Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brad Kopplin
The night before Rollie Pemberton visited the Big Orange studio where we were holed up recording during the South By Southwest music festival in March, he and DJ Weasel and a small crew of fellow Canadians saw N.E.R.D. perform and were smitten. It was a set that had many of the jaded wanderabouts - ODed on secret recipe hot sauces and delicious beer - glowing from having been surprised that they thought N.E.R.D. was so kick ass. They were supposed to think that ONLY about The Black Kids and My Morning Jacket from the ticking of the hype parade. Pemberton, or Cadence Weapon as he goes by on his records, wasn't planning on replicating part of the Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo mystique, but some equipment on the fritz and some humid temperatures in the much-used tin-roofed, cinder-blocked recording studio forced his hand and luckily he brought along some willing and able buddies.
All from the frontier land of Canada and none from the happening scenes, what happened in this spontaneous episode of teamwork was a hip-hop hoedown or something that would have happened on the Johnny Cash Show, when a Louis Armstrong would have come on the program to duet with the man in black, something that probably shouldn't have worked and didn't make a lot of sense. There's nothing inherently crazy about throwing live instruments into the mixture for someone most familiar with just working with a raccoon-skin-capped turntablist who looks like a wily hipster should they have had any of them in Laura Ingles Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" days, but it's a dangerous chance undertaking with the wildness of Pemberton and his seeming attention deficit disorder.
It's those qualities that make his rhymes and his persona so intriguing. Energy is created. He does this. He doesn't conserve it, just lets it fly out of him like a jet airplane shooting off the runway for take-off - one second on solid ground and then thrust in a few blinks thousands of feet above it. It might even be fair to say that he goes buck wild, annihilating his offerings with such fervor that they wind up in ribbons, on the floor, as if they'd just been invisibly sucked through a chipper.
It should be hard for anyone to keep up with his pace as he runs circles around a microphone. He sings about people losing their intelligence and people lapping up the party scene or what they take a party scene to be. He appears to not be a traditional partier. He appears to be the oddball whom everyone else might think always has a good time. They always see him out and they always see him shaking things up, packing baking soda into his nights and then dripping lemon juices onto them so they flow all over the place. He's like the guy with the crazy beard from the Muppet Show, who goes around and exhaustively blows things up with his trusty TNT switch box.
The songs on Afterparty Babies are flush with nitro and sticky little barbs of clever observation that are proof enough that Pemberton's doing more at these parties than just being an absorbed wild card. He's a guy's who's likely as bummed as we are today that George Carlin passed away last night. Maybe's he's never heard of the guy and could care little, but here's putting money on the assumption that it's not true. He's a guy who doesn't need a six-pack of Mountain Dew to stay up all night and pass the time in various ways. He's a party whether he knows it or not. Two minutes after Weasel had packed up his table, Pemberton was kicking some dirt outside the studio when he heard something he was familiar with - a Man Man song - coming from a make-shift stage across the street, separate from everything. "It's Man Man. I LOVE Man Man," and he sprinted off, to bang his head for two songs and then he was off again, without reason, just gone. So like him.