Cadence Weapon opens up on his connection to the CFL
The irony isn’t lost on Cadence Weapon.
The Edmonton-born-and-raised, Torontonian-turned Hamiltonian is running through where his summer tour has taken him.
There was the Hillside Music Festival in Guelph, Ont. where the Argos and Ticats met in the pre-season. There was the Montreal Jazz Fest and the Winnipeg Folk Fest. He’s played at the Regina Folk Fest, Wavelength Summer Thing in Toronto. He’s frequently back in Edmonton and Calgary.
“I’m basically playing everywhere there’s a CFL team,” he laughed.
You may not recognize his laugh, but you know his voice. The rapper, producer and writer won the 2021 Polaris Prize for his album Parallel World and has four other albums sitting behind that one in his discography. He also released his second book earlier this year, Bedroom Rapper. If you’re not a hip hop fan, we can assume you’re a CFL fan. That’s where your passions intertwine with the emcee’s.
The grandson of Edmonton Elks legend Rollie Miles, Weapon – his given name is Rollie Pemberton – is the voice of the CFL’s Let Em Know campaign, which you’ve seen all season on TSN. Pemberton voices the ad over his track On Me, from the Parallel World album.
His involvement in the campaign and his affiliation with the CFL is more than a no-brainer partnership that brings an artist some exposure and some cash. Pemberton has been vocal about eschewing superficial endorsements and went as far as to donate a portion of his Polaris Prize winnings to help some Toronto crowdfunding campaigns.
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“For me, definitely it’s the family connection,” Pemberton said of his willingness to work with the CFL.
“My family basically bleeds Green and Gold. It was an easy decision because I love the CFL. I love sports and I feel like it’s just a really cool opportunity because I don’t usually see people from my background who look like me being a part of campaigns like this. So I feel like, you know, I want to be the change that I see in the world.”
In Edmonton, Rollie Miles was that change through an 11-year CFL career and a life spent as a teacher and organizer of sports with the Edmonton Catholic School Board. As a player, Miles was a running back, linebacker, defensive lineman and returned kicks and punts, while occasionally punting when needed. He was a key piece of the team’s Grey Cup three-peat from 1954-1956.
Miles is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Elks’ wall of honour.
Miles’ legacy in and around sports in Edmonton is commemorated in the Rollie Miles Athletic Park in south Edmonton. Under that backdrop and surrounded by a sports-loving family, Pemberton’s affection toward football and all sports developed very naturally.
“If I wasn’t a rapper, I would have been an athlete,” he said. “My family, everyone was looking at me like, ‘So are you going to play football?’ I’m named after my grandpa, you know? So, there’s a lot of pressure on that.”
Whether it was on a football field, a basketball court or on the stage, Pemberton felt the need to bring something great to his hometown in the same way that his grandfather did.
“That became the standard that I had to live up to in my life,” he said.
“My expectation growing up was like, OK, I need to make an impact in the city on the same level that my grandfather did.’ I feel like it almost comes easily to people in our family. It’s really special that we are from Edmonton. When I was growing up, we were one of the only Black families that we knew and I think to be a notable family that has this sports history, it just gave me something to really believe in and really be excited about.
“I just remember growing up, when I was a kid, going to my grandparents’ place and playing basketball out front and throwing the football around. Sports have just always been an important part of our lives and it’s something that still to this day, my mom is always texting me about the score from a game and like, ‘Did you see this play?’ It still runs deep in my family.”
While his focus is on those events that keep him crisscrossing the country and growing his musical career, Pemberton makes the time to keep up with what’s happening with the Elks and the rest of the CFL. Having been in the music industry now for two decades and going through the challenges that come with that, there’s an easy respect that Pemberton has for the league’s players as they try to build their pro careers.
“I feel like CFL is a league of underdogs. It’s an outside-of-the-box league,” he said.
“I think a lot of the players when they come to play in the CFL, they’re surprised by the passion that people have for it here. You see a lot of players come play for the CFL and become legends and it’s beyond their wildest dreams. I feel like that’s the idea: you never know what can happen when you take a chance.”
After the Toronto Argonauts had picked up a win in the Touchdown Atlantic game earlier this season, McLeod Bethel-Thompson spoke about CFL players having different types of scars, thanks to their journeys through pro football. Having their careers hang in the balance at times can shape you into a different type of person, the Argos’ QB argued. That’s something that resonated with Pemberton.
“I feel like once you’ve been down you see the world differently,” he said.
“When you have negative things happen in your career and it’s…what you fear the most. You feel like, ‘Oh, this is going to be the end,’ It’s kind of like your creative or professional death and then you realize, ‘Oh, well, I’m still alive,’ and you just look up and it’s only up from there. I feel like it’s one of the best lessons that you can learn in life, that there’s always something that you can still fight for.
“It’s a testament to those players. I think they’re a really great example of the importance of being resilient in life. You never know where life will take you.”