Underground rapper Cadence, a Nashville, Tennessee local favorite, having toured with the likes of Kenny Chesney and Uncle Kracker and receiving some strong word-of-mouth for Songs of Vice & Virtue, his first try at a breakout album, is on his way up. He’s been compared to Eminem, sadly often (since when was being born Caucasian counted as a gimmick?), but the Kanye comparison is more on the money. Cadence raps for the everyman, blending social commentary with simpler boasts and emo-rap narratives over pop-leaning beats for the preteen set.
The album-opener and single, “Comin’ Back”, is this formula gone very, very right. The beat is a poppy masterpiece; muted-punchy piano with intermittent blasts of horn, and Cadence flowing nimbly throughout on a number of social issues, anti-gangsta, anti-war, pro-music. The sung chorus is catchy and undeniably, easily cool, and Cadence’s delivery carries an easy charisma that renders even his triter, simpler lines likeably appealing. With more songs like this, it’s evident that Cadence could have a huge potential to succeed commercially with enough of a marketing push.
The problem is that the majority of the album muddles together with nice-sounding, high-production-value R&B-tinged tracks that don’t exactly disappoint, but aren’t particularly memorable either. With more than a few songs dragging on a bit in length, the album seems unnecessarily long. Some filler could definitely have been cut, here. Cadence’s mostly-rapped vocal work has a definite appeal, with even some singing mixed in as well, and his voice isn’t bad. “All Fall Down” is a decent, even somewhat affecting (if also somewhat derivative) late-night ride through dark city streets, slightly overproduced but at the very least capturing a strong mood.
The best tracks are those that break form and dare to be different. “Squeaky Clean” is a refreshing example that takes him in a totally different direction over a beat that toes the line between genius and absolute stupidity. (I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, it is dumb-catchy). It’s an exercise in minimalism, powered primarily by a combination of echoing drums and the sound of a shower, with occasional computer-altered high-pitched vocals (“squeaky clean”) cutting in over lyrics like “I clean me nuts, wash off your ball-sweat / Brush my teeth, shampoo my bald head / Get some soap suds under my armpits”. That’s right, it’s a song about showering, with a shower for accompaniment. I can’t decide if this is “amazing” or “worse than crunk”, but it’s a nice break from the sappier, blander backings of certain other tracks.
“Untitled 7/12/05” is another highlight, an unfinished song fragment in which he raps powerfully about war, politics, and religion over a brilliantly spare, building beat of brooding strings and martial drums that blossoms to a feverish crescendo. It’s over in less than a minute and a half, where other tracks drag to the five-minute mark and beyond, but it’s an intriguing and somewhat frustrating glimpse into what could have been. Cadence can write some very strong verses. With more interesting production than a lot of the pedestrian-conventional R&B he saddles himself with, he could work on an entirely different level.
Mediocre tracks ensue, but “Find Me Some” is a great ending, a laid-back, bluesy dirty-jazz sing-along powered by Cadence’s driving everyman chorus: “I know what I’m gon’ do / I’m gon’ drink a beer or two / And I’m gon’ go out, and I’m gon’ find me some pussy”. He may “go to bed with Lindsay Lohan and wake up with Carrot Top”, he may get fired from his job, fuck it, his friend might get hit by a truck and die, but he presses on, amidst organ and plinking piano; the song is a testament to Cadence’s musical diversity, his easy transitions between singing and rapping never coming across as forced.
The high points of the album, from “Comin’ Back” to “Squeaky Clean” to “Untitled” to “Find Me Some”, are very high, indeed. They show the depth of Cadence’s raw potential to succeed. But for every highlight, there’s a forgettable track. Still, with clearer vision and some more growth, Cadence’s next album could definitely be one to watch for.