CADENCE WEAPON, HIGH RISE (2019)
Adam: Hey, how's it going?
Cadence: Good. How’re you guys doing?
Nara: It’s really hot out!
Adam: We're in a park right now. So if you hear any screaming it's, well, it might be might be us, maybe. Depends on what happens. Thanks for taking this time to talk.
Cadence: I'm really excited. Thanks for thinking about the video.
Nara: Yeah. Amazing Video. It's so good. It's crazy.
Cadence: Thank you!
Adam: Oh, we should introduce ourselves first. I'm Adam. We met briefly. E-met.
Nara: I'm Nara. To kick it off, could you introduce yourself and then talk a little bit about the video that you have featured in Insomniac Film Festival 2019?
Cadence: Yeah, for sure! What's up, I’m Cadence Weapon. I’m a rapper, producer, and writer. The song “High Rise” was made with a production crew called “Peach.” And it was directed by Lester Millado. With that song, I really wanted to do something very specific about a big issue that I've noticed in Toronto. I’ve lived here for four years. I definitely wanted to do something that commented on the housing crisis, and the condo-fication of major cities.
I grew up in a very tight knit community and crucial neighborhood, so just seeing it kind of fade away is really, really troubling. And particularly since I lived here, the access to affordable housing is just...there's no vacancy anywhere. It feels very limited for everyone. So I thought about making a song that people could relate to. And, you know, I think it seems to have impacted a lot of people.
Adam: Your song has an ironic satirical edge. What was important for you in approaching it with that tone?
Cadence: Well, yeah, for me...when I was writing the song, I thought, what would David Byrne do?
Adam: Right! [Laughing].
Cadence: I feel like there's something about writing a song about this kind of circumstance from the perspective of a sort of yuppie character. You know, like, I picture Bateman from American Psycho.
It's like his condo, and he’s the kind of people living in that building. I visualized the late 80’s and the “insane wealth” kind of vibe behind a lot of the song. But yeah, the reason why I did that is because I like to create songs in a way that is not linear. I find it's more impactful. If you do things in a way that people don't expect and subvert expectation, it's more memorable because it's very rare. Like hearing house music about housing. Just the whole thing is kind of weird.
Nara: I think that also comes across in your music video. You don't have that 80’s big money aesthetic that you were talking about, but you definitely have those elements of subversion, and as the audience we don’t really know where the video is going the entire time. Then at the end the payoff is just so great.
Can you talk about conceptualizing those ideas with the director and the production team?
Cadence: When we were initially talking about the music video they came with the idea of, you know, the establishing shot from the movie The Conversation.
Adam: Ohhhh, yeah.
Cadence: Stylistic touchstone. And I was like, “I love that film.” Let's see where we can go with that. And once they explained how we would do it, I became very excited about the technique. It involved a lot of choreography on the street - filming from afar and several different locations. We were almost able to do it in one take, but it was too crazy.
I felt like [the video] kind of captured the isolation, alienation and loneliness of city life. Sometimes you're surrounded by all these people, but it feels like you're alone. Also, I like the idea of it being the common metaphor for what happens to gentrification. So it's like, you have these people who are colorful, and dancing and full of life...and then by the end when they're in the condo, it's kind of like they’ve lost part of themselves.
Adam: And they become constricted to a really tight parameter on the condo deck.
Nara: How did you guys actually coordinate the shoot? Because it seems so complicated.
Cadence: It was a lot of planning. We had a lot of people on the ground with walkie talkies. And they would queue me at certain points to make a move to support one of the dancers. We had somebody on the ground with a boombox. And on the side that you can’t see me, I had the music playing in my ear and I was able to rap along to it that way, because we obviously didn’t have a crazy loud speaker. So, I knew that I needed to be at certain points by a certain point in the song, and that kind of dictated my pace. Also, some of the people who were walking are extras.
Adam: Oh! I was wondering about that.
Cadence: There are people walking by and it's just to make it feel more realistic.
Adam: Early in the song you say “baby girl, I know it’s true”, and there’s a baby in a stroller that goes by. Was that on purpose?
Cadence: That was a happy accident.
Adam: It was great. You mentioned being inspired by house music - even on your self-titled album, on the first two tracks I felt some jazz inspiration. What’s fun for you about melding rap with these different styles of music?
Cadence: Well, for me, I just love music, right? I’m a total obsessive person about music, I listen to every kind of music you can think of. And I feel like I learn a bit about my own practice the more I listen to music. When I was making this album I was collaborating with a lot of producers - which was not something I'd done previously, most of my music I’d produced myself - so I got a lot of their influences. But I'm realizing that rap is very malleable. It always has been.
I feel like rap fits into other genres and can be camouflaged within them very easily - and it has throughout history. Like if you think about, there's like hip-house, you know, where there’s a lot of rapping over house music. And then you have jazz itself, where people do spoken word - think about Gil Scott Heron. These are all part of the same tradition. Back then with jazz it wasn’t even called rap yet, right? It was just like, people talking over music. So I feel like it makes a lot of sense. I feel like [rap] just fits perfectly with everything. I feel like it can also absorb, too. This is something I love about rap. That through sampling and just the nature of it you can absorb any genre and it becomes rap.
Adam: Yeah, listening to rap all my life, I feel like it’s allowed me to become more open minded about music and art in general. Because like you’re saying, it pulls from so many different sources, so many different samples, and you can really do anything.
Cadence: I think it’s one of the most artful genres in that way. I’ve learned so much about music just by following the white rabbit down the hole, you know? Like, “What’s that sample? I don’t know this artist.” And then listening to all their music and falling on a totally different path.
Adam: Those new singles that you put out a couple weeks ago are great, by the way. They have a more atmospheric, minimal electronic sound - and you’ve played with electronic before, obviously, but is that a path you see yourself going down on your next project?
Cadence: I'm finding that the most vital stuff I do has that electronic edge to it. And it was like that even on my first album - heavily electronic. I think the major difference is I'm using a lot of hardware now, I'm producing a lot of stuff again. And I'm trying to do a more refined version of my early stuff, you know, where it's some raw electronic stuff. I’m excited about these two new tracks.
Nara: You said you've been in Toronto for four years, do you think that has influenced the way you see yourself as an artist? Or do you still sort of have the same core values you did before moving to Toronto and it's just sort of like adding a new flavor?
Cadence: I feel like I have the same core values. I still have the same specific song direction, but I think living here has really inspired me professionally. On that side of it, it's really inspired me to see different levels of access that you have when you're really close to the core of the Canadian music industry, which I've never been living in Edmonton and Montreal. It feels like there’s a lot of room for you to do what you want to do, especially for rap. It feels like the most prominent place in the world for rap. It’s just cool to be around that kind of competition - it’s exciting.
Adam: We're kind of in a Toronto bubble, being born and raised here, making art here. So, what’s the scene like in Edmonton and Montreal compared to Toronto?
Cadence: It’s a very different place. Edmonton is very DIY. Everything is very punk attitude. You’ll get a lot of weird electronic music and then you’ll get some outsider folk music. There’s some rap there, but it doesn’t really have much of a platform, so it’s hard for people to hear. Whereas in Montreal, it's just a total creative wonderland, where people can live very cheaply and just create the weirdest music they possibly can...and it's totally acceptable. It’s supported by the government, too.
The city of Montreal loves art in the way that Toronto doesn’t. You don’t have the same kind of issues with venues closing...there’s plenty of record stores. They realized that it’s such an important part of the fabric of life there, that to lose that would be to lose part of themselves. So, I really respect Montreal for that, because that's become a big problem here in Toronto. I feel like everything gets turned into an A&W, or it gets turned into a condo, or a Shoppers Drug Mart. And you know, it's nice to have a Shoppers around -
Adam: But we don’t need twenty on the same block.
Cadence: We don’t need fifty! Like, take a fuckin’ walk. […] It's getting harder and harder to find places to dance.
Adam: Even just visiting Montreal, it feels more laid back and respectful of art. Rather than here where you have to dig a little bit to find a lot of stuff.
Cadence: Yeah, there’s an arts culture in Montreal. It's just a funky place. It’s not funky here at all [in Toronto].
Adam: That's part of why we do Insomniac...we try to give some kind of space for young filmmakers, especially filmmakers that are making low-budget DIY stuff. We want them to have a space to screen it.
Cadence: Yeah, that's really important.
Adam: You mentioned Edmonton. You made a song about Connor McDavid… What's going on with the Oilers? Why are they so bad? They have the best player in the world.
Cadence: I mean, it’s a team game, man. And also severe mismanagement on every level. Also, I think, hiring players to be part of the management and everything, right? I don't like that. I want somebody who actually knows how to do it. You're giving all the good old boys these jobs, but they don’t have a clue what they’re doing. It's horrible.
But I think it's inevitable that they're gonna turn around. I mean, they were so close. They got to the playoffs and they got to game seven a couple years ago. Hopefully they'll figure it out. But in the meantime my anthem is still relevant.
Adam: Yes. Definitely! Should be for a while, I think. Didn’t he sign a ten year contract or something? I guess they did trade Gretzky though, so...
Cadence: They literally traded Gretzky!
Adam: One of my favourite things about rap music is how much sports plays a role in the genre. I feel like in most other genres that I love, you don't really hear artists talking about sports nearly as often. One of the best rap songs ever is a Kurtis Blow song about basketball. Why do you think that rap is able to incorporate sports and culture into the music more so than other genres? If you feel that way...? Maybe this is just me.
Cadence: I totally agree! I think rappers love sports, and a lot of rappers wish they were basketball players. And basketball players want to be rappers. Yeah. I wonder why that is. Even I make a lot of sports references in my songs, too. I love sports. Maybe it’s the big stage for both of them - in sports and performing. That big kind of pressure. I think rappers and athletes can relate to each other.
Adam: One of my favorite references you made…. I forget the line, but you shout out Kelly Olynyk.
Cadence: “I ball like Kelly Olynyk...” [Laughter]
Adam: [Laughing] I don’t know how much of a compliment that is...
Cadence: I gotta be the first person to shout out Kelly Olynyk. He’s Canadian, too!
Nara: So, you’ve done some videos in the past. I specifically watched the one “My Crew (Wooo)” - and I found that it was similar to High Rise in the sense that it had the feeling of isolation, but also the feeling of trying to come together. Is that a theme that’s present throughout most of your work? Community and coming together?
Cadence: That’s a really cool observation! That’s something that definitely comes up in a lot of my music. The idea of friendship and collaboration - it wasn’t specifically a conscious decision to make a parallel between the two of them... I just never want to do a video of me sitting on the stoop - just rapping or something. I want to have some kind of conceptual edge to my videos, or a different perspective. That’s really important to me.
The “My Crew” video was one of the last that got funded by Much Fact, so we went crazy with it. We used all kinds of cranes, it was super complicated to me. Crazy video. I love that kind of adventure that's possible with videos, the creativity you can have. I love the magic of it.
Adam: I feel like in our lifetime, in the last 20-30 years, artists have become more understanding of what they can do with music videos.
Cadence: Visual albums and stuff. I think one of the coolest things ever was Frank Ocean’s Endless - where he was building the staircase. That was so rad.
Nara: Do you see a visual album in your future?
Cadence: Yes, I definitely do. I'm in talks with the filmmaker right now. Basically, I want to have a video for every track on my album, and I want them all to be connected. It’s gonna take a lot of teamwork and time, but it’s gonna be fucking rad.
Nara: That sounds amazing.
Adam: Thank you so much for taking this time to talk to us. We're really excited to hear that new album and to see your visual album along with it. We're also really pumped to be screening your film at the festival this year! Have a great day.
Cadence: You too. Bye!