Some 17 months ago, Ubiquitous and Godemis—collectively known as Ces Cru—dropped their debut retail album, Constant Energy Struggles, with Strange Music. Tech N9ne’s “Independent Powerhouse Tour” launched two weeks before the album hit shelves, and the stint on the road provided the perfect platform for the Kansas City-based duo to spread their unique sound and begin expanding their fan base by tapping into a fiercely loyal crowd of “Technicians.” Ces Cru debuted at the #14 spot on Billboard magazine’s “Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums” chart, locked down a performance at the 2013 “Paid Dues” festival and faced the best possible problem any performer could ask for. What the hell do they do for an encore? It would appear the answer for both Ces Cru and their fans involved looking inward.
“I think that anyone with spiritual background knows what it is to strip one’s ego and therein lies some meaning,” Ubiquitous explained to StrangeMusicInc.com’s Jeff Nelson when asked about the name of Ces Cru’s sophomore effort Codename: Ego Stripper. “However that relates to the music is hard to describe without having heard it.”
Once fans heard it, Codename: Ego Stripper made its way to the #2 spot on the iTunes Hip Hop chart within hours after its release. So how exactly does one strip their ego in the midst of a career clearly on an upward trajectory? When cops are pulling over to the side of the road to take pictures with you and women are throwing bedazzled panties on the stage at your shows, how (and why) would you keep your ego in check and focus on your craft? That’s the type of dilemma that hopefully lays the foundation for a great sophomore album.
What Led Ces Cru To Experiment With EDM & Reggaeton
HipHopDX: When you’re working on your project, are you thinking about other sounds that are out there?
Ubiquitous: I mean, for me, the kind of music that I listen to especially during the album creation process is not really Hip Hop. I listen to a bunch other genres. So, yeah, I try to keep my finger on that. But it’s really hard to stay on top of all the genre’s at the same time because they evolve really quickly. It’s a lot to keep track of. But I love other genres of music and I feel like our new album is influenced by other genres. You’ll hear some sounds you haven’t heard from us. Once again, we do some fusion music, occasionally. So, there’s some cool stuff on there to check out on the new one we just did.
DX: What kind of sounds were you listening to? The album just dropped August 5?
Ubiquitous: Yeah, August 5, dude. There’s a Reggaeton joint on the album that features Tech N9ne called “Powerplay” that is pretty cool. So that’s a new sound that you haven’t heard us do before, and I’ve been waiting to do it and we did it. Just that’s one, just as an example. I love all the different genres. We did an EDM song with this dude called the Phantom in our own market and people really like that shit. It’s kind of like a House beat. It’s dope.
DX: I haven’t heard Reggaeton be brought up in a long time. What made you want to use that type of sound for the album?
Godemis: I think just the way it moves; it’s just different. And it gives you different ideas and different ways to play with your patterns. It changes the way you write, instantaneously when that’s the format you’re writing in. And again, we haven’t done it before, too, and I think having Tech on there was even like an afterthought. And then we were like, “Man, we can kind of hear Tech N9ne on this,” after starting to craft the song. He was down with it too, because he’s got some roots doing some Reggaeton stuff with different artists in Kansas City. So, I think we just hadn’t done it before, and it’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and it’s just a fun way to write. It’s a fun rhythm to write in and a fun time signature to write in.
Ubiquitous: But just to, real quick, Tech was not an afterthought. Tech was the before thought from before it popped. The first thing that came was we were talking to Tech and we were like, “What are we going to do with you on that record?” “Put me, where I don’t fit,” is what he told me. I was like, “Word?” And he was like, “Yeah, I want a challenge.” So I said, “Okay.” And so then I went to Seven next, and I was like, “Make this Reggaeton beat.” And I kind of beat it out on my chest like that’s what I wanted the drums to sound like, and that’s really all I gave him. I told him Tech was going to be on it, and so then he made that shit, and the beat kind of went from there.
DX: Is that how Ces Cru beats are often made? You kind of beat it out on your chest, and then it gets made afterward?
Ubiquitous: Yeah. Anything that you can think of, basically, Seven can create that. If you can articulate something to this guy, he can bring it into existence. It’s crazy.
Ces Cru Reveal Seven’s Work With Big Sean & Ice Cube
DX: Do you think Seven is underrated?
Ubiquitous: I think. Yeah. I don’t know how he feels about it, but I think so.
Godemis: Yeah, Seven’s really underrated, and he’s been dope at it for a long time. I don’t know if he wants to branch out. I know he branches out a little bit, but I wish other dudes in the industry would fuck with him because he’s dope and he can do anything. Any kind of sound you want, he can do it.
DX: So why don’t you think other people in the industry hit him up a lot?
Godemis: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know if he tries to stay exclusively in the bubble. I don’t know who he shops himself around to, but I’d be hard pressed to believe that he shops his catalog of beats around and guys are not coming at him for beats. He’s just got whatever kind of sound you want, and whatever style you want.
Ubiquitous: I don’t really know his resume, but I know for sure that he has music done with really big people in the industry, and he has sort of an odd timing. Like, Seven’s got a record with Big Sean. Quiet as kept, I don’t know what it’s called, but he does. Seven shoots beats to all facets of the game—even to like Ice Cube. You’d be surprised. I don’t know his credentials, though, but it’ll blow your mind if you ever take the time to… I don’t know if it’s on Wiki or something [laughs].
Godemis & Ubiquitous Revisit The Strange Music Cypher
DX: That Strange Music cypher was so epic, shot on the rooftop of the city, and everyone delivered. As a label, you guys always talk about being elite emcees, so how did you guys come to know about the cypher?
Godemis: Did Tech tell us about that beat—that old school beat that he wanted to use? I just remember having a conversation with him about that, and he was like, “Yeah, I want to do a cypher with everybody on it.” But I didn’t realize that was gonna be the beat for everybody like that, and that it was going to be broken up like that, though.
Ubiquitous: I I remember when it first came around a little bit. I think you were there, and we were all at HQ watching a camp do a cypher, and it looks like the BET cypher. And you can kind of tell that shit was patterned after that, and it was this one particular camp or whatever. We were all sitting there watching that shit like, “Man, we need to a Strange cypher.” I think that was 2012. I remember the conversation beginning, and then a lot of time passed. And then, like you said, he came with this idea to use this “Ready For The Meat Wagon” beat, which is a part of a song off this album that came out in 1999... DJ Fresh’s 50 MC’s. It was this obscure Tech record. And I didn’t even realize it was the “Ready For The Meat Wagon” until after I had already recorded my shit and the it was like, “Yo, this is the drums from “Ready For The Meat Wagon.” Wow.” So, yeah.
Godemis: Dope cypher, though.
Ubiquitous: Everybody brought it, like you said.
DX: What building is that in Kansas City?
Godemis: Wasn’t it like a rent out space or something? I had never been there, either. I didn’t even know this building existed.
Ubiquitous: I can’t remember the exact name of the building, but I can tell you who that space belongs to, and it’s the executives of Sporting Kansas City. And Sporting, if you don’t know, is our [Major League] soccer team. And also, if you don’t know, our soccer team wins like a motherfucker [laughs]. Like, we won the championship and shit. Yeah, we were in their space, man. Sporting was kind of enough to get us in there.
DX: Did you guys run through the whole treatment together, or did you just show up?
Godemis: There was a loose plan. But, yeah, we were just freestylin’ and had a loose idea of what we wanted to do. It was cool to kind of just sit back and just take direction, because we’re so used to doing everything from the ground up. So it was like, “Alright, where do you want me? OK, I got it.” And all you had to do was kill your performance shot and nail your lyrics. So, yeah, the film team had a loose idea of what they wanted to do. As you can see from how the camera moved around, there was a sort of like time pass method from each person to the next. It was fun. It was cool, man.
DX: How long did it take you each to write your verses for that?
Godemis: It’s hard to say. Mine happened pretty fast, though.
Ubiquitous: I wrote mine in an afternoon in the “Independent Powerhouse Tour” on the bus in about an hour-and-a-half on my phone.
DX: Was that hour and a half fast for you?
Ubiquitous: It just totally varies. I don’t know. I guess that’s pretty fast. Normally I’ll write at a really leisurely pace. I’ll think of a couple of things and then kind of jot them down and get back to it. And I might write a verse over the course of the day in 10 minute increments, but that particular verse I actually wrote way before, truthfully. Sorry, and shit. I didn’t actually write that verse to that beat [laughs].
Godemis: I didn’t write until way after that.
Ubiquitous: That was just something I had around, but when I thought about it, it went well to that beat, so I just threw it on there.
DX: It all comes out.
Ubiquitous: [Laughs] Yeah.
How Kansas City Responded To Ces Cru’s Success With Strange Music
DX: It’s been a year since your first Strange Music project Constant Energy Struggles. How does it feel?
Ubiquitous: It’s good. It’s definitely a good feeling. Constant Energy Struggles was a vehicle to take us so many different places. We’re now on our third national tour because of this record. And we’ve just been everywhere and talked to everybody. We’re here with y’all at the HipHopDX offices. And we’re talking to B. Real’s camp later for Dr. Greenthumb, just today. That just happens to be happening today. But, I really feel like Constant Energy Struggles has taken us where we’re going right now, and it’s the set up for what’s about to happen; our next one Codename: Ego Stripper. It’s just been everything, dude. It was definitely the game changing record in our career, for sure.
Godemis: I’ve been having a lot of fun, and I’m still super hungry and got a lot of ideas. And I’m eager to move on to the next thing. I’m eager to push Codename: Ego Stripper and continue touring that. I’m super confident in that project, and I just want to start on the next thing. [I wanna] change it up for Strange, diversify the music and leave dope music for the fans, man. And if we do that for the snake and bat the entire time, then that’s what it is. I’m just honored that Tech picked us up, and I just want to do right by the label and continue to have a lot of fun and try to enjoy it to the fullest.
DX: You guys mentioned how Tech saw you because of all the work you put in while in Kansas City. How’s your reputation within Kansas City changed over the past year?
Ubiquitous: I don’t really know. I’ll say that I’m out of touch with Kansas City in a way that I haven’t been before, and it has a lot to do with just being absent. We’re just in other places and working in other markets all the time. So we’re about to find out. We haven’t done a headlining show in Kansas City since the summer of 2012. Other than that, we’ve been working with Tech…we’re always playing with Tech and shit.
I can tell you for sure that we get recognized now more so than we did. We always had this little bit of local, ghetto celebrity in this little pocket called Midtown. It was in the middle of Kansas City. But now it seems to be the entire city…
Ubiquitous: I could be in the city, in the suburbs, at the post office, at the Walgreens, the movie theater or the amusement park. These are all real places I’ve been run up on. It just goes down.
Godemis: Oh yeah, you could be anywhere. Kids on up to the grown ups and OGs, and even a cop. It’s the most random thing. I’m walking down the street with my homegirl, and a cop is yelling out the window of a paddy wagon. I’m like, “What’s goin’ on?” He parks, and he comes back around and jogs up to me like, “Man, will you take a picture with me? My son will never believe me, and we’re huge fans.” I’m like, “Sure,” and my homegirl snaps the picture. While we’re standing there, he’s like, “Is this weird ‘cause I’m a cop?” And I tell him, “Yeah, absolutely [laughs].” But we took that picture. That just says something about the reach and the range of the music. It’s so weird though.
Ces Cru Talk Groupies & Hypothetical Childhood Instagram Moment
DX: Describe a Ces Cru Groupie.
Ubiquitous: We have this pair, and if I’m not mistaken, this pair is always on some dynamic duo. Just a couple of days in Tucson, we had these two girls that come with their custom made “Wavy” shirts. They’re tank tops that say “Wavy” on the back in pink letters. On the front in these glitter letters, one says, “Zoned Out” and the other one says, “Turnt Up.” They’re zoned out, turnt up and wavy on the back, and they’re just front row, center. These same girls made us “Hustle” and “Meditate” panties on a previous tour. One pair said, “Hustle” and one pair said, “Meditate.” They threw the panties on the stage when we were rapping—opening up for Tech.
I don’t know…they’re die-hard, ill fans and they’re out there to let us know that they are there for us in the deepest way. I mean, they’re at a Tech N9ne concert throwing Ces Cru panties. So we’re honored. That shit’s dope.
DX: They sound like designers.
Godemis: I think they just like bedazzling shit and putting letters on shit. It’s super cool though.
DX: What childhood moment do you wish you had Instagram for?
Godemis: Man… It would be cool if I could remember performing Michael Jackson songs in the living room for my aunt and my mom and shit. I wish I had a picture of that shit to see what I looked like moonwalking in my PJs in the living room just to see what it was like. I’d do it for them all the time, and they were attentive the whole time. I’m thinking, “Damn, how good was that? How good was I back then?” It’d be really cool if I had a little video or Instagram of that to put up. That’s a Throwback Thursday or whatever.
Ubiquitous: Shit man, a childhood Instagram moment? I don’t even know. My childhood was ill, and it was a super awesome childhood. I don’t know what I would want to throw up on the Insta though. Maybe a shot of what I looked like before I fucked myself up. I busted my face up riding my bike…
Godemis: Dude, I was just about to say that!
Ubiquitous: Once upon a time, I had real teeth. My teeth are not real because I blew ‘em out my mouth falling off my bike when I was in fifth grade. So maybe somewhere in there I’d have a picture of me pre that. It was life changing, mashing your face into the concrete kind of thing that happened to me. Maybe that? Somewhere, there’s a young me before that accident.
DX: Are those the same teeth you got after the accident?
Ubiquitous: Nah, I change them all the time.
DX: I was gonna say, they’d probably be pretty big on fifth grade Ubi.
Ubiquitous: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s a long-ass story. I could talk about my teeth for days. I’ve basically had every kind of dental work you can have done. It’s been root canals, apicoectomies and all kind of shit you don’t even want to know about. So yeah, I got an ill bridge. It’s porcelain too…shit’s tight.
DX: 50 Cent said his style changed after he lost a tooth getting shot. Does that make it tough to rhyme in any certain styles since you guys chop?
Godemis: Yeah, that is difficult and definitely any major change in your mouth will alter it. But it’s more likely that a headache or an earache is gonna affect my spit game. Some nights, I’m up there and I do have a little pain or whatever, but you just go through that shit.
Ubiquitous: When I used to have partials, before I had a full bridge, I actually put it off. I procrastinated for a long time because I was so afraid of how it would change the way I rapped. And it did change. There are certain consonants that are difficult now that weren’t before, so it’s a real change. I actually shape my mouth differently now.
DX: Or write the rhyme differently?
Ubiquitous: I don’t wanna reveal what the consonants are, because other people are gonna study my style and be like, “Damn, you can hear it?” But the consonants I have to work with on this are too important that I could not sacrifice. It’s not like X or something [laughs]. These are key letters and shit. It’s cool though, because it’s a challenge and you work around it.
DX: What’s the largest audience you’ve ever performed for?
Godemis: Paid Dues?
Ubiquitous: That was the largest crowd, but that whole audience wasn’t all watching us. I would say the Solitaire in Salt Lake City, Utah. That was 4,000 people, which was probably our biggest crowd. Then there’s a couple right under there like 3,200 in K.C. and 3,500 in Denver. But yeah, Utah. Surprise!
How Ces Cru Approaches Live Shows And Defines Being Thirsty
DX: What’s the smallest audience you’ve ever performed for?
Ubiquitous: Something like this one right here with about four motherfuckers.
DX: Which one made you more uncomfortable?
Godemis: I’d say the bigger audience. But I wouldn’t describe it as uncomfortable, because it’s just different. I think the rule of thumb is that I’d rather have four attentive people than 4,000 people who are just kind of watching as they text and hold conversations. Sometimes that shit happens, but that’s what we came from. We had to build it all the way. There used to be nobody at our shows except for the homies [laughs]. So it’s not a shock to come in and see a small amount of people there. The thing is, are they attentive? So long as they’re there, the real question is, do you wanna see the show? Are you rocking out? Are you familiar with the music? Those are the things that matter. If there’s 4,000 people and they’re just standing there like zombies, then it might as well be nobody there.
DX: For each of you, what’s the difference between being hungry and thirsty?
Ubiquitous: Thirsty means you’re trying too hard. If you’re hungry, you’re just acting instead of thinking. Thirsty people are thinking too much, but hungry people are just doing shit. That’s the difference for me.
Godemis: Yeah, I think you nailed it. I think that is the difference. Everybody’s thirsty. If you go to an event like South by Southwest, there’s just an overabundance of artists there and everybody’s a star. It just kind of dilutes the whole thing. People say, “Yeah, I’m going to network.” But nobody’s really networking. All you really see are postcards and people’s CDs just littering the streets. All this hand-to-hand networking that’s supposed to be happening isn’t really happening like that. I don’t know what that is. Maybe there’s too many people or cats are just too thirsty. There are all these stars here, but nobody wants to be a fan anymore. Everybody’s a star. That’s why you have an event like that going on, but now all the big acts have gotten to it, which further dilutes the whole thing. That’s thirsty.
I feel like everybody at South by Southwest is thirsty. They all want a drop. They don’t even know who you are, and then when they find out, it’s like, “Gimmie a drop.” You’re looking at them like, “OK, I guess. What am I saying again?” They’re just really thirsty.
DX: It kind of makes sense if we’re all kind of walking scoreboards, right?
Godemis: It is like that.
DX: I know how many Twitter followers I have. That’s points.
Godemis: That is points. Stats. And a thirsty person will buy followers. That’s that thirst. That’s when you buy followers. You’ve got however many thousands of followers and your pictures are only getting a hundred likes? It’s like, “You’re so thirsty!”
DX: You guys are just over a year past your first release, about to drop another project and have toured nationally. What still surprises you about Hip Hop?
Ubiquitous: I don’t know. It’s really the people that surprise me and the characters that emerge. There’s still prevalent characters emerging all the time and reshaping the game. To me, the template and the construct for Hip Hop is no longer surprising. I know exactly how the game flows and works with the ebbs and flows of people I because I’ve watched long enough. It’s like a guy who watches the stock market for a living or a sportswriter. They understand the game on a deeper level and can almost predict the outcome of shit based on these factors.
So there’s a little bit of a lack of surprise for me now, because I’ve watched the game for a long time. But there’s always these people that just emerge that will shock the game. I think the surprising shit is just these new rappers that show up.
Godemis: I agree with that as well, but I guess for me, it’s how household [Hip Hop] has become. Watching Russell Simmons with the Rush Card or 50 Cent get the whole Vitaminwater thing popped off, I’m always surprised by how more and more accepted it is. It keeps growing. You thought it was a thing when Wu-Tang had Wu Wear, and it was like, “They branched into clothes.” Now you’ve got Jay Z with the Nets or whatever. It’s like, “How can this happen? It keeps going further and further.”
It’s acceptable. People are down with it, and they’re not afraid of it. They want to understand it and be a part of it. That didn’t used to be the case. So it’s becoming a more accepted form of music all over the place, and people want to be part of it. They’re starting to understand it, and you have college courses and stuff pertaining to Hip Hop, deejaying, graf and things like this. All of that is real dope to me. That’s what surprises me about Hip Hop—it’s still growing. It’s still being accepted by a wider base of people and cultures.
Interview conducted by Justin Hunte.