Cadence Weapon Shares How the "Extractive and Predatory" Music Industry Nearly Derailed His Career

"During the first ten years of my career, I basically didn't make a dime"
Cadence Weapon Shares How the 'Extractive and Predatory' Music Industry Nearly Derailed His Career
When not writing poems, clever, timely raps or chapters for his forthcoming book, Cadence Weapon writes a personal newsletter on subjects including artistic process, social issues, and now, the "extractive and predatory" dealings of the music industry that nearly led to the derailment of his career.

A new entry shared today finds Rollie Pemberton charting the personal and professional challenges that came after signing a 360 recording deal with an independent label early in his career, and how that experience led him to begin managing his career himself towards the end of 2015.

For the uninitiated, Pemberton explains that a 360 deal involves "the label [getting] a cut of everything you do instead of just record sales," including income from live performances, publishing, syncs, merchandise sales, endorsements and "any other entertainment income."

"I never had an entertainment lawyer look at the paperwork, just a regular lawyer. Reluctant to lose my shot at success, my mom and I signed," he writes. Despite early career successes, including a nomination for the inaugural Polaris Music Prize and a performance at Glastonbury, Pemberton writes, "During the first ten years of my career, I basically didn't make a dime."

"Everything went to the label, even my honorarium for becoming Edmonton's poet laureate," Pemberton recalls. "I travelled the world and played hundreds of shows but I was penniless the entire time, always hungry, living off whatever per diem or rider the venue would give me. When I wasn't on the road, I was a seasonal temp worker in the shipping department at Holt Renfrew in Edmonton and I wrote for the alt-weekly papers in town."

Pemberton writes that upon looking to build on the momentum of his acclaimed 2012 album Hope in Dirt City, he was "ghosted by the label and management, who stopped responding to my emails and demos."

"They ignored me for so long that I shifted to focusing on DJing in Montreal and essentially stopped making music for a few years," he writes. "I felt trapped in the label situation, on the verge of quitting permanently."

Pemberton notes that the situation — including the legal work to free himself from the contracts — is the reason for the six-year gap between releasing Hope in Dirt City and his self-titled full-length, which arrived in 2018. 

"I wanted to talk about this to show that these exploitative artist/manager/label relationships don't only happen in the major labels and they aren't just a vestige of the 20th century," he says. "I'm just another musician in a long line of Black artists taken advantage of by an industry that is inherently extractive and predatory."

You can read Pemberton's entire essay here.

Pemberton's fifth LP as Cadence Weapon, Parallel World, was recently long listed for the 2021 Polaris Music Prize, and is among Exclaim!'s 31 Best Albums of 2021 So Far. He also recently took time to share his favourite concert memory.