like chill bangers. I feel like that’s something I really resonate with and gravitate toward. The songs mellow, but it’s also bangin’. So I wanted that, and I also wanted to end the album on a note of optimism. On the song “Connect,” I’m talking a lot about this kind of strange feeling of being in an online world, especially now, when everything is online all the time. But I also wanted to bring a light to the idea of the youth being the utopian future, instead of the dystopian future. I feel like a lot of the album is about the future that we’re in now, but at the end it’s about good directions we’re going into.
SV: It’s like, ‘Face these hard truths, and then here are ways that we can get better.”
Cadence Weapon: Exactly. I didn’t want to leave it on some note where it’s all bad. ‘Cause that’s not how I feel. I’m generally a very optimistic person. Particularly, there’s a lot of things to feel positive about. That song is one of the most emotional songs on the record. I feel like the part at the end where I’m kind of yelling, that’s my example of the Internet echo chamber. It’s like a Twitter thread in human form, you know? It’s the whole thing of, ‘No more lying in the booth.” I have all these demands, all these things that I want, and it’s like, ‘I know what I want – how about you?’ That’s the thing with leadership. They never listen to young people. They never listen to their constituents. And I’ve told you what I want, but what do you want for the future? I diss every leader on every political level on this record. Provincial, municipal, and federal. I’ve told you what I want.
SV: Going forward, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not there yet. Can’t quite tour. What other things do you have planned? You’ve released two videos. Is there anything else that people should be looking out for?
Cadence Weapon: Yeah, for sure. We’re going to be doing a video for “On Me.” That’s coming. There’s going to be some livestream stuff. That’s percolating. My agent is talking about shows later in the year. That would make me happy.
SV: I really hope so, because one of the first things I though when listening to this album was, ‘This would kill live.’
Cadence Weapon: I know, right?! It’s my record that’s most bangin’ and would translate most well to live, and it’s in this universe where you can’t play live. But hey, I think it’s still going to be dope by the time we can play shows, and I’m looking forward to that. Another thing I’m doing right now is I’m writing a book. I’m writing a book about my music career – all my old album, essays about music in general, and just how I feel about rap. It’s called Bedroom Rapper, and it should be coming out late next year…I’ve been writing it along with writing and recording the album. I’ve had a pretty busy pandemic.
SV: Finally, I’ll leave you with the question that I ask everyone – If there were three people that you could work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
Cadence Weapon: Oh, wow! That’s a great question. The first person, off the top of my head would be Open Mike Eagle. I feel like we would make a really amazing song together, and I think he’s aware of me. For my next record, I want to get him on it for sure. He’s the first person I thought of. I also want to do a song with Chuck D. That would be my dream feature. The next album I make will be even more political, you’ll see. It’s going to be really crazy. My third…let’s say Charli XCX. I really respect her a lot. She’s one of the best songwriters in the world. I feel like she can’t make a bad song. I’d love to do something with her.
For more information, visit: https://cadenceweapon.net/