Cadence Weapon
Breaking Kayfabe
2005
B



it's hard to make out what he's saying over the drum machine clatter and thick, pulsing murk of “Fathom”'s production, but I'm pretty sure I just heard Rollie Pemberton getting shot by both sides. Those pesky rock fans will probably damn his inaugural album as Cadence Weapon with the faintest of praise; as befits a guy who has remixed everyone from Lil' Wayne to Death From Above 1979, Breaking Kayfabe doesn't sound like a whole lot in mainstream rap, and you can already read the poisonous subtext in some of the accolades. They'll claim this is a great album purely because it doesn't sound like “that top 40 crap” or “50 Cent” or whatever placeholder they'll lodge in there. In short, they don't like what they think of as rap, and this doesn't sound quite like it, so it's okay. A double fallacy; as if what rap needed was an infusion from some other genre, and as if this album (made by someone who pretty clearly loves hip hop) was that infusion.

Hip hop heads, meanwhile, might very well be scared off by that kind of praise and by the fact that Rollie's flow, yes, takes quite a bit from the dreaded, many-headed hydra of undie rap which is (say it with me now) often boring. As if a record whose lyrics mostly turn and double back onto themselves with extra meaning is only suited to a few cultists, head-nodding in basements and passing around the sacred, bootlegged texts. It may be that the rapper/producer from Edmonton (and alumnus of more than one house of internet criticism, including Stylus, briefly) will tread carefully between these particular manifestations of Scylla and Charybdis, but if either group writes him off they're missing out.

It's not as if he's made it difficult for us: Breaking Kayfabe is front-loaded with delicious leftovers from his Cadence Weapon Is The Black Hand mixtape, and he starts us with his most immediate moment to date. A chance to set out his wares as well as a taunt, “Oliver Square” is already engraved on plenty of ears, and following it up with the dryly buzzing “Sharks” and the softly crooning/hard stomping “Black Hand” ensures that we all get off on the right foot. Somewhere in there is the equally addictive “Grim Fandango”, vertiginous horror movie swoon and some of his best lines yet: “So a star was born / and now you got no ass to risk” is a personal favourite.

After bait, though, the hook; we next plunge into the trust no-one landscape of “30 Seconds” (“Even I'm selling a lifestyle!”) and a queasily nasty tale of cheating and betrayal. “Diamond Cutter” is mostly notable for a few funny touches but the starkly portentous end is either a failed twist or just not significant enough to bear the weight the sudden halt of the song forces on it. Luckily two of the strongest, bleakest tracks follow; “Holy Smoke” doesn't so much waft as it chokes, droning/stuttering organ and Cadence Weapon's relentless, measured words wrapping around your brainstem. It's one of many tracks here where the instrumental could be mistaken for someone like Caribou, but when Rollie wraps his words around it there's no question of a disjunct between noise and word. The sound like they belong together; just as Rollie' remixes often result in nothing less than a new production for the vocals he's working with, these songs are definitely rap backing tracks even when they grab signifiers and sounds from elsewhere. “Turning On Your Sign” is a perfect marriage of both and the album's best moment. Rap tracks about growing up and looking back at parents may be borderline cliché at this point, but the unstoppable production makes this the anti-”Hate It Or Love It”, rough instead of smooth, trapped in the past for a few more minutes instead of boasting about the present.

After the fun “Lisa's Spider” (a de rigeur chance to flex verbal muscles, crush oppositions) we come to the end, and although Breaking Kayfabe has moved away from the pop immediacy of its beginnings it has never weakened. The wheezy “Vicarious” is a fine album track by Cadence Weapon's newly minted standard, but it's the last Black Hand leftover that ends the album with a bang. “Julie Will Jump The Broom” is a short, sweet shock about finding out an ex is getting married and having a kid. Rollie's delivery here is a perfect mix of reflective and oddly hurt, wistful for a future that was probably never going to happen anyways. It's a compelling reminder of John Gardner's “two simple but horrible and holy propositions”: Things Fade and Alternatives Exclude.

And that is that, barring a brief pause and a remix of “Oliver Square” that boasts the only guests rappers on the record (Touch, Kazmega and Max Prime, all acquitting themselves well). It's a bit of a rarity these days for a 19-year-old to release a debut with one rapper and one producer, himself, but the age thing isn't being mentioned to give him a pass for his lapses; it's to emphasize how amazing the heights Breaking Kayfabe hits are. If the record has a primary fault, it's that at first it seems a little same-y, but so did labelmates the Russian Futurists' most recent disc. In both cases it's a product of the density of the respective productions. A few listens clears up what might descend into drone or cacophony (respectively) into wonderfully maximal production and songwriting. Cadence Weapon couples that sound with lyrical sense that takes palpable pleasure at not letting a line go by without saying something that's either funny or clever, often revelling in puns and aural sight gags for nothing more but the pure love of the uses of language in hip hop. Too exciting for the underground (maybe), too weird for the overground (hopefully not), he deserves to be heard by both; I'm willing to bet it's all because he's Canadian.


Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-12-19
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