Edmonton-raised rapper/celebrity chef Roger Mooking can’t help but use a food metaphor to describe the making of his new hip-hop album, Feedback.
“I wanted the album to be like chocolate truffles dipped in nails,” says the former Bass is Base beatboxing percussionist, who co-hosts TV’s Heat Seekers and stars in Everyday Exotic and Man Fire Food.
“Like really creamy, dense centres but raw, jagged edges.”
The wide ranging emotions on Feedback, out today, reflect the roller coaster ride Mooking has been on since releasing his 2008 album Soul Food.
In the past five years, the amiable Trinidad native became a culinary star, opened and sold restaurants, did charity work locally and around the world, and went through some gut-wrenching, unspeakable heartbreak with his wife.
“I’ve had a lot of kids, we’ve lost some kids,” says Mooking, 39, in a recent interview.
“We’ve just gone through a lot — a lot of ups and downs and just dramatic changes in the last five years and I felt that I had to just get it off my chest, really.”
Mooking said he and his wife lost two children — one in 2009 and another last year — in childbirth.
The father of three with another on the way (or, father of six, as he likes to say) lays his feelings about the tragedies bare on the powerful track Oh My God, which begins with the sounds of a church organ, a thunderstorm and an echo of Mooking screaming the title phrase.
“Everything you need to know is on that record.
“Truly everything,” says Mooking, who also rhymes on the song about his faith being tested.
“I don’t know if I would ever perform Oh My God live,” he adds later.
“I can hardly listen to it, it just takes me too deep, you know what I mean?
“But I needed to get that out.”
The tunes Life is Fighting and Shoulder to Cry On also indicate Mooking is getting a lot out of his system on the album that was produced by Byron Wong and Chin Injeti, his former bandmate from the Juno-winning R&B/acid jazz/soul trio Bass is Base.
But the disc also offers a joyful dancefloor groove with songs including Make Em Say (Watch Me) and The Afterparty.
The Hum, meanwhile, is a bass-heavy ode to the energy and vibrancy of urban life; relationship woes are touched on in Must Have Been Love, Daddy’s Little Secret and We Should Go Back; and Centrefold is a tale of a self-absorbed fame-seeker.
“By far, this is my most personal record ever to date,” says Mooking, who recorded the project over a year in Toronto, Vancouver and Jamaica.
“I made a very conscious effort to just be very frank.”
It’s not completely personal, though.
Mooking says some songs reflect the experiences of those he’s met through his travels with the charities World Vision Canada and Save the Children.
“Because that’s really what feedback is about … it’s really about a community, people communicating and telling their universal stories,” he says.
In the vein of one of his favourite albums, A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, Mooking included a female narrator between songs. The voice is that of Odessa Chambers, daughter of legendary reggae singer Jimmy Cliff.
The narration further explores the album’s “feedback” theme and adds another voice to a disc that doesn’t have autotune or other “featured” artists.
“I made a conscious decision to make a record that I carry,” says Mooking.
“I’m sick of hearing songs right now that, it’s a good song but like, whose record is it? Is it Chief Keef’s record, is it Meek Mill’s record? You don’t know whose record is what anymore because there’s so many features on every record.”
Overall, Feedback delivers an old-school hip-hop vibe that harkens back to Mooking’s days breakdancing with his older B-boy brother in their parents’ basement in Edmonton, and MCing in rap battles at the local mall during cheap-movie Tuesdays.
“I love hip hop man,” says the former member of Juno-nominated hip-hop crew The Maximum Definitive.
“It’s the core of what I think about every day listening to music.
“It’s the root of me personally, it really speaks to me.”
And even though he’s become a renowned chef, he never wants to give up his music.
“I see a lot of parallels between cooking, creating dishes, and writing songs,” says Mooking.
“It’s all the same process: you start with the spark of an idea, you hone in on that idea, you refine that idea, you re-refine that idea, and then you present it to the public for a critique.”