Plex, Ojibwa Rapper: From the Streets to the Suburbs
Fifteen years ago, Doug Bedard was sinking into depression and drug addiction. He had been charged with aggravated assault for a bar fight that occurred in his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta; although he was ultimately acquitted, the trial took three years and cost him his life savings. His dream was to be a successful rapper, but it seemed to be slipping away.
"I had picked up an addiction to whatever I could get," says Bedard, Ojibwa, who to the hip hop cognoscenti is better known by his stage name, Plex. "It started with alcohol and then I graduated to cocaine, eventually crack. For six years my life revolved around it; I bounced from job to job and I hardly kept a residence for more than six months. I would always go on about how good a rapper I was but realistically I hadn’t accomplished anything. I could talk about the shows I had done in the past, back in the 1990s, but I wasn’t doing anything about it, I wasn’t continuously making product, so I realized that if I didn’t sober up not only was my music going to suffer, but my whole life was going to suffer."
Plex had discovered rap when it first hit the mainstream in the 1980s. "Until I was a teenager I had mostly listened to Black Sabbath, Nazareth, Led Zeppelin, and Mötley Crüe; I grew up in that Metallica age," he says. “It wasn’t until I was thirteen that I picked up an LL Cool J album, then an Ice-T album and that’s when I started to fall in love with rap. In the beginning it wasn’t even so much about the music, it was really about the culture, which started to become more and more popular in the area where I grew up. I wasn’t making music at that time, I just listened to hip hop for a number of years, but when I turned eighteen I felt like I had beats in my brain that I had to get out, though they were really coming from my heart.”
In the depths of his depression and addiction, Plex resolved to fight his way out, and stretched his limited resources as far as he could. Plex had co-founded the esteemed Edmonton hip-hop collective Won 18 back in 1997, he went back into the studio and finished the group's first album in 2005. "I rushed it and soon afterwards I realized I really didn't like the album," he recalls. "It was still talking about the streets, not what was really in my heart. I wanted to take the changes I was making in my life and share them with other people so that they could do what I did and be a model for other people’s success." The recovery was short-lived: "Because I wasn't happy with the album, I had a hard time promoting it, and I fell back into depression and went right back into the cycle of drinking and stuff. I bounced from couch to couch, or found other people with similar addictions and weaknesses so I could use them. When I was coming down from a drug or sobering up from alcohol I would always think 'I have to put my thoughts into action, I have to get my shit together.'" Meeting the native puppeteer and comedian Derek Starlight proved fortuitous. "I asked him for advice on how to jump start my career and he really didn't give me anything, but one day he gave me a call and asked me to open for him. We started doing shows, and I started putting a lot of heart into those shows and started to write an album, and the shows distracted me for a while. I kept myself so busy that I sobered up, but I hadn’t dealt with my issues." Around the same time, Plex met his future wife. "She introduced me to a whole new way of thinking," he recalls. "She taught me that you'll always be the victim if you always look at yourself as a victim. It was difficult for me because a couple of times I went on the road and I slipped, but I’m still learning."
In 2009, Plex released his first solo album, the socially conscious Brainstorm, which concerns itself with both local and global issues. His new album, Demons, is being finished now and is due out later this year on the Canadian label Urbnet.
While the once-underground hip hop movement has become mainstream pop music over the decades, Plex sees the involvement of Native people as still something relatively new, and thus Native hip hop resembles old school rap, which wrestled more with social and political issues. "Hip hop has been in African-American culture for over thirty years, but for Natives, as hip hop artists, it’s something new to us," he says. "Some of us have been doing it for years, but we really just got on the radar. Because it’s so new, we’re kind of where African-Americans were with hip-hop thirty years ago, when it was about the message. These are intelligent people, they see how the world is run, they come from low income areas with a lot of poverty and abuse, carrying shame, fear, and guilt along with them, and this is how they express themselves, this is how they let that stuff go. We’re still in the beginning stages, because with the exception of one artist—Yelawolf, who is working on his first studio album with Eminem—none of us have hit the mainstream.”
Plex and his wife currently live outside of Toronto; they have one daughter and they are expecting a baby boy. "Fatherhood is the best," he beams. "We just moved into a new house in the suburbs and we’re a couple of miles from the lake. I think it’s a good place for us to focus on being parents."
For more information on Plex visit http://www.iamplex.com/