October 16, 2012 - 6:10pm
BY RAY MALO
My first ever trip to the Magic Stick in Detroit on Monday is marred initially by my pressing desire to be next door at the Majestic, at the sold out Flying Lotus show. Clearly, the big event down the street is on Cadence Weapon’s radar too (he has tickets and plans to catch the tail end), but admirably, the Montreal-based rapper doesn’t let a subsequent poor showing bring him down. Playing Detroit for the first time, and for just a couple dozen fans, many of them there to see the local opener, Cadence confidently solidifies his reputation as a focused, energetic performer.
Three-piece Detroit band Deastro, featuring unintelligible, echoey vocals over live drumming and multiple beats and synth samples, kick things off. Their frenetic brand of electro art pop is engaging in short spurts, with elements of jungle, noise, even some video game music.
But ultimately in the live setting, Deastro’s strictly fortissimo songs lack subtlety, as there’s just not enough bodies in this intimate setting to muffle the shrill highs and absorb the lows. Still, I hear what they are going for, and at their most refined they have flashes of The Knife or Animal Collective.
Immediately after Deastro break down their equipment, Cadence Weapon and his DJ take the stage — He’d like to check out that FlyLo set, after all. His banter is charming and personal, as he asks the few seated audience members to stand, quipping, “Please? I’m sensitive. I’m a Gemini.” After gimmicky set opener “Hype Man” (he says he doesn’t need a hype man, his befuddled DJ “mishears” him and hypes him to no end), Cadence’s set begins to take off.
“88,” a robotic beat given to Cadence by friend and fellow Canadian Grimes, is a deft nod to electronic heroes Daft Punk. Here the syncopation-loving rapper is at his most technically impressive and lyrically thoughtful, paying homage to the artistic era of KRS-One and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The next two songs are dedicated to Cadence’s hometown of Edmonton, including his most recent album’s title track, “Hope In Dirt City.” He reaches for his upper register in the second half of this song, and I’m suddenly surprised to hear his singing voice.
While certainly closer to Mos Def than Frank Ocean, his singing draws me in the rest of the show. It’s striking. I realize this is an unusual facet of a proficient rapper’s performance to focus on, but I’m intrigued by the soul and timbre in his voice despite its limited range. He seems to know it well, and the varied ways in which he handles its limitations, getting gruff or screechy when the beats are heavy, settling for falsetto when they are not, becomes equally as impressive as his flow.
Speaking to fans at his merch table after the show, Cadence is humble and kind, taking time to sign albums and speak with fans (myself included). I overhear him telling a fan that almost all of his beats are his own, further deepening my respect for him. He’s the rare triple-threat of the new school: rapping, singing and beat making.
I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for Cadence Weapon. After buying his latest album, I sign the mailing list and thank him for a great set.