Cadence Weapon wins the 2021 Polaris Music Prize

Cadence Weapon has won the 2021 Polaris Music Prize for his album Parallel World.

The record by the Edmonton-born rapper (real name Rollie Pemberton) was selected by an 11-member jury as the Canadian album of the year, based solely on artistic merit. The announcement was made on Sept. 27 during an online celebration hosted by CBC Music’s Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe.

Across its 10 songs and 26 minutes, Parallel World makes distinct references to Black experiences and history in Canada and draws inspiration from a wide range of music, literature and art by Black creators to reflect our “dystopian present.”

“It is dark,” Pemberton told CBC Music, describing the album. “Have you looked outside lately?” He also explained how Parallel World resulted from a pandemic-induced period of self-reflection:

“During the pandemic, everyone in my life who is not Black [said], ‘I’m noticing this stuff for the first time.’ [But] I’ve been living with this shit forever. It felt like I used to be a conspiracy theorist. I [would say], ‘I swear that was a microaggression.’ Nobody believed me. And then, finally, everyone is seeing what I’m seeing. That made me emboldened to just go harder on this album.”

This is Cadence Weapon’s first Polaris Music Prize win. He had previously been shortlisted for Breaking Kayfabe (2006) and Hope in Dirt City (2012). There has never been a two-time winner of the prize, which has been awarded annually since 2006.

In addition to $50,000, the Polaris Music Prize brings international recognition to the winner’s album.

While accepting the prize, Pemberton gave a shout out to his communities in Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton. He also talked about his upcoming plans, which include some political engagement. “Next year, I’ll be using some of my resources to organize some voter-registration events around the Toronto municipal election as well as the Ontario provincial election because we need some changes to our leadership and we need to make things more equitable for people in this city to be able to vote,” he said.

View his full speech below:

Cadence Weapon’s Parallel World beat out nine other 2021 shortlist contenders, including Klô Pelgag’s Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs, the only francophone album on the short list; Anishinaabe musician Zoon’s self-produced debut album, Bleached Wavves, and When Smoke Rises, folk musician Mustafa’s tribute to life (and death) in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood.

Rounding out the shortlist nominees were folk-pop musician the Weather Station; writer, scholar, activist and musician Leanne Betasamosake Simpson; Toronto rapper DijahSB, Montreal singer-songwriter Dominique Fils-Aimé, punk trio the OBGMs and rapper/R&B vocalist Tobi.

The nine runners-up from the short list each receive $3,000.

Last year, Montreal rapper Backxwash won the Polaris Music Prize for God has Nothing to do With This Leave Him out of It, becoming the first transgender musician to receive this distinction. She made an appearance at this year’s online award ceremony, performing two songs and announcing Cadence Weapon as this year’s winner.

Other past Polaris Music Prize winners include Jeremy Dutcher, Tanya Tagaq, Kaytranada, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Arcade Fire.

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