Entertaining and inventive, this is a fine third LP proper from the Canadian rapper.
Mike Diver 2012
A writer? With credits on Pitchfork and Stylus reviews, sure. A poet? Certainly, as he served as poet laureate in his hometown of Edmonton for two years. But a genius, and he knows it? Hardly. Cadence Weapon’s to-date trajectory has largely been under the radar, his two albums for Big Dada (2005’s Breaking Kayfabe, 2008’s Afterparty Babies) earning positive reviews but barely bothering the mainstream.
The closest the rapper born Roland Pemberton has come to recognition beyond a select few has perhaps been via remixes, as he’s reworked cuts by Ciara and quirkstress-du-jour Grimes. He’s never pushed his own creative agenda to quite the extent that he might’ve, or enjoyed the visibility his music’s warranted.
Hope in Dirt City is a third album that improves on past releases substantially without wholly detaching its maker from familiar-to-some sounds. The pulsating electro cuts that decorated Afterparty Babies are largely absent, but flashbacks dazzle through: Hype Man taps into dubstep for atmospheric influence, updating the Cadence-does-clubland condition established with Afterparty Babies’ In Search of the Youth Crew and We Move Away with bass-bin-antagonising adroitness.
The ominous grinds of Conditioning are reminiscent of Sharks from Breaking Kayfabe; but, here, Pemberton reins in fizzy embellishments to service something possessing a greater menace. An older-school vibe pervades elsewhere, Cheval riding a wonderful retro-soul strings sample (if it is a sample, that is) and Small Deaths tipping its hat the way of 60s dub and 2 Tone ska.
Best of all, in terms of the tracks summoning archaic elements to serve contemporary causes, is Crash Course for the Ravers. Not a rave anthem at all, it trips the disco lights fantastically, Weapon waxing lyrical atop shimmering keys and punctuations of glissando strings. The icing on the cake is a delicious saxophone solo.
In keeping with Cadence’s relatively non-conformist rap stance, only one track here is a "feat." affair. Fellow Canadian Buck 65 lends his distinctive blues-kissed presence to (You Can’t Stop) The Machine, a number that contrasts one speedy delivery with another that’s intentionally, effectively lethargic. The title track closes proceedings with a slight 80s air – think Duran Duran jamming a slow-dance with a conscious MC standing in for Simon Le Bon.
Ultimately, ...Dirt City stands little hope of entertaining the masses. But its maker has outdone himself, presenting variety with commendable cohesion and experimenting where others might’ve chased trends for overdue commercial returns.