< Atkinson Fellows | Rollie Pemberton

Rollie Pemberton

“Artists and musicians are the original gig workers. And I feel like I really want to highlight the issues we face. Decent work, that’s one of the foundations that I’m going to be working on, especially because a lot of musicians aren’t aware how exploited they are.”

Rollie Pemberton is an Edmonton-born, Toronto-based rapper, producer, writer and host. His artist name, Cadence Weapon, comes from his belief in the power of words to defend his ideas and deploy new narratives. Rollie won the 2021 Polaris Prize for his fifth album Parallel World. His memoir, Bedroom Rapper, was released by McClelland & Stewart in 2022. From 2009 to 2011, Rollie was Edmonton’s Poet Laureate. He has been a strong voice on community issues, speaking and writing about urban gentrification in neighbourhoods like Toronto’s Little Jamaica.

In 2019 when the world was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the International Labour Organization, Rollie’s song Large became the unofficial anthem of the decent work movement. Check out his story behind the song in this piece for his Substack newsletter.

Introducing #MyMerch

Rollie has joined forces with the Featured Artists Coalition and the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers to launch the #MyMerch campaign across North America. The campaign calls on venues and festivals to take a pledge to not charge commission on artists’ merchandise sales. 

“Even though musicians pay for their merch to be manufactured, designed and shipped, some venues and festivals still take anywhere from 20-35% of artist merch sales. Selling merchandise is one of the primary sources of income for musicians, making merch cuts another damaging blow during a particularly challenging economic time for artists. 

As the Atkinson Artist, I believe that musicians and allied workers deserve decent work and decent living standards. Ending the practice of merch cuts would provide immediate relief for artists who are already struggling to stay afloat in the face of rising costs related to inflation and the pandemic.”

Rollie recently wrote complementary pieces in Toronto Life and on Substack about the challenges artists currently face making a living on tour and online. Artists who want to share their experiences can do so here.

The opinions expressed by the Atkinson Artist do not represent those of the Atkinson Foundation. We respect the freedom of artistic expression. We acknowledge the right and responsibility of artists to participate fully in a democratic society.