To modern society, 21-year-old Rollie Pemberton may seem a little behind the times. The Edmonton, Alberta native doesn't have a driver's license, and he just recently learned how to ride a bike. Despite missing out on a few regularities of urban living, this MC/producer/DJ known as Cadence Weapon has been way ahead of the game when it comes to video games and music — two undeniable staples of his youth. Since only age 4, he enjoyed Nintendo and absorbed classic hip-hop and dance records played by his dad, Teddy Pemberton, a pioneering radio DJ in Edmonton.
“I'd just be [absorbing] stuff through osmosis in the house,” Pemberton recalls. “I'm coming to grips with it more now, and it's kind of weird for me, but my music is completely a sum of the stuff that was being played around me.”
These influences surely rubbed off on Cadence Weapon's debut Breaking Kayfabe (Upper Class, 2006) and especially with his sophomore LP, Afterparty Babies (Anti-/Epitaph, 2008). This danceable, party-worthy and somewhat personal release is inspired heavily by Pemberton's recent experiences as a club DJ, but even more so the sounds of his childhood. Take the track “Limited Edition OJ Slammer,” in which the collaged 8-bit blips, bleeps, synths and handclapping drums make for a fun slice of nostalgia. “That [track is] a direct cross between video-game music and electro-funk from the '80s,” he says. “It's literally the two things I was probably listening to [back then].”
Afterparty Babies isn't entirely about revisiting the past. Although regardless of the reference point, Cadence Weapon's most notable strength as a beatmaker is his ability to cleverly chop and combine untapped samples — a style he picked up by listening to productions from the Wu-Tang's RZA and trip-hop king Tricky. Using his simple home computer setup — consisting of Adobe Audition 1.5, Image Line FL Studio 7.0 and Propellerhead Reason 3.0 — Pemberton's approach to sampling is far removed from mere loop snatching. But as elaborate as his productions get, he tries to keep his focus on creating a melody.
“Whenever I'm chopping, it's more of a trial-and-error thing, but it's always based on melodic elements,” explains Pemberton. “It's always based on interesting high sounds and interesting low sounds and trying to keep those frequencies in a way that makes sense. I don't have traditional musical training — I can't read music, but it's basically what sounds cool to me.”
On “Messages Matter,” a warped but bumping track with orchestral samples and reversed strings, Pemberton particularly puts the aforementioned surefire theory to practice, using his technique of looking for clean, loopable pieces that have a high or low melodic sound. “I wanted to make a traditional rap beat but with intentionally jarring shifts,” he says. “When I get into the second part of the verses without the reversed strings, I am arranging my chops so that the ending sample of each bar alternates between a high pitched-up string sound or the low sound of a warbling man's voice.”
When asked about further chopping methods, Pemberton opts to play Remix a preview of a track-in-progress — an echoed, video game-inspired joint with a crunk/grime undertone. Upon explaining the science behind this beat, he shares his method of leaving empty space in between the chops, which allows him to layer different sounds underneath the samples. “When I do chops, I like to put echo on a couple of them, and that kind of fills up the empty space in between the chops and creates a cool lag element to it.”
Pemberton says his next album as Cadence Weapon will be more lyric intensive, and judging from the aforementioned new beat, less club-friendly. As he explains of Afterparty Babies, he didn't set out to ditch his lyrically reflective nature, yet he wanted to tap into his increased interest in dance music.
“With a lot of the new songs, I wanted to create a vibe, like a groove, and get people into it and have more chant-type vocals. For the next one, it's gonna be a more introspective thing. I have a feeling if people consider this album to be a sophomore curse, they'll consider the next one to be a return to form. [Laughs.]”