Bedroom Rapper: Cadence Weapon on Hip-Hop, Resistance and Surviving the Music Industry 
by Rollie Pemberton

In his new memoir, Rollie Pemberton unpacks his experiences as Cadence Weapon, trying to find his place both inside and outside a rapidly evolving music world.

Penguin Random House Canada • 2022

As Cadence Weapon, Edmonton native Rollie Pemberton has become a near household name in the Canadian independent music industry over the last eighteen years, culminating with his 2021 Polaris Music Prize win for the album Parallel World. In his recently released book, Bedroom Rapper: Cadence Weapon on Hip-Hop, Resistance, and Surviving the Music Industry, Pemberton unpacks his experiences trying to find his place both inside and outside of a rapidly evolving music world. Rather than following a linear narrative, Pemberton splits Bedroom Rapper into thematic chapters. Each section explores his many jobs, roles, hometowns, and words of wisdom that suggest why and how he’s become a Canadian music elder statesman at only 36 years old.

Pemberton addresses what it was like growing up as one of only a few black kids, not just in Edmonton but in many of the communities he’s been a part of over the years. Limited by the relatively small hip-hop scene in his hometown and with early momentum as Cadence Weapon growing, Pemberton became closely connected to a burgeoning Canadian indie scene that didn’t know what to do with him. Whether opening for indie-pop trio Born Ruffians or cavorting with a pre-Elon Musk Grimes in Montreal, he revisits what it was like trying to find a place where he fit in while fluctuating between being an indifferently received opening cat to oddly placed festival slots. Over time and through his persistence and willingness to use quickly changing technologies and influences, Pemberton connected and collaborated with a who’s-who in Canadian indie music royalty. His Polaris Music Prize win (after previously being shortlisted in 2006 and 2012) feels like the music world has finally caught up with Cadence Weapon rather than him finding his audience.

Further Reading

Cadence Weapon, Parallel World

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.

Bedroom Rapper goes beyond Pemberton’s life and experiences as a musician. As a teenager, he was the first hip-hop writer for tastemaker Pitchfork, a relationship that eventually soured over compensation and the occasional immature review. Like many people his age (myself included), Pemberton was heavily involved in music-related message boards, blogs, file-sharing sites, and software pirating in the early 2000s. His formative experiences as a music fan and creator immersed in the internet will resonate with many readers who were online in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Even from a young age, it’s evident that Pemberton is as interested in creating music as he is in learning about its history and culture. He spends considerable time reading and listening to everything he can with specific genres and for a time pivots to DJing. His deep and complex knowledge of the intersections between music styles becomes a focal point of several chapters focusing on UK grime and Atlanta trap music. These chapters decentralize Pemberton, offering essay-like descents into the genres’ impacts on their local and international music scenes. These forays briefly disrupt his biographical narrative and are strengthened by his deep understanding of these pivotal scenes. He connects their impact on his work as well as on popular music in general.  

Cadence Weapon’s playlist to accompany Bedroom Rapper.

One of the most jarring parts of Bedroom Rapper is Pemberton’s longtime struggles with Upper Class Recordings, the label that initially signed him. Early in the book, he alludes briefly to the contracts he signed as a teenager to release his groundbreaking 2005 debut, Breaking Kayfabe. He continues to share his experiences with limited management support, funnelling all income to the label, and how that early relationship affected his career. Late in the book, he finally talks about how he confronted the label. Still, any readers hoping for a satisfying and righteous conclusion might be sadly disappointed, as Cadence Weapon’s experience in the music industry is sadly too similar to that of many young musicians lost amongst the legal paperwork and predatory contracts that have destroyed so many careers.

In his early 20s, Pemberton became the poet laureate of Edmonton, an opportunity that was equal parts invigorating and controversial. Later chapters outline his increasing social and political activism, culminating with his journalistic perspectives surrounding the George Floyd protests on Parallel World. As he weaves his personal experiences through his book, it feels empowering to see him use his status as a veteran musician to fight for important causes.

Pemberton has amassed considerable wisdom over his many different adventures in his impressive book Bedroom Rapper: Cadence Weapon on Hip-Hop, Resistance, and Surviving the Music Industry. Through powerful and careful prose that captures his voice, he weaves his various achievements, failures, and adventures into an essential read that easily finds its place within the Canadian music nonfiction canon.

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Rob Dickson 
Sister Ray