Cadence Weapon

Breaking Kayfabe

(Upper Class; 2005)

By Clayton Purdom | 9 December 2005

Here’s why you shouldn’t trust this review: as soon as I’m done writing it, I’m going to send it to a Canadian fellow named Aaron Newell, my immediate editor at CMG, a swell guy with a lot of impressive connections that, along with his regular gig with this site, just so happens to write a joint blog with Rollie Pemberton, a.k.a. Cadence Weapon, a.k.a. the dude who made the CD that this review reviews. Also of note is that CMG rookie-of-the-week nominee Connor Morris is, like, boys with Rollie, a fact that exacerbates the problem that you may not immediately trust this review, nor that generous score sitting above these very words. There’s a conflict of interest going on here, and I’ll be the first to admit it.

But here’s why you should give me—and, more importantly, Breaking Kayfabe—a chance: I don’t know this Rollie dude, and on top of that I know approximately jackshit about the Canadian hip hop underground, let alone Edmonton, let alone Cadence fucking Weapon, a.k.a. the dude who made the CD that this review reviews. Shit, I don’t even know that much about Canada, and I’m still here hollering on our last regular update of 2005 that this is an impossibly accomplished hip hop album, a dense, paranoid party of seedy beats, lascivious synths, ferociously articulate rhymes and shocking cohesion. You don’t have to trust me on this one, but you really, really should.

Pemberton’s aesthetic is a sonic slap in the face, a thrillingly unique conceptual framework that manages to be both lo-fi and hi-fi at the same time. You’ll “get” it by the chorus of the first track, “Oliver Square,” which starts with slippery whispery compressed blasts of dnnt over fiercely synthetic drums of bt and ksssht (I’m sure I just helped produce the next Ariel Pink record, but you get the point). The manically spiraling hook is all spindly menace, making good on the verse’s minimalism and providing a gripping introduction to Kayfabe’s virulent, vivacious sound. “Oliver Square” is its most mosh-able interpretation, but Pemberton’s dedication to variation is both commendable and rewarding. “Grim Fandango,” for example, jacks a skuzzy survival/horror game’s hell-zithers and wraps them around factory-thud drums, while “Holy Smoke” features hopeless, oscillating whirs and pulsing-migraine drums intercut with panic-stricken beeps. Needless to say, Pemberton knows his way around a studio or program facsimile thereof, especially since thuds, whirs, beeps, and dnnts sound like shit on acoustic guitar. And this is why Breaking Kayfabe succeeds first and foremost as a work of pure production prowess, a monstrously successful announcement of a unique voice.

Over these beats he wraps lyrics that are alternately political and deft, abrasive and funny, tiresome and tireless, the rebuke of the hater and the rebuttal of the hated. He proves himself profoundly skilled at the ability to evoke a sense of place. I—and, most likely, you—don’t get his endless Edmonton in-joking, but we don’t really need to: the name-dropping and place-checking so predominant on the first half that it acts as a groundwork—a launching pad for the hallucinatory paranoia that dominates the middle of the album. He lands back on solid ground by “Lisa’s Spider,” a pun-heavy exhibition of his verbal firepower, dropping chestnuts like, “I can’t work day to day and live and starve in the lunchline / That’s why my shows last longer than a Talib Kweli punchline / I rap into the next bar like a Talib Kweli punchline / But I make no sense like a Talib Kweli punchline.”

Okay, maybe that’s not the best example of Pemberton’s linguistic dexterity, but it is a good example of his verifiably vicious sense of humor. From the same track: “You might be telling some things to intelligent thinkers / Until I run in your house and take your jewels, like Zelda’s Link,” and if you get that joke, you’re a fucking nerd, too, so shut up. Pemberton’s delivery straddles El-P’s word orgy and Illogic’s heavy enunciation, and it’s already been tough to tell whether Cage’s more-recent drawled-out-stylings from Hell’s Winter are Pemberton-inspired, or simply Pemberton-paralleled.

But as good as these beats can be (hello, “Black Hand”) and as fantastically deft as the rhymes get (howdy, “Grim Fandango”), there’s really no precedent set for the front-to-back triumph of “Turning On Your Sign.” Easily one of the most entrancingly gorgeous tracks of 2005, “Sign” is built around an incandescent reiteration of a single chime, with rhymes riding over the waves from the chorus, a tumbling rumination on the immensity of life. Yes, I can use pretentious phrases like these, because check the fog-shrouded soothsaying of the chorus: “I never learned how to swim / But the waves keep breaking upon miles of sin / And I never learned how to bike / But I ran through the math, man, I had to fight.” It’s one of those tracks that seizes an unnamed mood, a tense strand of logic unrecognized, the perfection of a thought process, the crystallization of a particular regret, the nebulous decision for hope, and when the colossal horns begin their stately march in the final thirty second, all of my inadequate phrasing will either make sense or become irrelevant, at which time you’ll either forgive me or continue on with your shitty taste in rap still intact.

This is Kayfabe’s ultimate moment, and if the last few tracks seem pale in comparison, well, who gives a shit? And if you don’t believe this review, because it might be a favor for a friend of a friend, then, fuck, sorry, but at least I’ve got a track like this to back me up. Pemberton’s crafted a uniquely engaging sonic statement that stands on its own legs, regardless of my endorsement or anyone else’s. At the very least, take this as CMG’s party line on Cadence Weapon: the kid can make a fucking record.