Posted by: Necci – May 23, 2012
Cadence Weapon is a serious rapper on a label boasting both backpacker and club credentials that has toured with respected indie bands and commands high-profile remixes. A quick Google search absolves me of any embarrassing questions along the lines of “wait, who is this guy?” as it reveals someone who hasn’t made any noise since releasing the terrible Tron: Legacy: The Mixtape two years ago. No, it’s not a mixtape built around repurposed, Disney-fied Daft Punk beats, as the title seems to advertise. I was oddly disappointed.
To bolster the blog hype for his new full-length studio album, Hope in Dirt City, Cadence Weapon engaged the services of fellow Canadian and apparent friend Grimes for a you-scratch-my-back promotional remix swap. While Grimes’ remix of lead single “Conditioning” is as airy and nondescript as her own music, Cadence’s offer is a revelation. The rapper who once admonished indie crowds for their standstill arms-folded dancing during his opening slots for Islands proves why he was such a good candidate for this sort of genre cross-pollination in the first place. With “88,” his producers zero in on the hardest-hitting beat in Grimes’s catalogue and Cadence, in turn, murders the track. Syllables forcefully punctuate each sub bounce. Double-timed flows perfectly mimic the cascading tones of a filtered synth. We get a little bit of bravado, a little bit of saudade nostalgia for hip-hop’s Golden Age, and he’s in and out before the two-minute mark. It’s a shame it’s not on the album proper.
Back in 2008, his Separation Anxiety mixtape showcased a rapper not only comfortable with coasting high above challenging club beats but equally at ease next to the likes of Roots Manuva and TTC on London’s Big Dada imprint. Maybe Cadence Weapon is pulling a Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 3? By not appearing in any movies between Rush Hour 2 and the grand finale of the saga, Tucker somehow managed to ask for and receive more money to essentially play himself. In the intervening years between releases, Cadence Weapon’s stock in the game has similarly risen. He’s Canadian (like Drake), he sings (like The Weeknd… and Drake), and his rhymes carve out narratives of bad women and the good and bad drugs that accompany them.
Too bad Hope in Dirt City is basically awful.
The key to Cadence Weapon’s style lies in his chameleonic qualities. This manifests itself in a good way in his remarkably versatile flow; it sounds just as good on old school soul-centric production as it does on bangers. The bad has a lot to do with his need to be one of those rappers that, to invoke David Cross, just absolutely go for it. He takes risks, he tackles multiple lyrical perspectives, and his character studies are particularly caustic. Unfortunately, most of the time he is either over-reaching or over-emoting. The angsty, shouted chorus on “Jukebox” recalls such previous rap/rock transgressions as Ludacris and Sum 41 teaming up for that “Get Back” remix. “Cheval” is derailed by an internal rhyme scheme based around an extended dating-as-horseracing metaphor. Or is it women-as-horses? I’m not even sure: “Girls are my weakness, legs like a horse’ll put that girl through the Preakness.” “My style is only to be seen around nubiles… let me throw some metal round ya neck horseshoe style.” What? “Crash Course for the Ravers” takes it back to the club, but one filled with the sounds of limp dance-punk guitars. I can’t only be speaking for myself in saying that I do not want hip-hop to sound like Two Door Cinema Club.
Lead single “Conditioning” is at least an interesting way to build tension in song. His strained vocal on the refrain is a moment that could slip right into a Nine Inch Nails single, but achieves a soulful intensity somewhat comparable to what TV on the Radio’s two singers do so well. On the album as whole, however, his hooks leave something to be desired. It might seem silly to criticize someone firmly rooted in the underground tradition for something like not having enough hooks, but Hope in Dirt City has heaps of them. They’re just underwhelming and, on occasion, grating.
While it is nice to see a rapper willing to reference music outside of hip-hop’s comfort zone, none of the songs take such novel twists and turns as those of lead single “Conditioning” or the Grimes remix, “88.” Cadence Weapon can still suitably tear up the kind of jittery club beat that his labelmates rap over on Skins soundtracks all the time, yet he comes across as merely a bench player. We often praise those rare mainstream stars that can successfully navigate experimentation, but when an artist’s genre already abounds with the avant-garde? If that artist is unable to create a mood, an atmosphere, a lyrical space uniquely his or her own… why listen?
By Mike Bryant