Life on the road suits CES Cru. At the time of this interview, the Kansas City duo is in Tempe, Arizona—the tenth stop along Tech N9ne’s 50-city Independent Powerhouse Tour. What sounds like a tiny dog is chirping loudly in the background. Anything that may be misconstrued as fatigue is nowhere to be heard in this discussion. Godemis and Ubiquitous named their Strange Music debut Constant Energy Struggle (now available for purchase), but today that title feels ironic. The Kansas City-native’s have been living their dream of living off of Hip Hop for a decade before inking a deal with their homegrown heroes—grinding through their city’s indie scene. Now with the bat and snake logo backing their bombastic backpack raps—as they described in August 2012 upon the release of their EP, 13—they’re running with extra octane in the tank. And they’re loving it.
“I’m telling you man, it’s crazy,” Godemis described in this phone interview with DX. “A girl will get between Ubi and I, and she either can’t stop giggling or shaking or both…I’ve never had my ass palmed so many times in my fucking life.”
In this conversation, CES Cru peruses through K.C. Hip Hop history, running down their most memorable Strange Music moments as they witnessed an independent powerhouse rise in their own backyard, while plotting their own path to mass appeal.
Tech N9ne Releasing Anghellic In 2001
Godemis: The biggest moment I can remember is when Tech N9ne stickers of the barcoded cross started to pop up all over Kansas City in order to promote Anghellic, which was about to drop. When Anghellic dropped, the ground warfare they were doing with Anghellic, that was the first time you would see Tech fans and his posters stapled to poles. Basically that’s when Tech stepped into his slot as far as being the premier emcee from Kansas City. It wasn’t really a question anymore after that. He just went around and claimed that.
HipHopDX: What was his reputation like in the area before that?
Godemis: I think he was also that. He was still that but maybe there were some other dudes also in the area that were maybe considered to be on a totally equal level or a competitive level. Just other dudes from K.C. who were also grinding and putting their shit out. Tech took it to the next level. There was an artistry behind his shit that was absent in these other guy’s records that I think launched him.
Ubiquitous: I hate to ride his answer, but it was kind of the same way but different. I guess that shit was fucking crazy when I started seeing billboards. Yeah, like you’re on the highway and you see the stickers and street team with posters, but that billboard stuff would be on the highway with Tech N9ne on his upcoming album and tour. Nobody else even does it like him. There’s nobody with the need to do that and they’re not even in demand like that. The billboard with the graphics were crazy, and the music as well. When Anghellic dropped, that was what everybody was saying.
The street team actually used to get down a little harder in the city than they do now, honestly. There used to be Tech N9ne shit all over the fucking place all the time. It’s still there, but I guess it’s a thing from moving right down the street to on the billboards, so maybe that’s why we’re seeing less of it.
DX: I think there has to be a social media thing, too. Your social media team seems just as vicious as what you’re describing in Kansas City when Anghellic dropped.
Tech N9ne’s Bad Season Mixtape & Strange Music HQ
DX: That’s crazy. What is another moment that stands out as you’re watching it go down?
Godemis: Another big one? I would say when [Tech N9ne’s] Bad Season mixtape dropped [in 2011]. That was a mixtape he did with DJ Whoo Kid and it was the first free thing that Tech really ever put out. It was kind of unheard of. Here was this mixtape he did with Whoo Kid that has this whole different sound to it, meaning more East Coast than he ever had. He kind of had this Mid-to-West Coast style. That shit dropped, and not only did it drop for free, but it dropped like a breath of fresh air into Tech’s style with the songs he made. I felt it was a huge moment and a big set up. What basically followed up was All 6’s And 7’s, which was his industry break-in with tons of help from all the heavy hitters over the game. From Lil Wayne to Busta Rhymes to Yelawolf to Twista. It was a star-studded record. I felt like Bad Season was the set-up jab for the knockout punch. When I saw that happen I was like, “Woah, something’s going on.” There’s XXL doing a five-page spread on them, and that all happened at the same time.
DX: What was the response to [Tech’s different sound]? What was the response in Kansas City?
Godemis: It’s hard for me to gauge what the city thought of Bad Season because it was not handled the same way as all his other shit because it was free. You didn’t see all the billboards; you didn’t see all the paper-promo go all over town. I feel like that, and truthfully, I think K.C. slept on Bad Season. It definitely went out through a lot of places through the Internet, but that’s not necessarily how K.C. rolls. It’s more of a hand-held situation. They might have slept on that shit. I didn’t sleep on it. Yeah, there was no huge ground movement for that project.
DX: What’s another moment in the history of the label that stands out?
Ubiquitous: Yeah. I’ve got a good one. The first time I heard about the Strange Music Compound headquarters [Strangeland Studios]. That was some shit. I had no idea of how big the operation was. Even before the issue in [XXL], I hadn’t seen the inside of it. So I had no idea of the level they were on. Then, of course, to actually step foot in that place is insane. It’s what you’d want your record label’s office or compound to look like. The snake and the bat is all over the place. It’s super clean, it’s super swanky…and I walk around that place like, “Damn. I work here.” Shit is crazy, so that was a huge moment for me. There isn’t anywhere else like that in Kansas City. [Strange Music CEO] Travis [O’Guin] is expanding the operation right now. He’s got another building. There’s gonna be a fucking multi-million dollar studio in there. That’ll be where the artists record. That will be where everything happens, and nothing else in Kansas City is going on to that extent.
That was a huge eye-opener. It let me know that if you thought it wasn’t that serious, [then] walk through this place and look around. No one would put that much money into something unless they’re fucking about it—like 120%. So knowing about the compound and actually going to the compound for the first time was just fucking insane to me. Trav elaborated on it and told me that everyone has the same reaction when they come through here. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Snoop Dogg, E-40, or whoever it is. He was like, “Yeah, everybody comes to this place for the first time, and their jaw hits the fucking floor.”
DX: I remember that spread in XXL with that picture of Travis and Tech in the warehouse.
Ubiquitous: They’re on it. Dude, it was like, “What the fuck?” right? They were completely cool asking us, “Hey, you wanna press up some shirts or get some hats or something going?” Travis was just fucking on all that shit. He’s a madman, and he’s always thinking of the next thing to sell. He’s always thinking in terms of, “What else can we give the fans? What else would the fans enjoy?” It’s crazy watching him work.
DX: Where’s the studio located? Is it downtown somewhere? Is it in a suburb?
Ubiquitous: Yeah, it’s in a suburb. It’s in Missouri, and the city is called Lee Summit. It’s just off in the cut…pretty close to a movie theater, and I think it’s across the street from there. It’s just tucked away, and you wouldn’t expect it.
DX: Word. I remember the first time I went to Stankonia Studios, and I did not expect that to be Stankonia Studios. But it wasn’t nearly as cavernous as Strangeland [sounds].
Ubiquitous: Oh, really?
DX: Yeah, it’s a brick building in a neighborhood. It was dope though.
Ubiquitous & Godemis Talk Killer And Strangeland’s Expansion
Ubiquitous: Wow. Yeah, headquarters is the exact opposite of that. This new building—Strangeland Studios—the whole second floor is an A studio and B studio. It’s two studios that are big enough to record live bands in. It’ll all be state of the art, and they’re talking about having it done before the summer. The whole bottom floor is film and video with a dedicated media department. They’re down there cutting video with all this video equipment and a big bay where we can shoot videos or build a big set. It’s crazy, man.
DX: That’s dope. What’s another moment that stands out?
Ubiquitous: I feel like we’re covering a lot of it. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the ad for Killer, which emulated Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Tech went real big with that. It was a distinct album cover, and you couldn’t miss it. He just put those billboards all over town, and they had trucks driving around with the ad all over Kansas City, too. They just keep stepping up, and up, and up with each release.
I can add another one to it. I can remember when dude got the [mtvU] Woodie [Award]. That was crazy. I remember seeing that, and it was like, “Oh shit! Tech’s on TV.” And he wasn’t just on TV, he won the shit.
DX: He has a young fanbase, too.
Ubiquitous: It’s getting younger and younger all the time. They are young out here—like dangerously young. That’s too much for me.
DX: Tech talked to us in early 2012, and was saying, “Yo these girls come up to me, and they’re hollering at me. I tell them I’m 41, and they’re like, ‘No you’re not.’” It’s gotta be dangerous sometimes partying with y’all.
Ubiquitous: Yeah, you gotta check IDs. That’s what it comes down to, and you treat that shit like you’re a bartender. It’s like, “Nah, you can’t even be here if you’re not [of age]. And you’ve gotta stay true to that rule. Girls can weird out a little bit like, “What do you mean, you wanna see my ID?” And I’m like, “Look, if it’s a problem for you to pull it out, then it’s a problem for you to be here. Bye.”
DX: How’s the tour going?
Life On Tour With Ces Cru And Strange Music
Godemis: The tour is going fan-tas-tic. I feel like I enjoyed the shit more than the fans do…like, I eat this shit up. My body can’t even tell me to stop. But there have been some scary moments too. It’s a whole lot of love. You kill it off stage, and then when you’re done, you go work the [merchandise]. I’ve always got my security guy with me, Les. But I’ve had people run up on me crying—no bullshit. They’re shaking and hyperventilating and saying, “Oh please, can you sign this?” And that’s just like…damn. Because if I don’t have Les with me, I really can’t even move through the place. And I’ve got however many fucking thousands worth of diamonds around my neck. So my Spidey-Sense starts going off, and I’m thinking, “Man, anything could happen.”
Shit, at one venue, they started fighting amongst each other. This was while they’re in the line trying to get me to sign shit. And I’m like, “Yo man, turn down. Turn off…stop it.” It’s crazy to me. You go to sleep in one spot, and then you wake up in another spot. And you’re in close proximity to super-creative motherfuckers on the bus. So anything’s liable to happen. There’s a lot of ill personalities on the bus; everybody’s a fucking comedian. And if I can’t get a laugh, I just play Trinidad James, because that shit cracks me up [Laughs]. It’s cool as fuck. Touring is incredible, and I haven’t even tapped into my second wind yet. The ladies are nice, and they fuck with us real tough.
DX: How many stops have you done so far?
Godemis: I think we’re 10 shows in so far. I think this will be the tenth show today. So we’re not even halfway, because we’ve got like 50 some odd dates. We haven’t even scratched the surface, so I guess it’s a good thing I’m not tired.
DX: I can’t imagine looking at someone crying just to meet me…
Godemis: I’m telling you man, it’s crazy. A girl will get between Ubi and I, and she either can’t stop giggling or shaking or both. That’s one thing, or she’s grabbing your ass while the picture’s being taken. I’ve never had my ass palmed so many times in my fucking life. Either they’re super nervous, or they’re just right up on you; right in your bubble immediately. The fellas run up, and they’re super inspired and shit, which is also pretty cool. A lot of them are writers themselves who are grinding trying to get into the game. And I don’t have a lot of time with them, but they usually sneak in something like, “Yeah, you inspired me man. I rap too.” And I tell them to keep grindin’, and boom, we snap the picture. That shit is super cool man, because Tech inspired me. And now I’m here literally doing what he did.
Travis told me, “A lot of guys wanna be Tech N9ne, but they don’t wanna do what the fuck he did to get here. And everything Tech N9ne made, he made it one by one—person to person.” So that’s what I’m about, and I try to remember that when I’m in a mob of people. Yeah, maybe I don’t have the sort of space I want. And maybe I just wanna hang out and drink a drink, but I can’t because people keep running up on me. But you’ve got to put your fucking face on and be professional. Be humble, and be genuine with these people, man. And those are the people that will come back, be loyal and buy your album. You know that, man.
DX: Who has another memory that stands out? It can be with other artists on the label, too, not just Tech.
Ubiquitous: I definitely remember kind of raising my eyebrows when Brotha Lynch Hung got signed. When Dinner And A Movie came to fruition, that was a big thing. There was a lot of buzz on the street level about Lynch being on Strange Music and what the music would sound like. And when it did come out, it was like pumpkin pie—they ate it up. They just loved that shit. It was like a great fit, and the whole aesthetic of the label created a lane for Lynch to really do what he does best. That was also before we were with the label, so we were on the outside.