“Hope in Dirt City”
Taken from the album Hope in Dirt City.
Cadence Weapon isn’t always a great rappper in the “murderous rhymes tight from genuine craft” / “dopest flow stanzas” sort of way, but even so the gestalt of his songs usually work better than any single part would on its own. His new release, Hope In Dirt City, isn’t a great album but still forms a persuasive argument for Roland Pemberton’s unique position in rap.
Lyrically, Cadence mixes a realistic approach, mostly about nightlife and girls, with hip, ostentatious allusions to Finnegans Wake, Wire’s “Three Girl Rhumba”, Roy Orbison, and other such subjects you wouldn’t expect to hear in, say, a Shad song. That said, there’s a weird split in Pemberton’s writing, which alternates between lines written with a great precision — check “No More Names (Aditi)”’s honed opening “I met her at an art show / She looked like Halle / Walked to a loft show / I pissed in the alley / and she didn’t seem to mind / turned a blind eye / to the crassness of casual actions designed to repel” — and a relaxed, conversational, nearly unrhymed delivery. On Breaking Kayfabe Cadence occasionally used this kind of flow, but for comic effect — like the uneasily funny moment in “Diamond Cutter” when Pemberton blurts “I misconstrued this as a culmination of lost childhood and possessive tendencies… but really, she just wanted to fuck”. Here, alas, it seems less like an effect and more like a cop-out.
The production approach is entirely different from Breaking Kayfabe’s brittle, abrasive electronic beats or Afterparty Babies’ glazed electro. Instead, tracks are from full-bodied, classicist samples of traditional instruments — which complements Cadence’s older, deeper voice.
Speaking of voice — the most interesting development here is Pemberton’s sudden interest in full-throated soul singing. A few of the tracks here are big workouts for Cadence’s pipes — often, the shouty delivery seems self-consciously overblown, as if he’s winking at his own exhortative singing. It’s an interesting look and I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes with it.
This title track is a good example of what Pemberton’s up to here — it has a rich sound and a melody shamelessly plundered from U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire”.