When I decided in my head that I wanted to call the album Feedback, it was because to me the word meant communication and community. But then I thought what does “feedback” mean to other people. I asked online and some people would say rough edges, some people said it was a community thing, some people would say Jimi Hendrix guitar. It started a communication in the community and that’s what this is all about.”
Roger Mooking has travelled the world and everywhere he goes he finds that people share the same joys, the same sadness, the same frustrations and the same triumphs. These are universal truths and there are the stories he tells on his new album, Feedback.
There’s the banging rhythms of the opening track, “Centerfold”, in which he name checks everyone in the fashion world from Stella McCartney to Kate Moss and Kenneth Cole to the hilarious boom of “The Afterparty” where he seems to actually make the speakers sweat. But like real life, with the parties and the fun comes the heartbreak and in no other track is that more evident than the heart-wrenching “Oh My God.”
But to understand how he got here, you have to go back to the beginning.
We can all tell stories of how our siblings influenced us over the years. Roger’s hip-hop story begins when he was in grade 6, growing up in Edmonton, Alberta in the mid-80’s.
“My brother started break-dancing around that time and though access was limited there were still a lot of acts coming through. Ice-T was coming though. Melle Mel and all these guys coming through doing concerts. Big concerts – 5,000, 10,000 people coming out in the middle of the Edmonton winter.”
It was only natural that Roger wanted to join in with his brother and his break dancing crew. Friends would come back from New York with all of the latest records and albums by UTFO and Roxanne became the basis of Mooking’s education.
“I just felt something about the music and the stories and the sound. My brother had his crates with all this stuff and my father had his crates with Simon and Garfunkel, Santana, old calypso and Parang music.”
Roger took all of these wonderful sounds and started putting them together, producing his own mix tapes for the high school basketball team to use during their warm ups. Mook’s Mixes became so popular that everyone would be anxious to hear what he could come up with next.
After hearing some tapes from guys in school who recorded themselves rapping, Roger went to the studio to hear what they were doing and thought “I can do this”. He had them turn on the mic and what came out of his mind and mouth floored everyone in the room. Before long, this sweet cute little kid became everyone’s “secret weapon.” Tuesday nights in Edmonton were movie nights and that’s where everyone would gather socially and for local rap battles at which “the secret weapon” began to build his reputation and his audience.
Heavily influenced by the likes of The Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest!, Mooking and his friends formed the ground breaking hip-hop crew The Maximum Definitive who gained a Juno nomination as well as winning the Canadian Music Video award for Best Rap Video. At a
music conference in Vancouver, The Maximum Definitive found themselves on a bill with the Toronto-based acid jazz group Bass Is Base. The two groups became fast friends and before long were playing shows together. Roger eventually moved to Toronto and joined Bass Is Base which scored the massive hit single “Funk Mobile”.
The next chapter of Roger’s life was another triumph – though unexpected and unpredictable.
After Base Is Base dissolved in the mid-90’s, Roger decided to go to cooking school where, once again, he excelled. He worked as hard as a chef as he had as a rapper and eventually built a strong reputation, opening a series of successful restaurants in and around Toronto and landing himself not one but three cooking shows on the Cooking Channel and Food Network in the U.S. (Everyday Exotic, Heat Seekers and Man Fire Food).
“My motto has always been that I don’t expect anyone to invest in me if I’m not willing to invest in myself.”
Despite his busy schedule and now raising a family, Roger was never far away from creating music. He continued recording smaller projects for friends, helping with independent records and commercial work and quietly releasing his own tracks in the UK.
But something other than food was burning in his belly. Through his travels he met so many people whose stories resonated with him that he had the feeling that he wanted to tell their stories inside of his own.
“There’s power in telling these stories. They’re real stories about real people. It’s just life. There’s happy moments, there’re sad moments – it turns a corner on you. The songs are all about universal truths. These are very personal stories but they are also stories we all share.”
When Roger told his manager that he wanted to make a record, he was met with a little skepticism. After all his restaurants and cooking shows were taking up a lot of time. Roger insisted that he was going to do this on his own so he set to work with producers Chin Injeti (Eminem, Pink and Drake) and Byron Wong (Beck, City and Colour and Kendrick Lamar). Roger’s first task was to try to explain to his producers what it was that he was trying to do and once they had the song “Centerfold” recorded, his vision began to crystalize for the others.
“When we finished that track we knew we had hit the sweet spot. It has all the hooky elements and the lifestyle – it feels urban but it’s also fashion and it’s comical. When we had three tracks finished I called my manager and asked him to come to hear what we’d done. He got there in 30 minutes.”
Roger played “Centerfold”, “Make Em Say (Watch Me)” and the powerful “Oh My God”. When the final cut faded out, everyone in the room knew they were on the right track and Roger was given enthusiastic support to finish the rest of the album.
Off all of the songs on Feedback, it is “Oh My God” that might best exemplify the deep personal nature of some of the stories. Roger tears up as he describes the loss of two of his children in childbirth but then becomes very reflective on all of the success he has been fortunate to have in his life.
Clearly a reflective soul, Mooking mirrors the heartbeat of the city on “The Hum,” perfectly capturing the sounds and smells of urban life as well as the hustle and bustle of people hurriedly living their lives fighting for a piece of the pie (“But still I find myself walking and texting / Wage war make more”)
“On a lot of records I hear people talk about how many chains they have, what kind of car they drive and how things were better back in the day. Sure, I can afford chains and I drive a nice car but I love a lot of the music that I hear today and I hate a lot of the music I hear today just like back in the day. But those aren’t the things that are important to me. What was important to me was to carry a record on my own without special guests to prop it up.”
And that what he’s done. Roger Mooking has produced an album in which he wears his influences on his sleeve. If nothing else, Feedback is a success because it exists and it tells real stories. It tells universal truths.