Rap on!

Posted by on Jul 17, 2009 in Brian's Blog | 0 comments

Edmonton has boldly claimed the title of Canada’s capital of literary cool by naming an underground hip-hop artist as the city’s latest poet laureate.

Cadence Weapon (real name, Roland Pemberton) is a 23-year-old rapper who identifies more with Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and other “songwriters-slash-poet-type guys” than with Keats or Sylvia Plath. He succeeds outgoing laureate E. D. (Ted) Blodgett, a professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of Alberta, who reacted to the surprise Cadence appointment by telling The Globe and Mail he “didn’t think that this was how a poet laureate was to be defined.”

Cadence acknowledges that the city of Edmonton took a risk by appointing him to a two-year position previously held by what The Globe calls “esteemed veteran poets.” Blodgett has published 17 collections of poetry and won the Governor General’s Award twice. Blodgett’s predecessor, Alice Major, has published eight collections of poetry, and is this year’s winner of the League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Award for best book of poetry by a Canadian woman.

Cadence wondered at first if he needed “a staff and a big grey beard” because laureate jobs have traditionally gone to what The Globe calls the “stodgier, tenured, grey-haired crowd.” He also wondered if he had the right literary qualifications. “I never really considered myself a poet or anything,” he told The Globe. But Cadence then realized that his work as an Edmonton-based rap artist gives him the regional focus, if not the poetic sensibility, to become a worthy literary ambassador for his city.

“Most of my content is about Edmonton,” Cadence told the Edmonton Journal. “Most of the music I’ve put together comes from a very specific regional source. And I feel like I can just expand that into the poetry as well. It’s basically another outlet for the writing I’m already doing, and I can focus it even more now.”

Born and raised in Edmonton, Cadence is the son of the late Teddy Pemberton, a pioneering hip-hop deejay with Edmonton’s campus-based CJSR during the 1980s. Cadence’s maternal grandfather, Rollie Miles, was a versatile professional footballer who won three Grey Cup championships with the Edmonton Eskimos during the 1950s. Cadence dropped out of journalism school at age 18 to pursue a career in rap music and has since released three remixed-tape albums, all lyrically infused with a strong sense of home. “Where I’m from has really inspired me,” Cadence tells a British hip-hop website. “The people there are special, but it’s also the place too.”

As poet laureate, a largely ceremonial job that comes with an annual honorarium of $5,000, Cadence hopes to promote his city to the world as a place where performance poetry and hip-hop music really matter. “If people see me as representing Edmonton, maybe it will give them an overall different perception,” he tells the Journal. “I think that’s a positive thing. And it’s getting people talking. I’m excited.”

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Copyright 2009 Brian Brennan - Writer

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