Rollie Pemberton is a poet — in fact, he was poet laureate of his hometown, Edmonton, Alberta, for a couple of years. That meant he was expected to write three poems a year about events in a town sometimes nicknamed "Dirt City." But outside of Edmonton, Pemberton is better known under a different name: Cadence Weapon, the hip-hop artist.
In poetry and song, Pemberton finds inspiration, tough and otherwise, in his Edmonton roots. The latest Cadence Weapon album, his third, is called Hope in Dirt City.
"The Edmonton I'm talking about is young Edmonton. It's my Edmonton. I'm trying to translate my experiences and relate the way people my age feel living in Edmonton, and sometimes there's a dissonant feel," Pemberton tells NPR's Scott Simon. "You know, we're famous for having a mall. It's hard to reconcile that as an artist."
Pemberton has been rapping since age 13, when a friend in math class asked him to collaborate on a rap he was writing. He says the content of his first rhymes was "lame" — but that he liked the experience well enough to keep at it.
"I always liked words growing up," he says. "I've always been kind of obsessed with words and how they connect to each other. It became kind of an exercise. I used to go on the computer and I'd be on these online message boards — you know, RapMusic.com. And I'd be battling people, text-style. I'd be writing battle raps to some stranger on the Internet, and that's how I was honing my musical personality."