Cadence Weapon Afterparty Babies

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Rating: 3.5/5

Styles:  hipster-hop
Others: Aesop Rock, Dizzee Rascal, Murs, Daft Punk, Prefuse 73

By his own admission, Rollie Pemberton (a.k.a Cadence Weapon) is a huge nerd. All the signs are there. Over-enunciated delivery? Check. Lyrics about not having sex on the first date? Check. How about some awkward barbershop-quartet beatboxing on “Do I Miss My Friends?” You bet your geeky little hip-hop-listening ass! Of course, this “nerd-hop,” as Pemberton refers to it on “In Search of the Youth Crew,” is hardly a new concept. Whether it comes from MCs who annoy by shamelessly reveling in it (the entire Anticon back catalogue), MCs who present it with verve and originality (Murs, MF Doom, Edan, Del, etc.), or MCs who desperately cover it up to maintain street-cred (Eminem), this trait can be either frustrating or brilliant. Afterparty Babies just happens to be both frustrating and brilliant.

At the tender age of 22, Pemberton has already carved out quite a niche for himself in the fickle world of underground hip hop. After writing record reviews for behemoth e-zine Pitchfork Media from ‘03 to ‘04, he began focusing on his career as a musician, eventually releasing his excellent debut Breaking Kayfabe in late 2005 on Canadian indie label Upper Class. Surprisingly, the sound of Afterparty Babies is somewhat of a diversion from the grimy IDM of his debut, relying on stuttering electro and four-on-the-floor tech-house to serve as the backdrop for his insights on pop culture, relationships, touring, and hipster politics.

Unfortunately, the change in beat style has produced a far less visceral album, albeit one with more intellectual value (if you’re into that sort of thing). Erratic is the key word — none of the tracks are sub-par, but too many of them struggle to keep up with the momentum of Pemberton’s all-conquering geeked-out flow. However, when he adjusts his delivery to suit the beat, as on the acid-house-on-33-rpm grind of “Getting Dumb” or the choppy glitch-soul of “Unsuccessful Club Nights,” the results are far more satisfying.

Unlike Kayfabe, which was filled with spine-tingling, compulsively head-nodding battle rhymes, Afterparty Babies is a decidedly more cerebral exercise, as Pemberton expands thematically, turning his magnifying glass on the social trends of our current generation. Almost by accident, he’s too aware of his own contradictions, as he explores the duality of being included and detached from the scene all at once. On “The New Face of Fashion,” an indictment of hipster elitism, Pemberton cops to an obsession with cutting-edge clothes, all while berating those who cling to them as a way of identifying themselves. Meanwhile, “Juliann Wilding” tells the story of his encounter with a local party promoter, forcing him to declare, “I’m not bohemian like you/ Not if I was the last one on Earth/ She {Digs, she digs, I dig her back,”} in a sly reference to the popular Dandy Warhols/Brian Jonestown Massacre documentary.

Pemberton’s lyrics can be long-winded, but on the whole, they display a postmodern reflexivity that is profoundly mind-boggling. In many cases, the lyrics are so dense that it takes multiple listens to understand the process behind his arcane stories. But the more you listen, the more you realize that Pemberton’s analysis is possibly the work of a latent genius — an artist who has the potential to blow the collective minds of a generation, but hasn’t yet established the focus to do so. File it under “nerd to watch.”

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