Ceewhy : I'm a real understudy of music, not just hip-hop
Ceewhy has built a name for himself locally through a number of albums, mixtapes, and powerful performances with his band Gorilla Panic, but his latest album, Freedom=Genius, may be his most tightly realized piece to date. Gimme Noise caught up with the rapper and band frontman to talk about the new album and how he approaches music.
Gimme Noise: The record seemed to have a real pop sensibility on a number of songs.
Ceewhy: As I'm working on it and getting it done, I'm sitting here with Garrison [Grouse] from Breakfast Anytime - he co-produced it with me, me and him are super tight, that's my brother - we're listening to it in the first stage of mixing, and he looks at me, like, "Dude, there's a lot of pop records on there!". But I feel like it's still so hip-hop.
It felt really natural, it didn't seem forced.
It's a fine line to walk. I make what I want, but I want to share it. I don't need them to love it, but I want them to. I think of myself like a chef. I'm making food that I like, but I want you to like it too
What was the process of writing this album?
I got stems for everything and I went in personally and arranged everything the way that I wanted it. The first stage was getting the beats and putting them together, King Karnov did production, DJ Corbett did production, Garrison Grouse did production, Mike Forte did production, and a couple of cats Wizard was working with over in the UK like Pete Cannon, Appetite, they collabed on a couple beats. Wrote the songs, wrote the hooks out, recorded it, listened to it. I like to be involved in the whole process. Garrison did the mixing and mastering, but I was there every day to track every second. I love just being a rapper and being lyrical, just going, no concept, no idea, just going. Just staying fit lyrically like that. But I always feel like I should give people options. The way that we perform these songs at shows is different than what you're gonna hear on the album. So, you might not like the album, but you'll dig the shows. You may not like the shows, but you'll dig the album. Or both, which is better for me. It's slight differences that are entertaining.
How do you translate material from the album to the live show? You play with a live band?
Always. I'll rarely do solo shows, because I feel like it's not a proper representation of the music. It's real hippy, real communal. I write everything, arrange everything, put it all together and figure it out for the fellas, then I bring it in. I make sure to bring in a myriad of songs, whether it's ones I've recorded to or beats I've picked that I didn't record to so they can breathe new life into things that I wouldn't have thought of. What I do with my band, I direct traffic, [but] everybody has the chance to make it their own. There was a song called "Cruise Control" that was super hip-hop, but by the time we got a hold of it, it was straight Fishbone punk rock. I encourage my bandmates to make things their own and put spins on things. Though I'm the leader of the band, I don't want to minimize my brothers. If I'm not going to use your thoughts or expertise as a player, why wouldn't I just keep going off a two-track?
Even [the fact that] we're going under my name, that wasn't my decision, that was their decision. When we first decided we wanted to be a band, I asked what to change the name to. They said "Ceewhy", and I'm like, the fuck for? They said, "Well you've already kind of made a name and it'd be a shame to drop it", and we argued for about a month. I really love and respect these dudes. Shout out to LA my drummer, Efron the keys player, and Josh on bass. We're short a guitar player, Garisson is playing guitar for us now. We're actually making a transition; the name Ceewhy as far as representing the whole band is about to go away. On the flyer, it's Ceewhy plus Gorilla Panic; after this project is done, we'll just be Gorilla Panic. I'll still be Ceewhy, and I can do solo stuff if I want under my own moniker.
Have you ever written songs with just the band?
No, that's the next thing we're gonna do, get together and start working on a band album. I'm excited to hear what it sounds like, because my bass player loves heavy metal and soul, my drummer loves ratchet hip-hop like "Rack City" and church music, and my keys player is straight D'Angelo, so I'm really curious to see what we're going to build.
What brought you to rapping originally?
My father was a DJ on KMOJ, he was one of the top DJs over there. Growing up, I had more records than I did furniture. Just literally records all over the bottom of the wall, CDs, tapes, DATs, the whole nine. The stereo system literally took up the whole wall. That really put the bug in my ear. I'm a real understudy of music, not just hip-hop. There was a time when I knew more old school or classical songs than anything contemporary or popular. The thing that led me to being in a band is that I'm more musical than the average rapper.
I can't play anything, but I know what sounds good. I can tell you where a sample came from the second it comes on, I enjoy being an MC, I enjoy battling, I enjoy cyphers, I can do it with the best of them, but there's also that musical side of me that wasn't really being fed, and the band is the best place for me to be. It was really poetry that moved me into [rap]. I'm still to this day really fascinated how someone can talk like a politician as far as putting their words together like a speech writer to make a deep solid point in like three minutes. You got two or three sixteens and you say something that's so soul-shaking, that's so deep to me how you can connect with people like that. The connection is quick but it's so lasting. I still am enamored with that shit.
How long has Freedom=Genius been in the works?
Off and on for about a year. The day we actually joined together as a band, I had a one-way ticket to Atlanta; I was getting ready to move. I had just performed [at Honey], and Josh was the bass player with Xavier Marquis. After they get off stage, he comes over to me, and I [start talking about how] I want to put together a band. He said, "If you put together a band, I'll play for you, I know people!" He got all amped. It was a six or seven month process of weaving people in and talking, didn't seem like anything was gonna happen. He called me the night before I was gonna leave, I had my shit all packed.
He was like, "Dude, I have these people I think would be a dope-ass band, come to practice tomorrow," and he didn't know I was getting ready to leave. Practice was before the flight, so I went to practice and came home and was like, fuck it, I'm not going nowhere. I'm not a bible-thumper or anything like that, but I do believe in the universe and spirits... I had goosebumps the whole time. Just the connection we had; the first song we played was some of the coldest shit, and we just made it up! They just started playing and one by one started adding stuff in, and I made up a hook and pulled in some old verses, and we played that song for fifteen minutes. After we got done, we all stopped and looked at each other, like, oh shit. We're at McNally [Smith] and people are outside the door looking through the windows, and I knew that we had something, and they did too. I couldn't have been blessed with a better group of guys. I can't say enough about my bandmates.
That's why the album took a little bit, because before we even got together I was putting the album together. I was planning on finishing it when I got to Atlanta, and then the band got together and I had to take time to tighten that up. I decided I was just going to take my time on it. I bought stems for everything, I arranged everything the way I wanted to, I I got all the producers I wanted to; I put up some bread for this shit, you know what I'm saying? I paid. [Garrison Grouse] was originally just supposed to engineer and master, but he ended up making three or four of the dopest joints on the album, and that's just me and him, sitting down, I got an idea an idea in my head that I start beatboxing or humming, and we'll sit down for a couple hours and bang it out.
That's how we got "The Price", "Come Over", "Unlocking The Truth" and "Proceed". We kinda came up with those on the fly, and those are some of my favorite joints on the album. As I was taking my time, everything was working out right. My drummer went back and laid down a ton of stuff, my keys player came in... It's the best it could possibly be. I didn't skimp on any ingredients. Usually I'm so hungry for my next project, and I still am, but this one, I love it. I usually don't like my music, but if this wasn't my shit, I would love whoever's shit this was. I'm pretty pleased with it, and I hope everybody else digs it.
Catch Ceewhy and Gorilla Panic at the Freedom=Genius release party, with Crunchy Kids, MaLLy, and Carnage, at the Triple Rock, Friday, January 3rd. 9pm, $8/$10, 18+.
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