Music

Cadence Weapon: Hope in Dirt City

His style is a running dialogue with stylistic annotations, and it combines with fantastic wordplay to make for a compelling musical product.


Cadence Weapon

Hope in Dirt City

Label: Upper Class
US Release Date: 2012-05-29
UK Release Date: 2012-05-29
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Artist Website
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Cadence Weapon kicks off his third LP Hope in Dirt City by employing similes bursting with classic hip-hop boastfulness: "Nobody fresher, flyer than a single engine Cessna / With the propellers, I'm stellar, more electric than Tesla".

The opening cut that contains this couplet, "Get On Down", is no Saturday night club banger, mind you. Commencing with (perhaps self-mocking) laughter, the smile is quickly wiped off of its face by a tinny television score sample and a tripping old-school drumbeat. Cadence Weapon's flow on "Get On Down" migrates from syllable-spitting quickness to a pastiche of Jamaican dance-floor stutter just as the tongue-in-cheek chest-beating of his rhymes morphs into the trenchant critiques of mainstream American hip-hop that define the genre's bohemian offshoots. Still, his dig on rappers who broadcast their wealth while paying underlings to be the pack horses for their illicit drugs is indeed a sharp one.

Cadence, a.k.a. Rollie Pemberton of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, deploys certain rap tropes while conscientiously avoiding others; you'll find more wordplay than gunplay on his records, and no homophobia or misogyny of any sort. Pemberton represents an interesting hybrid of classic rap posturing and the precious mix of cleverness and self-doubt inherent to alternative culture. Well-schooled in the tenets of the former by his Brooklyn-born father, a pioneering hip-hop DJ on college radio in Edmonton, Pemberton is tightly enmeshed in indie culture as well. A former Pitchfork reviewer, Lollapalooza performer, and more recently the poet laureate of his Northern Canadian hometown, he spent most of his previous release Afterparty Babies wrestling with the implications of a subcultural scene of simultaneous creative verve and pretentious poseurhood.

Afterparty Babies suffered mightily from being an act of position-taking first and a musical statement second. To its great benefit, Hope in Dirt City inverts that relationship and then rubs out all trace of a position with a big fat pink eraser. Pemberton lets Cadence Weapon free here, donning masks and reveling like a dissolute Venetian. If his sonic palette has always tended towards innovation, then his writing and rhyming styles have proven elusively chameleonic. As a pure MC (and he can never be purely, merely that), Cadence Weapon is a restless ventriloquist, lowering his timbre or slowing his tempo just to see if he can before his wanderlust kicks in and he ventures towards an approximation of the style of another of his influences. This is neither tribute nor homage, nor is it lazily nostalgic appropriation. It's a running dialogue with stylistic annotations, and it combines with Pemberton's fantastic wordplay to make for a compelling musical product.

This effect is on full display on the first single "Conditioning", Cadence Weapon's most virile pop composition since his debut record's glorious Edmontonian anthem "Oliver Square". Everything on the record is beautifully produced, and the sonics on "Conditioning" are no exception. But the sharpness of this cut is down not just to the quality of its sound or of its rhymes ("I'm not trying to diss you, but I look so drained / Because I weight train as a form of dismissal"); it features Cadence breaking out of his usual aloof flow into a passionate, soulful interlude of broken-hearted directness.

It's a striking moment that sets "Conditioning" apart from the rest of the album, which generally sticks to the usual sonically-rich aloofness. "Jukebox" surfs on Stax funk and saxophone solos, as Cadence Weapon gets his dander up about the titular bar-room music machines. "Cheval" samples Curtis Mayfield and drifts into Quebeçois French, mixing equestrian references with thesaurus vocabulary. "Crash Course for the Ravers" evokes the club-scene extroverted introspection of his last record with its bubbling electro-dance sound, and the title track that follows it deploys 1980s synthetic production alongside Pemberton's slightly forced puns and extremely forced crooning.

"I don't need no fucking hype man," Cadence Weapon claims on "Hype Man", which repeats and extrapolates on the criticisms of mainstream hip-hop's greed and self-absorption hinted at near Hope in Dirt City's beginning. But he does unleash a hype man of sorts on "(You Can't Stop) The Machine", allowing fellow Canadian indie MC and one-time tourmate Buck 65 a characteristic verse ("taking my money to the bank in a wheelbarrow"). If Cadence Weapon is not always secure with either hip-hop convention or indie scene expectations, he is undoubtedly secure in his own artistic voice. Hope in Dirt City is the sound of that varied and surprising security.

8

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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8
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From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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