Sileni and Underling are two of the best hip-hop bands in Scotland, for completely different reasons. Sileni play like they don't care who's listening, mashing together drone, black metal and hip-hop in a stunningly fuck-you manner, bending unwilling bits of tech to their maniacal musical wills. Rapper Harlequinade doesn't spit in his own accent - something that will perhaps endear him to a Scottish hip-hop audience who routinely turn on their own countrymen for sounding 'too authentic.' Harlequinade's transatlantic drawl is deployed as a weapon or a shield, wrapping his rhymes in hyper-real burlesque darkness. Defining themselves as 'cubist pantomime', the band push at the margins of experimental noise and performance - no two shows or songs are ever the same. In the current chilly climes that pervade the culture of homegrown hip-hop, there isn't another artist or group who dares to be as irreverent or defiant about genre conventions and cliches. Is it hip-hop or not? Argue amongst yourselves, Sileni don't give a fuck. Anyone who listens to cLOUDDEAD or Fantomas should check out this very special Halloween gig.
Underling meanwhile have been plugging away as a live act for some time, every single performance eliciting the kind of frenzied dancefloor frugging more usually seen at club nights. A full live band, with the tightest rhythm section in the city, their frenetic energy is driven and shaped by rapper Aron, who controls a crowd like a seasoned pro. An affiliation with label Tru Thoughts is in the offing for Underling, with an album in the works as we speak - who knows, perhaps these boys will be the ones who finally break down some barriers for our nation's much-maligned hip-hop scene. I certainly hope so - there are few bands more deserving. Come and catch them live on Halloween, you owe it to yourself.
~ Editor's Note:
I have since learned that Harlequinade actually does not own a UK passport, and his origins are shrouded in mystery. He may speak with a Scots lilt in conversation, but he makes no claims to having one 'true' accent... His voice is as much of a hybrid-wrapped-in-an-enigma as the man himself. Which goes to show that in these multicultural days and times, you should be careful what you assume...
This is what's been making me wiggle in the past month or two. Seek!
1 - Aesop Rock - None Shall Pass (Def Jux)
The title track from Aesop Rock's stunning new album, this has an uptempo pace and some classic verbal acrobatics - a tune to wake up with, chill out behind, or blast and bounce to.
2 - Daedelus - Hermitage (Ninja Tune)
From the fantastic Fair Weather Friends EP, this monstrous hybrid starts as booming carnival dubstep, before exploding into riotous techno fireworks. Inspired madness, and a departure for this versatile producer.
3 - Skream - Pass The Red Stripe (Soul Jazz)
On the legendary Soul Jazz label, this summery slice of dubstep has the kind of lolloping, endless bassline that you could loop forever, with ska-inspired horn lines and rolling drums. Catch Skream when he plays at The Bongo Club for Volume! on October 12.
4 - M.I.A - Paper Planes (XL Recordings)
A laidback 2-step beat with raw lyrics and sampled gunshots, this is one of the highlights of the Kala album, with Diplo showing serious innovation in his production. Instant classic, a slow-burner for the dancefloor.
5 - Wiley - My Mistakes (xxxChange Remix) (Big Dada)
Awesome breakbeat re-rub of this Wiley banger, with some of the most insightful lyrics the artist has ever laid down. This is a lesson for everyone about dedication and professionalism - and has more to say about the industry than Dizzee's Hard Back Industry track.
6 - Infesticons - Nighty Night Theme (Big Dada)
Mike Ladd and El-P trade ridiculous beatdowns on this classic leftfield hip-hop cut, dug out from dusty crates to reappear on the rather marvelous Well Deep compilation, celebrating Big Dada's 10th anniversary. Sheer awesome-ness personified.
7 - Hexstatic - Subway (ft. Profisee) (Ninja Tune)
Edinburgh's very own Prof makes a welcome guest appearance on this electro-tinged cut from Hexstatic's latest LP, When Robots Go Bad. Great lyrics that make you want to breakdance. Poppin' and lockin'!
8 - Lethal Bizzle - You'll Get Wrapped (V2)
Yeah Cameron, you gonna actually come to the ghetto, then? That's the basic idea, it's got enough fire to burn down Babylon again, and the drums stutter like fucked hardcore techno. The grimiest track from Back to Bizness.
9 - Cadence Weapon - Sharks (Big Dada)
See last month's Weaponizer interview with Cadence Weapon for more on this innovative and witty Canadian rapper. Sharks is a fuck-you to industry haters, with a bassline that sounds like a herd of angry Nintendos.
10 - Diplo - Buy It Use It (Hollertronix / Money Studies)
Diplo canes Busta Rhymes over pounding gutter beats, with the Buy It Use It vocal riff grounding the whole thing solidly on the dancefloor. The backroom of Split loves this track.
I'm off to Barcelona - see you in 2 weeks time.
Cadence Weapon is a new voice from Canada's hip-hop underground, hailing from the city of Edmonton. Previously a respected hip-hop journalist for Pitchfork Media and Wired, he grew up listening to his DJ father's record collection, illing off Illmatic and bumping Nirvana in his bedroom, before starting his own successful hip-hop blog, the much-missed RazorBladeRunner.
** Click on track names to listen to music on Cadence Weapon's MySpace Page
Now signed to the UK's premier urban underground label Big Dada, his debut LP Breaking Kayfabe is doing the rounds in the more discerning boomboxes of the UK, Canada, North America and beyond. A tough, scuzzy take on rap that incorporates washed-out Nintendo bleeps and insane, lurching rave bass, it's an instant classic; self-produced, and with a clarity and scope of vision that is hard to attribute to such a young producer / MC.
I caught up with the 'Weapon to talk about blogging, growing up in the shadow of a musical father, and what-all he's up to with those crazy dayglo Edmonton Electroclashers.
BRAM: Hello Cadence Weapon. How are you doing?
CADENCE WEAPON: Hi. I’m wonderful.
B: So is it like, three in the morning for you over there?
CW: Yes, it’s exactly three in the morning.
B: Thanks for staying up so late. Were you doing a show?
CW: No. There’s a fairly popular club night, and I went to that.
B: I think Breaking Kayfabe is awesome. Am I right in thinking you produced the whole album yourself?
CW: Yeah, I did all the beats.
B: It seems like you were embraced by the Canadian hip-hop fraternity. Do you think more people are prepared to accept experimental stuff over there, simply because it’s Canadian?
CW: I don’t think so, necessarily. I actually think that the best response I’ll get will be over there, in the UK. I don’t actually think that the Canadian hip-hop fraternity has been particularly happy about whatever success I’ve had. Mostly, it’s more people who are into electronic music, or people who are more open. I definitely think you will see a vast difference in response in terms of the UK compared to over here.
B: On many tracks you have written, like Oliver Square and Sharks, you’ve got a heavy electronic bassline coming in over some 808s. That really appealed to me, the rawness of the fusion of the electronic noises with old-school beats. Where did you pick up your electronic influences – were you a raver?
CW: No, far from it. My Dad was a hip-hop DJ. He played hip-hop, and funk, and electro, and it kinda rubbed off on me. I was growing up around that sort of thing.
B: What were the first things musically that you really connected to, and felt like: ‘Yeah, that’s my shit.'
CW: There were a couple of things, like Illmatic by Nas, which I totally stole from him. Also Brand Nubian – One For All. Definitely those two albums, I connected with.
B: Your tracks Lisa’s Spider and Vicarious have very grimy, dirty production – the bass has nice washed-out tones. What equipment do you use - MPCs and so on, or are you mostly computer based?
CW: I’m definitely computer guy. I use tons of different computer programs. I definitely see the allure of using the old-school stuff though. It’s funny, some of the artists I’m into these days, they still use the same equipment, so, you know there’s gotta be worth to it.
B: To return to the lyrics of Oliver Square, you talk about hitting “a new city with the Electroclashers.” Do you have a following at home among the club kids?
CW: That’s kinda funny. In that song I’m actually referring to a club in Edmonton called New City. They have a Thursday electroclash night. So I’m taking a tour of the city, checking out all the scenes, and having a dance and stuff. I definitely do feel that I have a following among that crowd, there’s a band I record with called Shadow Of A Doubt, who are definitely a big influence on my music. I think people in Edmonton, they know what they’re in for, you know? They know I’m definitely coming with that electronic edge.
B: Do you see yourself as being in a different category from people like Buck 65 and Swollen Members?
CW: I’d say I’m not even remotely similar to Swollen Members, but I definitely feel like in terms of my ethics and who I am, definitely I’m very similar to Buck 65. I was just hanging out with him on Sunday. He was in town for a show and we swapped albums, checked things out. I definitely feel like there’s still room for a successful rapper from Canada. I feel like it’s a matter of finding something that’s original, something people can really get behind.
B: It’s funny, because my girlfriend loves Buck 65. I’m not such a massive fan of his stuff, but she loves it. When I put your album on, she was really digging that as well. I think it’s the ethics behind it, like you say – that appeals. I think the reason I liked it so much was that it manages to evoke more recent stuff like Spank Rock, and classic stuff like the Ultramagnetics, without sounding derivative. It had the ethics of Antipop Consortium, but with a pop edge (bizarrely). You seem really able to transcend your influences. Do you think that has anything to do with having a DJ for a dad?
CW: I think it’s a mix of being influenced by all the stuff my Dad brought to the table, but also being influenced by stuff that he completely wouldn’t touch at all. You know how it is when your Dad like something, you like the complete opposite. So my Dad would have the Nas record, and I’d be like, ‘Yeah yeah… Dad’s stuff,’ and be like watching my music, jamming Nirvana, you know, harsher stuff. So my music’s like an amicable combination of those two aspects.
B: You’ve remixed a wide range of artists – what’s it like working with other people’s beats?
CW: The idea with a remix for me is either trying to fix a problem I have with the song, or try and specifically take a different direction, away from what the original piece did. It’s kind of an interesting game. It’s quite fascinating, because there’s so many different ways of hearing and listening, but there are instances where you listen to someone else’s track and you think, ‘What did you do that for?’
B: I think you have a similar approach to xxxChange from Spank Rock, in that you break a tune down into its elements, into the bits that work for him, and then chucks the bits he doesn’t want, adding in whatever he feels he needs. It makes sense to see you on Big Dada, in that sense. I was feeling some grime influences on your tracks too.
CW: Oh definitely, I’m a huge grime fan. Just earlier today I was playing some of the new Kano album, and I thought that was really cool. I like the single, actually, with Craig David. I was also jamming the Mitchell Brothers – they’re incredible. They’re so funny. I think grime is great. I think it’s so great that something like that can be so successful in a major place like the UK, because it’s so original, so specific.
B: And so challenging to the listener in places.
CW: It’s crazy to have something like that, and to be in a position where lots of people can listen to it.
B: From reading RazorBladeRunner, it also seems to me like you’re not someone who’s afraid to like a track if it’s by someone considered to be ‘pop’ – if it’s a great record, it’s a great record. You’re unafraid of hooks, rhymes and melodies, and you’re quite playful with words. Where does that side of you come from?
CW: I’ve always had an interest in a lot of commercial rap. I’ve never been necessarily afraid to let it out that I believe in a certain tunefulness in my raps, I believe in a certain sense of melody. And a lot of people are really anti-melody, that’s quite common in the hip-hop community. It’s almost seen as selling out if you have a pop hook or something. But no, I definitely got that from growing up, and seeing all the awesome commercial rap records that have come out – the ones with slamming beats and hooks that you remember. Like, when I compare it to the deeper lyrical stuff that I’m into to, it just seems that I’ve made a cross-section for myself of those two parts, and I feel like it’s the best of both worlds.
B: I love the lyric: “This isn’t a house-by-writing bumper sticker / It’s something you stick in a bump / Like a heroin needle.” Those reversals – there’s a couple of points on the LP where you do that. Have you always had a love of words?
CW: Oh yeah. English was basically my thing; I was really good at it in school. I remember I used to write raps during maths class in junior high, but I was an honours English student. The written word is always something I’ve had control over.
B: So you approach rap as much more a written thing, rather than freestyling?
CW: I’d be more rapping by myself. I’d never be in the ciphers with people. It wasn’t nearly as common. I knew, like, one other kid that rapped growing up. It was definitely more from a literal, written perspective. It also came from just being immersed in rap my whole life.
B: Prevail from Swollen Members said encountering hip-hop culture in Canada was difficult. Was that the same for you?
CW: No, not really, but maybe that’s because I’m a younger guy, I grew up differently. I’ve always thought that in the past few years, with the internet, and the way things are distributed, and of course with the popularity of rap in general, it was never hard for me to come across. And today, if there’s something I’ve heard about, I think it’s interesting, I can find it almost immediately. But it’s kind of funny. I think a lot of people use that ability the wrong way. When you have the ability to find out about any record almost instantly… I just wish people would realise how special it is. I remember when I was way younger, going to HMV and going up to the counter and saying, ‘Hey, is this in in the computer? Have you heard of this?’ And people would be like, ‘I have no idea. How is that spelled?’ You know, they had no idea about the challenges of dealing with hip-hop, how fast it moves. But you don’t have to deal with that anymore.
B: Have you encountered any resistance due to the fact that you’re a Canadian rapper?
CW: It isn’t so much that it’s like, ‘You’re not from New York, so it’s not hip-hop’. I feel like it’s more like… basically hip-hop has grown so much that it doesn’t have a central place anymore. It’s just in the air, and wherever it shows up; if it’s French, so be it. I’ve encountered more resistance from say, people being from Toronto or something. That’s where a lot of the Canadian rappers come from, and they’ve been like, ‘Oh wow, from Edmonton? Really? That’s weird.’ It’s just uncommon for people to come from where I’m from and to rap. I’ve had a lot of people, maybe just because of the sound I have, thinking that I’m like betraying rap completely. I like to do covers of rock songs at my shows, because I wanna do ‘em, and a lot of people aren’t necessarily on the same wavelength as me. They might think I’m making fun of rap, or not being respectful. But I definitely am!
B: I didn’t get that impression. I mean, you repped your area – you gave an impression of what it’s maybe like to live in Edmonton. For me that’s one of the things that tells you if something’s hip-hop or if it’s not – you know, can you get a sense of who this rapper is, and where they’re from. On another note, how did you manage the change of pace from being a hip-hop commentator to a hip-hop artist?
CW: For me, it wasn’t a big deal because I had been rapping long before I started writing professionally. I was doing both of them at the same time, but I didn’t consider them interconnected at all. I still don’t feel like music criticism is the same part of my brain I use when I’m writing a song. I never want to approach songwriting from a purely technical or critical perspective, because it supposed to be a more of an organic thought process. It’s just gotta flow.
B: Now that you’ve retired RazorBladeRunner, have you declared your journalistic career a thing of the past?
CW: I’m thinking less of writing for other publications, and more along the lines of combining the two in a different way. I was thinking of writing a book of my touring experiences in different cities, and doing profiles of different kids in different cities, and trying to get a grasp on what the youth of North America or the UK is like, you know? I don’t know, trying to do like an ethnological study on kids that go to hip-hop shows. I’m just trying to flip the script, and still have that writing in my life.
B: Tell me more about the track Holy Smoke – are the lyrics purely observational, from the Edmonton streets, or where does it come from?
CW: That song is about what was specifically happening in my house at the time. I came from a house where my Dad was growing weed in the basement, and drugs were really a part of my life early on. They kept re-appearing in my life in different aspects. My Mom ended up dating someone else, and he happened to be into it too. I definitely had to make a song, because I felt like, what is it about this thing that makes people want to cross into my life that way? Why are they trying to smoke where I’m making beats, you know? I remember one time, he was in my room, and he was just like, ‘Oh, I was just checking something on your computer.’ Yeah, and smoking in my room. You fucking asshole. I don’t know, that song is very personal. Actually, at one point a cigarette company asked if they could use one of my songs, and I just thought that was really funny, because I’ve never smoked in my life.
B: So you don’t smoke or take drugs at all?
CW: No. I drink, though.
B: You know, I’m looking at your press bio again and I just realised you’re 21. You’re very young to have such a wide vocabulary as you display on the album, and to have done so many things. Have you always been considered a bit of a prodigy, and had a sense of having a lot to give?
CW: I feel like it’s taken a long time for people to realise it. Before I completed an album, it was something I had been toiling away at for years. I went to college in the States for a while, in Virginia, and that was the most insightful experience, because it made me realise, I gotta put out my album before someone else does the exact same shit. Cos if I don’t do it before someone… I don’t know, I didn’t want to end up like that anyway. I’ve never been any good at conventional ways of succeeding, getting a degree, that kind of thing. The off kilter thing has worked best for me.
B: So you were motivated as much by what you didn’t want to do as by what you did?
B: How did you feel when all that shit went down at Vriginia Tech last year?
CW: It was crazy. I mean it wasn’t at my school, but it wasn’t far at all from where I was going. When I found out about it, I was totally not surprised, because Virginia’s totally not the best for someone of a different race. They still have a place called Lynchburg. I mean it’s barely Southern, but there were people my age, who I was going to school with, who were completely backward. I could definitely see how something like that would happen there.
B: Perhaps that’s what gives the songs on Breaking Kayfabe their edge – they were written at appoint when you were culturally up against a wall, so to speak. Do some of the beats date back to this time as well?
CW: Some of the beats were put together in a weird patchwork, because when I went to school, in the first semester I didn’t bring my computer with me. I came back to town, the computer was destroyed – my family had really fucked it up. So I had to re-make a bunch of the beats for Breaking Kayfabe. The first half of the album might be what I did the first time, but then the other half is getting the sample again, making a new part and stapling them together. It’s like Frankenstein stuff.
B: Your new album, Afterparty Babies - has that been written on the road?
CW: On and off, I’ve been writing and coming up with ideas. It’s definitely a project that has been in development for a long time. I’m really excited about it. It’s the closest I’ll get so far to a reflection of the way I really am right now. I feel like it says a lot about the human condition, and where I’m living, and the way people are. I think it will be relevant.
B: Any guest MCs?
CW: Not really, no. I don’t have any guests rapping on it, but I have one beat by someone else – DJ Nato, from Edmonton. I record with him too. I’m kind of borrowing from Sage Francis – he doesn’t have any guests on any of his solo albums. He’ll rap on other people’s albums, but he won’t have any guests on his own albums. I recorded a track with Buck 65; I think that ended up on his new album.
B: Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
CW: 5 years from now? Maybe by then I’ll have a driver’s licence. I’ll probably be married. And hopefully respected in my field, ha ha.
Check out the awesome, awesome, awesome videos for Sharks and Black Hand on YouTube. The Nintendo madness of Sharks has to be witnessed.
Thanks very much to Cadence Weapon for the interview, and to James Heather at Big Dada for setting it up and providing the press shots. Breaking Kayfabe is out now on Big Dada - go buy, peoples.