Poet laureate/rapper tackles Albertan history

Cool fact about Edmonton: they have a poet laureate. Cooler fact: their poet laureate is Roland Pemberton, also known as Cadence Weapon, the indie hip hop sensation.

Pemberton has made a name for himself in several disciplines. Obviously, his poetry is highly regarded, and he continues to write poems and collaborate with the city to introduce poetry to an expanding audience. Pemberton also pursues journalism– he writes for Vue Weekly and has written for Pitchfork.

But Pemberton has achieved the most success and recognition with his hip hop endeavors, and it’s Calgary’s turn to see what he has to offer. At this year’s High Performance Rodeo, Pemberton is collaborating with Kris Demeanor, James Keelaghan, Wendy McNeill, David Pierce and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra to create a modern and personal history of Alberta in Acres of Dreams.

“When I was first asked to do it by the homie Kris Demeanor, I was thinking, ‘Oh woah, with an orchestra?’ ” says Pemberton. “After actually making songs and seeing what they ended up being, it makes a lot more sense in the end. I never thought, ‘Oh, let me make this beat and see if it will go with an orchestra.’ “

In the way of good collaborations, it’s often impossible to envision the end product. Pemberton has had sneak previews of what the performance will be like thanks to the magic of computers and he doesn’t hold anything back about the result.

“After hearing some of the drafts– I made demo versions of the songs and they attached what the orchestra will sound like– it sounds truly amazing,” says Pemberton. “It’s pretty crazy, hearing the before and after. One of the songs I have– ‘One Town Won,’ it’s about John Rowand who was a fur trader, one of the main people behind the Hudsons Bay Corporation– it’s like a club banger and it had mad synths in it. But now it sounds like something from Jurassic Park.”

Pemberton hasn’t just been working on Acres of Dreams. He recently added to his cannon– two mixtapes and two full-length studio albums– with Tron Legacy: The Mixtape. The latest release may confuse listeners, because, despite the opening track shout-outs to Daft Punk and Jeff Bridges (“Thomas and Guy, my bros, merci beaucoup for yacht racing. That was amazing time in the south of France, really cleared my head out.”) the mixtape has nothing to do with either. Pemberton hasn’t even seen the movie or heard the Daft Punk soundtrack.

The project is rather a declaration about the current state of mixtapes– how they so often endeavor to attach themselves to another pop culture product. It may seem strange to critique mixtapes by putting out a mixtape, but there’s clear reasoning on Pemberton’s behalf.

“I feel like when people put out an album, they have certain expectations behind it and it paints the way they produce it,” he says. “People feel like when they put out their big album it’s got to have these guest rappers and these really high production values and it has to be different from when they organically write and record something quickly that’s just meant for being enjoyable. It ends up being better than the album they put out. I’m highly worried about it, I really hope it doesn’t happen when I put out my new album [Requentin] which I’ve been working on three years.”

Tron Legacy sees Pemberton tackle a variety of different issues that he didn’t think deserved a spot on the album, like his song about his hate-hate relationship with weed, or his collaboration with Buck 65 about wearing seat belts aptly titled “Always Strapped.” One of the most remarkable tracks is his tackling of an Adbusters article written by Douglas Haddow “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization.” Pemberton refuted the article in his writing for Vue Weekly and the sentiment carried over to his mixtape.

“So many people were talking about that Adbusters article, it was a hot topic for a while,” he says. “I wrote an article for Vue Weekly responding it saying, ‘His problems with this youth subculture are no different than people hating on the beat generation or anything else that happened before.’ It’s so lame and reductive. It’s a very dramatic way of putting it, and it’s also not true.”

Cadence Weapon is everywhere, which should make him easy to catch a glimpse of, whether it’s at Acres of Dreams or his inevitable tour after the release of his new album. Maybe he can even help with the effort spearheaded by DJ Kelly to create Calgary’s own Poet laureate, which is especially overdue if Edmonton has one.

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