Album Review: Cadence Weapon – Hope in Dirt City




It’s been three years since Rollie Pemberton (AKA Edmonton-born rapper Cadence Weapon) released his Polaris Prize-nominated Afterparty Babies, and he spent that time developing a wonder of an album that bends genres, rearranges samples, and splices noise. Pemberton has always been a unique voice, but on Hope in Dirt City, he has worked out a record full of uniquely blended beats and bleakly grinning intelligence.

Lead single “Conditioning” sounds partially indebted to a surprising influence in Nine Inch Nails, as Pemberton shouts the chorus more aggressively with each iteration; twisted and chopped samples and a heavy drum machine pulse underneath. His examination of the darker edges of his existence (“got monsters in the closet in the middle of the province”) and the determination to get past them is a heart-pumping, head-nodding winner.

Despite the shouted chorus of “Jukebox” (“You get your jukebox away from me”), the album’s tracks hop around, grabbing bits and pieces of genres that suit each tone. That song’s rambunctious fun is paired with skipping, Latin percussion, stuttered guitar, and rich saxophone, immediately followed by the neo-soul organ of “Cheval” (and its accompanying conceit of Pemberton as woman-whisperer, seen best in his boast of being the best “filly whisperer from here to Sainte-Foy”). The heartbroken breakup on “No More Names” grounds its sadness in twinkling, disco-era synth falls and a bass-y backbeat. Each track has a unique flavor that accompanies its lyrical content, the constant remaining Pemberton’s cool determination.

On “Small Deaths”, a stream of disjointed claims comes to a head: “I was once worth something/Everything’s worth something/Nothing’s worth nothing/I’m employee of the month/I got a bunch of those titles but not enough stuff.” Throughout the album, Pemberton is asserting his difference in worldview, style, and production. The tongue-in-cheek “Hype Man” most explicitly achieves this, taking on the personas of those willing to take a bullet for attention, someone demanding a weed-laden entourage or plays at a strip club. “Hype man, I don’t need a fucking hype man” in turn becomes “hype man, yes, I’m the fucking hype man,” Pemberton spinning in circles and finding plenty of inanity to lash out at.

Essential Tracks: “Conditioning”, “Cheval”, and “Hype Man”