The narcissistic solipsism that pervades so much of American hip-hop can get a bit tiring. As enjoyable and cerebral an experience an excellent rap album can be — and, of course, there are many excellent rap albums — all it takes is another forced Louis Vuitton rhyme from Kanye before the question starts nagging at you: “If not for the whole spectacle of the thing — the sparkling production, the visceral beats, the clever sampling — would I really care what this dude has to say?”
And that was the refreshing thing about Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon (or Rollie Pemberton, if you run into him while he’s not on stage) when he made some slight headway into the global hip-hop scene with his excellent debut Breaking Kayfabe. With an approachable, self-deprecating air and references not to expensive French fashion but to things as obscure and geeky as old LucasArts adventure games, Cadence did seem like the sort of guy you wouldn’t mind sharing a couple of drinks with — a hip-hop artist who made up for in personality what he lacked in spectacle.
Which is why Cadence’s new mixtape, Separation Anxiety, can be somewhat frustrating: it’s just as much concerned with Cadence Weapon the silent house/techno geek as it is with Cadence Weapon the subversive, clever emcee. This mixtape delves even further into the European house worship that played a prominent roll on Cadence’s last LP, the ho-hum Afterparty Babies, and Cadence here seems most interested in showing off what he can do with bleeps and boops in his remixes — many of which he doesn’t contribute a single verse to.
From what you might assume to be a traditional hip-hop mixtape, it’s a bit unexpected, but not entirely ineffective. Cadence reveals himself to be a talented producer/remix artist, if one who’s still got some growing to do. His aesthetic is surprisingly spare, with harsh, pixilated synths that are as much Justice as they are classic IDM each politely taking their turn in the spotlight, never getting rambunctious enough to step on each other’s toes. In other words, not a whole lot of layering going on here, and some remixes (Cadence’s take on the Cansecos’s “Rise Up”, for example) become so sparse that you can practically see through them. In its own way, it’s calculated, subtle, and perhaps even a bit mature, but when Cadence runs yet another permutation of the same sawtooth lead further down the tracklist, things can grow a little stale.
However, when Cadence does manage to wrest himself from his laptop and get behind the mic, things can get impressive. Cadence’s lyrics are, at times, as complex and self-supportive as the architecture of a Renaissance Cathedral: lines will frequently double back into themselves to reveal new meanings, and that benign simile that he began his verse with will be thrust into a new light during the rap’s final seconds. With ridiculous wordplay like “Told me to tell you if there’s something wrong / Title of the song: ‘Righter of the Wrongs’ / I’m the writer of the song, nothing right about the wrongs / But now I have to write about the wrongs in this song” it’s easy to ignore his often flat delivery.
So we’ve got something of a mixed bag of a mixtape here. On one hand we have excellent at best and interesting at worst lyrics that invite careful attention on the part of the listener, and on the other hand we have Ed Banger-esque electro shakedowns that work best when you don’t give them too much thought — i.e. remixes that thrive on the dance floor, not between a pair of headphones.
Cadence has done the honorable thing and is offering this mixtape through his website cadenceweaponmusic.com on the fashionable “pick your price” basis. If you’re hosting a party in the near future, I’d toss him a five. Sure, no one’s going to be paying enough attention to him to catch the zombie movie references, and you are getting a decent amount European house by way of Canada, which sounds horrifying, but as party mixtapes go, you could honestly do far, far worse. And you know what? He references zombie movies. Go ahead and toss him another buck.