Amongst all the instability of the last year, Parallel World is steadfast and spot-on and destined to be hailed as a landmark record of 2021.
After months of living in a global pandemic, it’s hard not to have COVID fatigue. I don’t need another video of Karens having mask-related meltdowns; I’m not interested in theories on the origins of the virus. I’m also tired of dystopian art about technology’s insidious erosion of personal privacy and the imbalance between what we used to believe was true and what the pandemic has exposed as reality. But the last thing I expected going into the second pandemic summer was an album as rich, articulate, and engrossing as Cadence Weapon’s Parallel World to cure me of that fatigue in a single ten-song dose.
While we were, for the most part, all in similar situations in the early days of the pandemic, not all of us were approaching the flood of news, (mis)information, and paradigm shifts with the critical eye of an artist in the way Rollie “Cadence Weapon” Pemberton was. About mid-way through 2020, Pemberton began working on Parallel World in earnest. Earlier this year he shared some of his thought- and creative-process with Stereogum: “I really wanted to speak about the times I was in. I also felt like I haven’t been in a situation where I’m able to just be in the same place for an extended period of time and really have extended focus. I was reading dozens of books and articles and watching things and absorbing the news. I absorbed all that stuff, and then ended up synthesizing it into this album. I would describe it as a frantic rush of energy.”
He’s not kidding. In fact, a frantic rush of energy doesn’t even come close to describing the way Parallel World whizzes around all the ways our lives got flipped upside down, exposing hidden truths and forcing deep soul-searching. And yet, nothing feels unfocused or given short-shrift. Like an expert academic lecturer, Pemberton uses his platform to frame big concepts while using concrete, relatable examples that anyone can connect with. Whether tackling Canada’s ignored racist history (“Africville’s Revenge”) or AI-driven surveillance society (“On Me”) or pushing back against current systemic racism and oppression (“Eye to Eye”), Parallel World allows enough distance for perspective while getting close enough to appreciate that there’s really nothing separating these worlds; it’s all a matter of how you perceive reality.
The one constant in Parallel World is what Pemberton refers to as the “reckoning against institutions” that sprang up in the wake of the pandemic. “I think that’s really what led me to suddenly get all these ideas for [Parallel World],” he explained to Stereogum, “Just seeing really how flimsy the foundation of so many of these institutions that you thought were infallible.” Amongst all the possible parallel existences Pemberton refers to — lives of privilege or oppression, the police versus the general population, online and IRL — what resonates most loudly in the present is just how rickety reality is.
And yet amongst all the instability of the last year, Parallel World is steadfast and spot-on. Not only will it go down as the pinnacle of Cadence Weapon’s career, but it’s destined to be hailed as a landmark record of 2021. The world may be weary of social distancing and mask-wearing and generally tired of living in a state of fear and uncertainty, but Cadence Weapon isn’t letting us mindlessly coast into the pandemic’s sunset.