If you’ve ever bemoaned your own lack of ambition or cursed your inability to succeed, a quick glance at Rollie Pemberton’s Curriculum Vitae may push the jealousy button up a notch. A self-professed writer, rapper, producer and remixer, Rollie has achieved more in his short 21 years of life than many of his peers ever will… 2008 is the year he promises to set himself further apart from the rap-pack with the release of his second album Afterparty Babies, under the alias of Cadence Weapon. Rollie describes it as a concept record, with the central theme of creating ‘a social identity for the modern hipster youth’. Not a gangsta record then.
Rollie hails from Edmonton, Canada, which he describes as ‘a weird place, full of creativity and hope’, blighted by spasmodic weather patterns not unlike Ireland. Rollie is fond of his birthplace and its people, and much of Afterparty Babies concerns his experiences in his home-town. The name Pemberton carries weight in the city, thanks to Rollie’s father Teddy, a local radio DJ who gained notoriety for being the first to bring hip-hop, funk and black electro music to Edmonton.
Growing up, Rollie buried his head in video games and didn’t take part in usual childhood rituals such as riding a bike (he only acquired that skill last year). His interest in music, however, flared after stealing copies of Nas’ Illmatic and Brand Nubian’s One For All from his dad’s record collection, and he started to rap at age 13. As he continued to work on his rap skills, Rollie travelled to the US to enrol in a journalism course in all-black college in Virginia, yet he found himself unable to relate to fellow-students. ‘I felt I was quite stifled there,’ he confesses. ‘There weren’t a lot of people who were into the kind of music I was into. I would be jamming Aphex Twin in my dorm and people would be like, what the fuck is this?’
He began to write reviews of rap albums for a little website called Pitchfork, which taught him a significant lesson:’I heard so many shitty rap albums, I learned how not to make an album!’. With that admonition in the bag and with inspiration to create something different, he moved back to Edmonton after a year to focus on music. ‘I felt like I was wasting my time not putting out a record,’ he notes. ‘I figured I got to put out this record before anybody else does, or somebody does some shit exactly like it. Then, I’ve lost my shot, y’know? ‘ Rollie’s self-produced mixtape Cadence Weapon Is The Black Hand was released in January 2005 and featured on one of the first popular music blogs, Fluxblog, leading to a record deal with Upper Class Recordings in North America and Big Dada in Europe. Rollie’s debut Breaking Kayfabe received a 2006 Polaris Music Prize nomination for its attention- grabbing electro-fused hip-hop style.
With the release of Afterparty Babies, Rollie has left behind the ‘aggressive, slower, dissonant tones’ of Kayfabe for more danceorientated bounce tracks. When broached on this distinction, he cites Basement Jaxx and dance music in general as a major influence.
‘I was getting more into DJing myself, listening to dance music, kind of realising that all music is inter-connected, everything is 4/4: you can mix everything together,’ he explains. ‘It was a real awakening for me musically. I’d never really thought about music in such an intimate way. Just the idea of seeing a couple of thousand people freaking out because of one song is unbelievable. I find it extremely fascinating and it’s something I’d like to work on.’
Lyrically, the new album differentiates itself from Kayfabe by encasing the songs with stories of the people of Edmonton; friends, girlfriends, hairdressers, tattoo-artists and under-age youth cliques. Drawing on case studies of friends he hung out with during the summer of 2006, Rollie was inspired by the story-telling nature of Bob Dylan records and the dynamics of the individual, exemplified in album opener -Do I Miss My Friends?’, a folk-hop lament Rollie admits is ‘a song about being gone all the time, feeling like I’m losing my interpersonal relationships and wondering if it’s such a big deal anyway.’ Original ideas for the album concerned housing and urban sprawl and that notion was the kernel for -Real Estate’, which is also a metaphor for music industry success set to a bumping sample-heavy instrumental: ‘Just bought a house / Can’t deal with the space / Just bought a beat / Can’t deal with the bass.’
Rollie paints a vibrant picture of life for Edmonton’s minors, like the Youth Crew, an enthusiastic gang of sprightly risk-takers. ‘The Youth Crew specifically is what me and my friend Jan used to call this group of kids who were slightly younger than us, getting into the scene, showing up at shows,’ he smiles. ‘If I was DJing and it was looking kind of slow, Jan would get a call letting her know -The Youth Crew’s coming’ and I’m like… great! That means there’s going to be 30 kids sneaking into this bar or who have fake IDs and are going to come and make this party turn out!’
The recurring theme of inter-personal relationships is cemented by the album cover, with Rollie front and centre on a stool, while behind him are a multitude of his acquaintances, including his current and ex-girlfriend, fellow rappers and ‘characters’ like his touring DJ, Weasel, in pimped-out garb. The picture was taken in the basement of a bar called The Black Dog, which Rollie reveals burned down recently, leaving the photograph as the last remnant of the basement, just as Afterparty Babies serves as a lasting document of Rollie and his Edmonton allies.