Rollie ‘Cadence Weapon’ Pemberton’s Bedroom Rapper is a memoir of perseverance


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at 36, Rollie Pemberton already has a whole story to tell – certainly enough to write a memoir of what he has.

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Memories carry this heavy weightsays the Edmonton-born writer of Bedroom Rapper. “But you know, I personally feel like I’ve lived a few different lives. And I feel like there’s a story worth telling now.

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As a matter of fact. First of all, consider that he was already 15 years old with his well-loved DJ dad Teddy Pemberton, widely known for playing the capital’s first on-air hip-hop. Just a few years later, Pemberton (also the grandson of local CFL football hero Rollie Miles) released his scene-melting, clear ahead of its time breaking kayfabe album under the now familiar name Cadence Weapon.

Pemberton was soon writing album reviews for Pitchfork, and his first of several Polaris nominations came in 2006 — the lonely black electro rapper amidst the white indie rock bands — and began one of the book’s main storylines: the persistent outsider. He signed a distribution deal with Epitaph Records’ ANTI label the next year, and not for the first time, those in the know of Alberta’s music-producing ecosystem were awestruck.

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Pemberton will be in town speaking about his book and other literary topics as part of Wordfest 2022 Imaginairium, beginning September 29th.

The restless rapper, with his slightly nerdy electronic vibe, hasn’t always felt embraced by the hip-hop scene that stung, though he wasn’t at home in the white indie rock world either. But one of the key ideas in his innovative book – which also expertly explores the history of hip-hip and UK grime – is how he deliberately studied and researched the rules, learned the rules in order to break them.

This was exemplified to new heights in 2009, when Pemberton became Edmonton’s Poet Laureate (not everyone over 70 was happy), just in time to move into Montreal’s legendary DIY loft scene, making art and DJing shoulder-to-shoulder with rising stars do buddy Mac De-Marco and Claire Boucher (aka Grimes) — no big deal.

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Meanwhile, Cadence Weapon collects worldwide insane List of opener spots, including Public Enemy, Rihanna and De La Soul, while he was back in Edmonton — which he never lets go of in 300 pages — his poetry lined Jasper Avenue banner art and a monolithic sculpture on the northeast legislature for years.

Growing up I always wished there were things like this to watch” he says. “My whole life was like that. The music I made was something I always wished for. And that’s how I did it.

Pemberton never stopped, ending up in Toronto in 2015 where he still lives and makes music. This issue of Ontario, of course, includes its political one optimistic fifth studio album, Parallel World, which won the Polaris award last year.

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Rollie Pemberton's autograph, Bedroom Rapper, is out May 31.
Rollie Pemberton’s autograph, Bedroom Rapper, is out May 31. jpeg

And yet, if Bedroom Rapper were simply a linear, upward saga of goals and work success it wouldn’t be a third as interesting. For example, when Pemberton started the book’s early Pandemic, things were so shaky that he wasn’t sure when — or even if — he’d be making another album.

But it’s precisely that same sense of frenetic determination and occasional dread on his early hit Oliver Square – and watching repeatedly as the rock bottom of his hopes and dreams tumble – that makes his story of perseverance so compelling. We know how the story ends; We just didn’t know how many times it essentially ended up along the way.

Pemberton suffered body shots that could have stopped him dead: Racist daggers thrown in the schoolyard; artistic discouragement from his father; his relationship with Pitchfork implodes; a catastrophic opening spot for Rihanna; and being blackmailed outright is a young musician’s tale as old as lip-licking Devil at the crossroads.

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Even the title of the book is an ironic nod to an early national misunderstanding.

I did this interview with Maclean’s and the article says, “He makes the music in his bedroom.” Pemberton laughs. “I actually went to (Edmonton Polymath) Nik Kozub’s legitimate studio. It felt like it was almost a small thing. But now I’ve flipped the phrase, and it feels more like a battle cry.

Pemberton says at the beginning of the book that he now considers being fired as a rapper from Edmonton a badge of honor, right down to the last line of the book, and he wants to pass that on Strength on.

I want everyone to take something away from this book” he says. “I wanted to create something useful. Especially for the people who are like me or people who are different, who will come after me. Growing up, there would never have been a book written by anyone with my background. And I know I won’t be the last.

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Pemberton notes throughout how his exams constantly forced him toideological stubborn but stylistically flexible” Work ethic was tested and that he now feels more comfortable on stage than engaging in casual conversation with people.

The stage is my domain in a way it wasn’t before when it was a source of fear,” he says. “When I’m on stage I feel like the fullest representation of myself.

When the book ends – unbeknownst to him when he started writing – with the Polaris to win, what has changed for him since then? “A lot, man. People look at me differently, I feel like an older statesman, especially when it comes to people who want to do a different kind of rap.

I feel more respected.

The world is finally ready for it Rollie Pemberton.

Bedroom Rapper is available in bookstores now and Pemberton will be at two Wordfest events 30 September at 18:30-21:00 and again on 1 October at 15:00-16:15, both at DJD Dance Center, 111 12th Ave. SE tickets available at wordfest.com

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