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Edmonton-born Cadence Weapon takes aim at the algorithm in technology-critical album

Rollie Pemberton predicted the rise of the machines, he just didn’t expect it would happen so quickly.

Two years ago, as he began work on his new tech-skeptical album “Rollercoaster,” the rapper known as Cadence Weapon foresaw a future where the algorithm sanded away our humanity, elevated derivative art and transformed the world, not necessarily for the better.

“Now it feels like everything I’m talking about is coming to pass,” he suggested in a phone interview from his Hamilton home.

Pemberton isn’t pessimistic about all facets of technology but it’s hard for him to ignore how quickly society — including the music industry — is adopting new tools with potential consequences they can’t yet comprehend.

On the same day Pemberton’s album came out last month, Drake ratcheted up a diss battle with Kendrick Lamar by releasing the track “Taylor Made Freestyle.”

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The lyrical grenade utilized artificial intelligence to simulate guest vocals by Snoop Dogg as well as the late Tupac Shakur, who appeared alongside Toronto’s hip-hop superstar spitting a verse he never wrote or rapped when he was alive.

The track angered Shakur’s estate, which threatened legal action unless it was removed from all platforms. Within hours of their statement, Drake yanked it from his socials.

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But for some, the damage was already done. And it stoked debate about the ethics of popular artists using AI voices to create deep fakes while their record labels attempt to silence online creators who use AI to make their own sound-alike songs.

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“I couldn’t think of a better ad for my album because this is exactly what I’m talking about,” Pemberton said.

“I feel very gratified by the way technology is blending with music.”

Pemberton previously dabbled in dystopian tech culture with his Polaris Music Prize-winning 2021 album “Parallel World,” which included “On Me,” a song about the impacts of a modern surveillance state.

“Rollercoaster” dives into a world hobbled by supposed progress. Scattered throughout the album are reflections on a culture addicted to social media apps where unpaid content creators find worth in the perceived value of their “likes.”

On his track “My Computer,” the Edmonton-born rapper spits a stream of Web 2.0 buzzwords that crash against a synthesizer beat. Each verse exposes the false promises marketed to a generation hypnotized by capitalism.

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“Bots” goes directly for the jugular of the music industry, portraying it as a cynical universe dominated by gatekeepers who prop up fake online fans while performers forgo creativity for gimmicks meant to juice their streaming numbers.

“I’m talking about artists who I consider are making derivative, bland music,” Pemberton said.

“I’m personifying them as bots and computer algorithms in human form – and here we have Drake literally doing what I’m talking about.”

“Press Eject” suggests the solution to the tech conundrum: simply log off.

Pemberton said he’s been leaning more toward that perspective lately.

“We’re right in the middle of the dead internet theory,” he said, pointing to a conspiracy theory that the internet is overrun with bots and AI-generated content.

“On Twitter, you post something and half the time it’s just a conversation between robots.”

“That’s my problem,” he added. “Even Googling something, you’re not going to get the answer.”

The way Pemberton looks at it, many of the dominant apps are on a gradual slide toward obsolescence. Each one seems fated to fall out of trend or subject to antitrust legislation that breaks them apart. It’s one reason he says he isn’t losing sleep over robots stealing his rap career.

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“I’m not afraid of a machine,” he said, “because it’ll never be as ill as me.”

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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