In the grandiloquent universe of music criticism, writers who view the world from an outsider’s perspective tend to have the tightest grip on their subjects. But besides this arm’s-length distance to the subject, writers must be two-faced: one side pinned in a marriage to their musical tastes, the other obliged to recognize the downfalls in their guilty pleasures.
Rollie Pemberton, emancipated from his online music critic days, traversed the boundary between critic and subject to become Cadence Weapon, his hip-hopping persona. As a critic, Pemberton managed the dichotomy of being a two-faced music critic. Rollie separated his intrinsic musical palate from his guilty pleasures, resulting in a laundry list of reviews that cherished few and chewed many.
On the other side of the criticism coin, Pemberton becomes Cadence, but without the morality that great critics like Pemberton struggle to keep sharp. As mixing emotions with opinions can be vexing to reviewers, twisting experimental interests with the final product can be the coffin sealer for any artist.
Breaking Kayfable, the recent debut-post-mixtape release by Cadence, is accountable for combining the two guiltiest of guilty pleasures (or gems of the musical ocean, if you will): electronic fog with esoteric hip-hop. Artists like Rob Sonic and Beans juggle these styles seamlessly, but when Cadence attempts to breed the genres, the result is an album that sounds like two distinctive records mushed together.
The electronic side of the album has its own brilliant voice. The album’s opener “Oliver Square” could be the spokes-song for electronic Breaking Kayfable, alternating from eight bars of crispy 808 snips to a different eight bars of unsystematic synth madness to another eight bars of gritty bass-burning folly. Sure, Cadence strays from this one-two-three setup, but he keeps the focus by resting on the constancy of 808 loops.
Constancy seems to be the theme of Breaking Kayfable‘s electronic silhouette. Most of the drums are constant throughout, as is the tempo of the tracks. But inside the order is disorder, which keeps the listener ravenous for the next move. Cadence clomps through a library of buzz-and-click noises and arranges them fervently, like on the exemplary “Vicarious”, which as a mere instrumental track serves as a sonic mind-fuck.
The electronic side of Breaking Kayfable seamlessly buzzes like a vibrator of pleasure. On the hip-hop tip, the album is equally, if not more virulent than the electro side. Cadence has his own brand of impressive lyric-tricity, with an expansive vocabulary to match. His intelligence and rationality remain shrewd on subjects ranging from the hip-hop industry to slave labor to writer’s block.
Cadence uses “Diamond Cutter” to chronicle the story of a lowly prostitute, but then sucks himself into the story. Consider it a musical adaptation, but with virulence and shadows. Cadence paints a vivid picture of the scene with the lines: “Pass made in the alley / I was galley, plus she was holdin’ her panties / I misconstrued this as a culmination of lost childhood and possessive tendencies / But really, she just wanted to fuck.”
On paper, the flow may seem impossible to vocally reconstruct, but Cadence uses his inflection and speed to showcase how sharp-witted and crafty he can verbally be. “Grim Fandango” ends with such verbal intercourse as, “And if I see you and you be C then / I see C and I see you and / I know you don’t wanna twirl with bars / Cause if you and I verse, well then our worlds apart”.
Separately, the two sides of the album are witted and well plotted. When they both meet, though, Breaking Kayfable becomes a struggle for the listener’s attention. The listener is forced to strain in order to mix the two genres into one concurrent stream, resulting in perceptual bedlam.
“30 Seconds” perfectly captures Breaking Kayfable‘s internal conflict. The electronic portion is captivating and ominous, while the verbal side is clairvoyant and erratic. But the struggle between the two aspects of the track is made most apparent on the chorus, when the electro-bass overpowers the vocals, and listeners have to squint their eyes to decipher the words.
Whether this is a matter of poor mixing or poor choice, Breaking Kayfable suffers from the push-and-pull that toys with the listener’s attention. While it is thoroughly enjoyable at a distance, it pushes listeners away by making the album more of an effort than an experience. The critic Pemberton has mastered the two sides of the Breaking Kayfable coin, but the musical Cadence in him seems to be struggling to meld the two dimensions into one.