CES Cru may be two of the newest to don the Strange Music chain, but they are a decade-plus past new artists status. Both Godemis and Ubiquitous are mainstays in the Kansas City Hip Hop scene. Since 2000, they’ve weathered upheaval within the crew, kept the music first, and now bask in the next step along their artistic journey: officially rocking with K.C.’s hometown heroes.
With their Strange Music debut EP, 13, in stores this week, HipHopDX spoke with Godemis and Ubiquitous about CES Cru’s original incarnation, the concept behind their video “Colosseum,” their upcoming LP, and how Strange Music is but a piece of the broader Kansas City Hip Hop puzzle.
HipHopDX: You guys just released the video for “Colosseum” off of your recently released EP, 13. What was the thought process behind “Colosseum.”
Godemis: We were trying to make a video relevant to the weather and shit. It was just an idea that we had with the resources available to make a video. I always like to believe that, in the group, there’s always been a pretty clear division on who was on some harder shit and who was on some smarter shit. I guess I always end up on the harder end. We just kind of played off of that in the video. I think it came off really well.
Ubiquitous: As far as the plot goes, we were trying to illustrate a little socio-political allegory basically pitting me and my partner against each other representing different special interests groups. I’m representing the more straight-laced corporate political agenda, whereas he is more like a Che Guevara-esque character representing the lower class. The people I’m representing is more of the upperclass. That’s one of the loose ideas behind it. We’re both broadcasting our propaganda to the people but we’re actually, in all honesty, working together.
DX: That’s an interesting metaphor for America as it appears on cable news these days.
Ubiquitous: Yeah. I don’t know. There might be a little truth to what we were painting. Maybe not. Some people think that that’s really how it is. I think we hope that that’s really how it’s not. Everybody should draw their own conclusions. But that’s what was going on in the video.
DX: Strange Music CEO Travis O’Guin recently did an interview on the Strange Music Blog and said: “You’re going to see a lot more kids at a CES Cru show wearing backpacks. It touches a lot of backpacks but it’s lyrical enough and dope enough to be broader than just straight backpack shit.” Is that an accurate assessment in your opinion?
Godemis: I suppose so. From where he stands, I guess it may sound and appear that way. We broke into a new fan base and it’s been interesting to see how they interpret the music. Everyone seems to agree with Travis [O'Guin] in that aspect. From where I’m at, from an artist standpoint, shit man. I don’t know. [Laughs] I’m just trying to do right by the label and make awesome music and try not to over think it.
Ubiquitous: I think it is. I think that it’s a different lane for Strange. Strange in the past has had more of a street feel to it. I don’t want to prepackage my own label, but there were certain kinds of artists that were put on over the past 10 years. Over the past couple of years, they’ve really branched out. I think we’re definitely their strongest step in the direction of like, more of a Hip Hop, backpack, pure element style Rap music. We all come from that - especially Tech [N9ne], if you look way back and see that he was doing the Wake Up Show [with Sway & Tech] and was on “The Anthem” with KRS-One, Eminem, and Chino XL. He’s always mixed it up and definitely comes from Hip Hop. We came from there and we kind of stayed there. Now it’s just become more prevalent in the game. I think lyrics are coming back to the forefront so that’s kind of worked out for us.
DX: You guys are from Kansas City. How does it feel now being signed to Strange Music? That’s the home team.
Ubiquitous: It’s a beautiful feeling. The label itself is super impressive - from the physical manifestations and the structures that they own and the giant staff that’s working for them. It being independent still and being #1 as far as independents go and being able to move on a national and international scale. All that’s exciting. As far as the stable of artists I’m a part of and who I get to share space with, that’s getting crazier all the time. We’re all over the place. There’s a big concentration of us here in Kansas City where the label’s based. That’s where Kutt Calhoun’s from; where CES Cru’s from; where Tech is from; Big Scoob; Krizz Kaliko. And then it just branches out. Jay Rock is from Watts, [California], so there’s a West Coast presence there. We just signed Rittz who’s from Atlanta, [Georgia]. Prozak, I think, is from Michigan. Brotha Lynch [Hung] is out on the West Coast. Stevie Stone is just a few hours away in St. Louis. ¡Mayday! is from Miami, [Florida]. We’re really all over the place, man. We’re representing all these different demographics and it’s just beautiful. I think it just benefits everybody. We’re drawing it in from everywhere and sharing in the same fan base. It’s really lifting the label up, I think.
DX: What was the signing process like for you? How did you catch the Strange ear and ultimately land the deal?
Godemis: It was a lengthy process, man. Tech [N9ne] be in town and shit and he really wound up in a lot of places that I was at - restaurants and bars and shit like that. Let Tech N9ne tell it, and every time he was out he would hear about us. On my end, we was just fucking grinding. We made a great impression at this Devin The Dude show. We opened for Devin The Dude at this place called the Riot Room in Kansas City and [Tech] was in the crowd for that one. It was a big night for us. It was even a while after that before we really opened the dialog for us to be signed to Strange. He was on it for a minute. He welcomed us on to a couple of tracks - “Living Like I’m Dying” off [the mixtape] Bad Season. We did “Give It Up” which was the bonus track on All 6s and 7s. After we did that, it was a fucking wrap. Everybody had to lawyer up and find out what the fuck we were gonna do. It was a lengthy process, man. It took a while.
DX: There’s a stable of super talented artists that have released projects through Strange Music. What’s the camaraderie like within the label? Do you interact with the other acts often?
Godemis: At this point, it’s been pretty sparse. But we’re all in the know on each other’s projects. I think that has a lot to do with cats just missing each other. Everybody’s recording schedules are fucking crazy. We fuck with Krizz and Tech a lot. We’ve got Stevie in the works. Of course [we’ve worked with] Lynch and ¡MayDay! Up until this point, we’ve really been on our own square and really doing it our own way and kind of getting collabs here and there and shit. We’ve got all of our label mates and of course some other people on our radar for our upcoming LP.
DX: What are you thinking about for the LP? How’s it going to differ from 13?
Godemis: We are in the very very early stages of making this [the LP]. We’re just getting beat submissions and doing some writing. I’ve been writing like a madman. The title is going to be Constant Energy Struggle. Blaow! That’s my first time saying that. The title is going to be Constant Energy Struggle and all that that implies. I think in that way, the album is going to be more well rounded. I think we’re going to try to take the opportunity to open up a little bit, if you will, and let the fans know exactly how we feel and exactly what’s been going on. I know that may not sound so cool sometimes, but we’re also gonna talk about all the cool shit that’s been happening to us. It’s going to be a well rounded album in that way. There will be a lot more substance than there is on 13.
Ubiquitous: We’re trying to have that out in the Spring - maybe March or so - to accompany the Strange Tour. 2013 should be a massive year for Strange Music. I wouldn’t be shocked to see maybe 10 releases, maybe 11 releases from the label throughout the course of the year. Most everybody on the label should get something out - like a full length LP. Most everybody.
DX: How did you guys link up? How did CES Cru form?
Godemis: I met Mike [Ubiquitous] through mutual friends 12 years ago. We were all a part of the same collective. I was actually already a part of CES Cru when I met Mike. At the time, the spots were all taken. But after making a couple of tracks and dealing with Mike on a couple of different levels, I went to the rest of the members and let them know that, even though the spots were filled, I felt there was one more guy that was worthy. We did it old fashion and we all sat around and got to know each other. Then of course we rapped so motherfuckers could show what they had and where they were at. After that, everyone pretty much gave him the thumbs up and shit. It’s been like that since then.
Ubiquitous: CES Cru was a pre-existing group before I was part of it. When I was introduced to CES Cru, it was two girls and two guys. I was the fifth member. I was inducted and then it got capped and we were like, “No more members of CES Cru.” And before there were a whole bunch of different people. That’s why it’s called a “crew.” It might not make as much sense now because, really, there are only two active members these days. But it used to be seven people, eight people, nine people in the group. Over the years it evolved and sort of dwindled down to just the two of us. But we still stay in contact with some of the old members.
We basically met through a mutual friend, a producer friend of mine named Vertigone. We ended up doing a track together. This dude put us both on a track so we ended up hearing each other’s lyrics and sort of piqued each other’s interests. Maybe four or five months later, they brought me into the group. I’ve been waving the flag ever since.
DX: What happened to the other members?
Ubiquitous: Everybody’s got their own story. The girls - Perseph-One and Sorceress - they moved away to Houston, [Texas] and continued to do the CES Cru thing separately from us. Then there was a little bit of travel back and forth. We would visit them. They would visit us. We tried to keep it together but it began to be a lot of distance - 10 hours or whatever between us. So we both started doing our own thing as duos. But it’s all peace. I saw Perseph a few months back in July. I invited her to play this local show, CES Fest. General Ali unfortunately got incarcerated. He was incarcerated for about six years and that caused him to sort of fall out of touch and out of activity as far as the group goes. That’s kind of how it all happened. [Godemis] and I managed to stick together and keep working.
DX: It’s a good thing you did.
Ubiquitous: Yeah. It’s definitely working out.
DX: Is Strange Music the best example of what Kansas City Hip Hop is like? What’s it like on the ground?
Godemis: I’m gonna say it is the best representation, but it isn’t all of it. If someone was to think that Strange Music is the sound of Kansas City Hip Hop, I think they’d be wrong in that assumption. There are a lot of cats who aren’t as far along as CES Cru is or maybe they are and they’re just on a different plane hustling on a different level. Strange Music is homegrown and is real shit and it does represent how we do it, but it’s definitely not all of it. There are so many different cats who are just as good at how they do it. It’s a beautiful thing, man. I think that it cheats diversity when you go to a place and that’s their sound. That’s the sound of that place and all artists from that place sound like that. I think that’s crippling in a way. I think it’s easy to pigeonhole a place if that’s the formula. We’ve got a lot of different cats. Everybody doesn’t sound like Strange Music.
Ubiquitous: [Strange] is definitely the prevalent thing in our city. The K.C. Hip Hop scene is much deeper than what is visible right now. We just kind of came out of that. Tech trolled around in our local underground and discovered us opening for Devin The Dude. But there’s a whole shit load more dudes who are just like us -- kind of just trolling around in the underground out here. There’s a whole Bay Area style scene that’s super prevalent out here. Rich The Factor. This dude Popper. There’s a lot of shit out here, man. I would compare it to something like the Detroit, [Michigan] Hip Hop scene. I feel like as thick and as talented as Detroit is, Kansas City is the same way and it’s just beginning to bubble over right now. There’s just a whole big scene here. A lot of talent.
DX: What does CES Cru mean?
Godemis: It’s a bunch of different ways to take it. Initially it was Conglomerate Elements of Self-consciousness. I guess once we got more comfortable and more creative as well, then you got Constant Energy Struggles, or Corporate Executive Saboteurs, Commercial Entertainment Syndicate, Can’t Eat Sweets. [Laughs] It’s however you want to put it. It’s whatever works. Conglomerate Elements Of Self-consciousness. We’ve always been made up of a fucking diverse bunch of people. We’ve always been progressive as far as music goes.
DX: I understand that you guys make your own videos. Do you make your own beats as well?
Godemis: Actually, we’re not making our own beats, man. We’ve been blessed to have some very talented producers around us who like fucking with us. I have made beats years ago. Not my cup of tea, man. I’m with the pen game.
DX: Who produced “Colosseum?”
Godemis: [Michael] “Seven” Summers. Actually, that shit, I remember when we first got that beat and were listening to how the beat changes up around the hook. I thought to myself, “What the fuck is Seven doing? This shit was cool until that part.” [Laughs] Fast forward a couple months later when were in the studio, Mike was like, “I know we said fuck this beat, but check this verse out that I wrote over this beat.” And he spit his verse and I was like, “Oh, give me a second. I’m gonna fucking write this. Give me a second.” It’s funny because at first I was like, “What the fucks is this?” And now it’s my shit.
DX: And now it’s your lead single.
Ubiquitous: Yeah. Funny how that happens.
DX: Do you feel like new artists even though you’ve been grinding in the K.C. scene for a while? Does this feel like an introduction in a sense?
Godemis: It’s pretty much the next step, bro. Even though we’ve been some places. We were feeling pretty good about where we’re at. But then again, this is the biggest endeavor yet. I think we shot [“Colosseum”] over six days. Two of those days we shot and then we flew to Spokane, [Washington] and did a show, and then I think we came back and started shooting that video again. It was a huge undertaking, but that’s how all our videos are when we shoot them by ourselves.
DX: What does the title 13 mean?
Godemis: On one of my mixtapes, “Deevil,” I had a song called “13.” I was working out a three album story that I was trying to tell. Mike was really liking the idea so we thought about making it a dual idea rather than just my idea. So we reworked it. First thing it’s got to do with everything All 6s and 7s, if you’re familiar with what that term means. So we just added them together. I got this old movie poster from the 1960s that says When The Clock Strikes 13 and I started a real interesting take on time and how time moves. We picked 13 because it was conducive to 6s and 7s and being in a place of disarray, or coming out of a place of confusion -- being all 6s and 7s. And if you throw them together, since there’s two of us, then it’s 13. It’s weird, man. We’re some fucking Rap nerds, I’m trying to tell you. It’s too much fun to fuck with it and layer it up.
DX: My favorite thing about “Colosseum” is the way you guys trade bars at the end of the verse. I think that’s something I don’t see enough and I love it every time I hear it.
Ubiquitous: We actually build our music together. There’s a lot of duos in Rap, but even that seems more prevalent in the 1990s. It kind of fell off. People are telling us that we’re the best duo since Outkast. I’m flattered when people say things like that, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that there’s just not a lot of people doing this shit. People don’t work together anymore. Everybody’s solo. There’s just not a lot of team work in the game. Something like Slaughterhouse is so rare - for four guys to get together and make music together. Bad Meets Evil - Royce [Da 5’9] and [Eminem] - that’s another duo, but that’s not necessarily their shit. That’s almost like a collaborative record. For us to roll as a duo and be a new De La Soul; or a new Clipse; or a new Outkast is a rarity. People don’t hear people trade bars. I think that we got that lane in a way that most people don’t.
Godemis: Yeah, man. I don’t know why cats don’t do that more often. Definitely, looking into this LP, the [mantra] is pretty much “Fuck a formula.” You might hear songs on this new LP where I might do 24 bars and Ubi might do six. Then I might do 16 and then he might do 12 [bars]. And it’s not just “Fuck a formula” for the sake of fuck a formula. But sometimes you write 16 bars and you feel like you’ve got more to say. Sometimes you write 12 bars and that’s all you had to say, so now you’re sitting in this confine of 16 bars. We’re kind of throwing that shit out the window this time. If I can convince Travis [O’Guin] that that’s a good idea, then we’ll be working with something pretty good, I think. The back and forth and shit, all that, we’re turning that up. We’re turning that all the way up.
DX: That’s interesting. How much input do Travis and Tech have on the finished product? Do they guide you at all? Do they take what you have and say, “Alright, this is dope”? What’s the working relationship like within the label?
Ubiquitous: Everything is cool within the label. We specifically were hand picked by Tech. He A&R’d our record deal which is completely abnormal. It has never been done before, may never be done again. Tech really wants us to do what we’ve been doing. With that said, he gives us all the creative freedom in the world. He’s like, “Do what you’ve been doing. We’re just gonna throw some octane in your tank.” We basically do whatever we want to do. They definitely have an opinion on what we do. We turn in tracks and they tell us if they think this goes harder than that, or what the time should be. But we have a ton of creative freedom which makes it super comfortable to make music.
Godemis: Strange is super about the artists. It’s pretty much your vision and what you want to do up until this point. However, I will say that, from a business stand point and due to my lack of being seasoned on this level, sometimes artistically I might not always have the best moves. For instance, on the EP, I didn’t want to show our faces on the cover. I had a talk with my man Dave out in [Los Angeles] and he was like, “Bro, I understand why and I understand your artistic angle and shit. But you are at a climate where facial recognition is becoming an issue and motherfuckers need to know what you look like.” That’s just an example, and I had to see that. At first I felt like motherfuckers are infringing on our artistic integrity. And then I was like, “Wait a second. These guys want me to do the best I can possibly do.” After we met on that it was cool. They just wanted me to show my face. They didn’t tell me what face to make or wear. They just said, “Show your face.”