One can dream that right-thinking music archivists will, at some point in the future, assemble a reverent “box set” — composed of 10 LPs, an AppleDirect mind implant, a “retro” CD wallet, two crates of reel-to- reel tape spools or whatever form the dominant music-delivery format of the day takes — dedicated to the perennially underappreciated output of Edmonton rapper Cadence Weapon.
Meantime, the uncommonly gifted hip-hop MC/producer, ancestrally inclined DJ, intermittent music journalist and former “poet laureate” of his Prairie hometown has already gained a thorough head start on the liner notes to the same with the May 31 release of his first memoir, “Bedroom Rapper: Cadence Weapon on Hip-Hop, Resistance and Surviving the Music Industry.”
The very concept of “liner notes” had been pretty much dust-binned as a relic of the ancient past when Pemberton first started making international waves as Cadence Weapon right around the post-millennial peak of file-sharin’, MP3-bloggin’, CD-slayin’ digital abandon nearly 20 years ago, of course, but with “Bedroom Rapper” he kinda flips the switch. The more you dig into this modest, plainspoken autobiography, the more the music discussed in detail within — from the first Fluxblog post of “Oliver Square” that set the whole, raw Cadence Weapon thing in motion to last year’s Polaris Music Prize-winning stinger “Parallel World,” along with the work of such notable influences large and small fromt Cannibal Ox and Eminem to Buck 65 and Hip Hop Wieners to Dizzee Rascal and President T — demands to be heard with newly informed ears. And, fortunately, Pemberton has gamely supplied accompanying YouTube playlist to satisfy that curiosity while you read. In its own way, then, the music itself also becomes “liner notes” to the text.
That text is brisk, engaging and informative even if you’re not entirely familiar with the Cadence Weapon oeuvre, which remains singular enough in its peculiar, “too hip-hop for indie, too indie for hip-hop” orbit two decades along when Pemberton first started cobbling together his own cheap DIY tracks using rudimentary gear and pirated software as a teenager in Edmonton to have denied him the mainstream profile of, say, Drake despite a strong international critical and underground following. Part tour journal and travelogue, part scholarly survey of hip-hop history and part cautionary, coming-of-age tale about the pitfalls and systemic racism of the music industry, “Bedroom Rapper” offers an intriguing window into a creative mind that takes creativity and the constant improvement of that creativity very seriously.
Read between the lines and you get the sense that Pemberton could easily have delivered a damning, name-naming diatribe against the evils of the business, or a dirt-spewing insider tell-all about his hazy rave years rolling with the likes of soon- to-be stars such as Grimes and Mac DeMarco in the early-2000s Montreal loft scene as his first memoir. He could have easily teed off on the casual racism within both the conservative literary community and national media outlets that greeted his unexpected (and rather brilliant) appointment to the position of Edmonton’s poet laureate at 23 in 2009. But he’s not that guy.
Instead, he devotes nearly 300 pages of lavishing praise upon and thoughtful journalistic insight into the regional hip-hop sounds, from obscure Prairie rap to UK grime to Atlanta trap, that have informed his art, while fondly establishing the role of his musical family — his late father, Teddy “TEDDY” Pemberton, was a DJ instrumental in introducing Edmonton listeners to hip-hop via his show, “The Black Experience in Sound,” on the University of Alberta station CJSR 88.5 FM during the 1980s — played in setting “a random Black kid growing up in the most unlikely place for rap on the planet” on the successful path he walks today and offering studious insights into the development of his own creative process, the art of DJ-ing and the power of language as a weapon of social change.
You don’t have to be a hip-hop fan to appreciate “Bedroom Rapper,” just a fan of art and artists in general. One suspects it won’t be Pemberton’s last foray into the literary world.
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