Poised to drop his third album, Hope In Dirt City this month, Edmonton, Alberta-based rapper/producer Cadence Weapon has taken a new angle on the beat side of his process. Beginning with sample-heavy beats, he took his music to a band of instrumentalists and had them reproduce the beats live. He then took those recordings and treated them as samples, integrating live and studio elements to find a middle ground with the strengths of each method and the weaknesses of neither. That’s right—this record is the veritable Blade of hip-hop albums.
What Cadence Weapon has achieved is a musical product that retains the synthetic repetition necessary to support an MC’s vocals, while still having the organic imperfections that you only get with a live musician. Within those minute errors, Cadence Weapon has found a creative cradle for his hard-hitting rhymes and powerhouse hooks.
We caught up with Cadence Weapon to talk about the making of Hope In Dirt City, the challenges of working with a band, and the redeeming qualities of Arsenio Hall. Throughout the interview, hear remixes of his first single off the album, “Conditioning,” by Grimes, Doldrums, and finally the original banger.
The Creators Project: When you first began producing what were you using, and how did your set up evolve?
Cadence Weapon: My earliest productions were done with the Windows Sound Recorder program that came with Windows 95. I would open several windows of this program, chop out sounds from a sample, and then paste them together by ear without any kind of visual interface until I’d created a working loop. I would make several different loops and then just paste them together when I was done.
The first hardware I fooled around with was my cousin’s Boss Dr. Groove DR-202. After using that for a while, I moved onto Cool Edit Pro for sequencing and Fruity Loops to edit samples. I actually still use FL Studio 9 for a lot of sample manipulation. I’m just used to the interface now. I program drums with an Akai MPD24, use a Korg Kaoss Pad KP2 occasionally for effects and all sequencing and mixing is done in Pro Tools.
Do you play any instruments yourself?
I play a little piano and keyboard when producing beats, but I don’t read music and have never been formally trained.
What was the biggest challenge of recreating sample-based music using live instrumentation?
Working with live musicians. Normally I do everything myself, so having to translate my vision through the hands of different people with different skill sets, personalities, and tastes was a real challenge. Considering I don’t have a traditional music background, I may use notes or chords that don’t make sense in theory. There were times working with the band where I had to be like, “It may sound weird to you but I think it should go like this.”
After going through this experience, I know how to do it and am excited to continue refining the process in future recordings.
What kind of sound do you hope to achieve by repurposing recorded instrument takes?
I feel like the best rap has been able to harness the grit and texture of sampling with the human swing and feel of live instrumentation. I wanted to make something that was sonically on par with records by Outkast, UGK, Devin The Dude, DJ Quik, and The Roots—rap with a serious focus on musicality. In the end, I believe I achieved what I set out to do.
What elements of live instrumentation do you value? On the flip side, what do you value about production?
In live instrumentation, it’s the randomness of humanity. Humans can repeat sections and specific structures but they can never 100% perfectly replicate playing with their hands. That randomness is what will keep the machines from winning. I love the character of live instruments and how personality is represented in the way someone plays.
With production, I love the endless possibilities. I grew up in awe of how the RZA, Prince Paul, and Timbaland could shape and alter a sound into whatever came to their imagination. Guys like that showed me that there were no rules, there was no code, no set way of doing things. Anything I think of is possible and I owe that to the infinite tracks at my disposal.
And finally, no love for Arsenio? Or his band? Like, none?
Not feeling that open snare sound on late night TV, but I love Arsenio! Props go to him forever for the final episode of his show with Wu-Tang Clan, Naughty By Nature, A Tribe Called Quest, and Das EFX all rapping together.