Mechanical Dummy recently had the chance to chop it up with Texas-bred artist, poet, DJ, feminist, and overall man of many talents, Cee-Won X and get to know more about one of the artists that’s pushing the envelope in hip-hop and not succumbing to the societal norm. Learn more about Cee-Won X here.
Mechanical Dummy: One thing that drew me to you as a person and artist is your advocacy for feminism. We don’t get enough of that in hip-hop, or in music in general, or enough of that from men in general. So for a male hip-hop artist to be such a strong advocate for women and women’s rights is quite refreshing. When did you become such an advocate for feminism and what inspired you? How do you feel about the misogynistic tones in a lot of current music? Do you think people should be able to separate the music from the artist in situations like that?
I’ve been moving around and kind of homeless for years now, just sleeping on people’s couches and floors while working on music with whatever tools I had at my disposal and when I began putting together the first few songs for my project, “The Excursion II: A Poet In the Land of Cruel Intentions,” in early 2014 I was spending a lot of time on social media because I didn’t have any friends and my mindset at the time was, “This is a useful tool to connect with as many like-minded people as possible and that would help me get my music out.” I ended up becoming friends with one like-minded person…and then another…and then another. What did they all have in common? Most of them called themselves Intersectional Feminists. My approach to everything is truth. Truth is set in stone and cannot be changed. A person’s opinion doesn’t change the facts. Does that mean I’ve always known what the truth is? No. I had to unlearn a lot of things to find the truth. I realized my intended goal in life would not be a reality if I continued living with some of the views I had. I was inspired by all the brilliant people I was crossing paths with (mostly all women). I was learning something new every day. That period of my life was really important. 2014 was a transition. It was really inspiring to know that I was wrong. As far as misogyny in music, I rarely listen to anything current! The overall lack of creativity in mainstream music of all genres is a massive let down. I rarely give the popular rap of today my time and sometimes I feel bad about that, but anytime I’ve given any current popular rap artists a chance it’s like nails on a chalk board. I hear people talk about all these pop rap artists I don’t even know of and what they said in this song or that song and I can’t really say much because I haven’t felt like listening to those artists but of course I have to say no to misogynistic tones in music. That’s disgusting. I know you’re a fan of The Beatles, there’s that bit in “Getting Better” off the Sgt. Peppers album where I believe it was Lennon saying “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved.” That was the 60s. Violent men have always existed and it will always make its way into their art. I don’t really care for singling out one genre or time period when its a topic like that but I’ll admit it’s painfully there and in your face today. It’s hard for me to personally separate the music from the artist but sometimes I can. I speak as an artist though. As an artist, I have to do that. For some people that might not be an easy thing to do, maybe it triggers them.
MD: I know that rapping is only one of your many talents. You also sing, dance, play guitar…am I missing anything? I’ve seen your recent videos on Twitter of you covering songs and making new music. That Dance Gavin Dance cover was awesome! How has learning the guitar been so far? What kind of music do you hope to be making on your next album?
I also DJ! I only use vinyl when I scratch, everything else sounds fake. I’ve been writing new music but I haven’t been rushing. Thank you! I love Dance Gavin Dance. Guitar has been fun, it’s something I got good at very slowly. Lately I’ve been experimenting with pedals and trying to find what tones I like the most. I’m really into guitar tones. Something really easy to play can sound incredible if you know what you’re doing. Bright sounds are my favorite. On my next album, I’m trying to go back to a more straight forward approach. I don’t rap like I used to and I miss my old style. When I was barely learning how to write songs, I was a horrible song writer, but I could rap my ass off so what you’d get is me rapping with no hook or any real plot to the songs. I became so wrapped up in trying to be De La Soul or something and I used to wish I could tell a story in my music and I was always wishing I could write about what was going on in the world and that stuff sounds simple – but try writing it. I remember I’d try and it just wasn’t coming out. It took time, I had to work hard for that. Now I’ve accomplished that goal but I’m trying to find a balance. I don’t always want to come off as the serious guy I’ve become today. I used to just rap…never needed a subject. Being an artist is strange.
MD: Speaking of Dance Gavin Dance and your cover, you have a very diverse taste in music. Where would you say you draw musical inspiration from? Do you think your wide range in musical tastes reflects in your music? I know I certainly hear tons of influences.
Way too many places. My father was a singer in a rock band and his voice was often compared to Freddie Mercury. As a kid, when I was traveling with him and his band I remember Pink Floyd, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam being played a lot. My grandfather is Bucky Meadows and he was Willie Nelson’s Guitarist for something like 30 years? I’m not a fan of country music at all but Bucky had this kind of Blues sound and if you heard the man play, you’d know what I mean, but he had this distinct sound and I remember my mom used to play his songs when I was a kid. Sometimes I just hear his guitar solos in my head, beautiful sounds. My mom also played a lot of 80’s music but I didn’t appreciate those influences until I was older. I was always obsessed with rap music and R&B. Singing groups were always my thing. My grandmother and I were always close and because of her I was exposed to The Temptations. I began taking singing seriously when i was around 10 years old because I wanted to be in a group like The Temptations. When I was 6, I remember I wanted to be Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys! The Beach Boys are another one. Pet Sounds is one of my favorite albums. Harmony is magical. When I got older, I got really into Oasis and today they’re still one of my favorite bands. I draw inspiration from the textures in sound. Sound is complex and I obsess over it. My favorite emcee of all time is Charlie Brown from Leaders of the New School. He did the most wacky sounding things with his voice and I’d say he had a major influence on me. Zack De La Rocha from Rage Against the Machine? Dude makes my top 5 emcees. The Cure, Incubus, The Smiths, Black Eyed Peas, The Stone Roses, Native Tongues, The Fall of Troy, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, James Brown…I could go on and on. It’s way too many influences. Everything influences me!
MD: You’re stranded on an island. You can only bring one movie, one album, one food, and one video game. What are they gonna be and why?
Damn, that’s tough! My movie is The Crow because it’s my favorite and I could watch it constantly without getting tired of it. My album would be Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” because it’s all I need to get by. My food is bean burritos because I only eat bean burritos. My video game is Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo cause that game is tight, have you played it? (Editor’s note: nope, never heard of it!)
MD: You told me your single “World’s Gone Mad,” a personal favorite, is releasing on cassette soon, under your own record label. That’s so cool. What made you decide to choose that single, and why cassette and not vinyl like most people would do? Also, what are your future plans for your record label?
I chose that song as the single because I think it captures the artistic transition I was going through during that project perfectly. I love the harmonies on that song. When I recorded it, I said, “This is the one.” I knew I did something special and in the context of the album, it’s even better. Most feedback I get about Cruel Intentions is often followed by “World’s Gone Mad is my favorite track.” For now, it’s the best song I’ve written. Artistically, it’s an accomplishment but I also think the topics on the track are important. It’s very fitting for the world. I decided to go with cassette for two reasons! First off, I don’t got the money for vinyl, that stuff is way too expensive right now. I wanted to go with vinyl because most music I own is on vinyl but I just couldn’t do it. My second reason is that I’ve always loved cassettes! Our parents played vinyl when they were kids. I played cassettes when I was a kid, my first album I ever got was the Backstreet Boys Millennium album on cassette. I used to have blank tapes and I would wait all day for specific songs to play on the radio just so I could record them. Loved it. I really have no idea where my record label is going, I only started it because I’m tired of sending my music in to labels. Nobody wants to sign me so I chose to do it myself. That’s punk rock right? I guess time will tell if we’re talking about long term but we have an EP coming from my homie Croom, the Crusader coming out very soon. He’s one of the best emcees I’ve ever known and we started my group Sons of the Tongue together. He’s family.
MD: Your last project, The Excursion II: A Poet In the Land of Cruel Intentions, was incredible. You exhibited a lot of craftsmanship in the structure of the tape, it was even cinematic. You have such a distinctive voice and flow, which is important for an artist. Did it all come naturally to you, or did it take you a while to find your best voice and your talent for making a project cohesive? Some people would say you have a very old school sound, especially when it comes to your voice. Would you agree?
Thank you for those compliments, it means a lot. I owe a lot of what that project sounds like to Zachary Garren. He used to play guitar in Dance Gavin Dance and getting to work with him had me really energized. I remember when he agreed to mix/master the project, I quit my day job at the time, grabbed my last paycheck and left town to get to work on the album. It definitely took me a couple of years to get to that point. I did 3 tapes before I did Cruel intentions and they were all garbage but each tape was progress. It was all lessons. I agree that my sound is different and it’s most easily compared to older rap but the term “Old School” has always made me cringe. It’s true school. Old School implies that my style is dated. The quality exceeds the current norm, so how is it dated? They want to say the same things about Joey Bada$$ too. People just aren’t used to it. I’m a B-Boy so 90s Rap is normal to me. At jams, we don’t play that mainstream stuff. It’s gotta be funky! It needs soul! How are we gonna dance to whatever kind of Rap that’s popular right now? It’s not the same genre.
MD: I know you’re into comics. If you had to make an album based off of a comic book series, which would it be? What role would you be playing? Would you say comics have influenced your music in the past?
There’s this dope Power Rangers comic they just came out with and I’d have to be a Power Ranger if I did that! I wouldn’t say comics have influenced my music, but I may have written some lyrics with comic book references before. Not sure if I have actually. That sounds like something I’d do more in my earlier work, though.
MD: It’s been almost a year since your last project released. Why do you take so long to release new music? Do you feel that what people say about us living in the microwave era of music is true, and that new music is released too often and thus forgotten about?
It took me so long because of my living situation. When you don’t know where you’re going to sleep or where your next meal is coming from, it’s a bit difficult to do basic things. Very difficult to start writing an album or release a single. I also hate being rushed and wanted to wait at least a year. Cruel Intentions is a beautiful record and there’s no reason to make another album yet. It took a lot out of me to make that record, I was drained. Physically, mentally, creatively…drained. I needed to breathe. I agree with the microwave-era concept 100 percent! I feel like a lot of people (artists and listeners) don’t take this seriously anymore but at the same time it’s difficult to take a lot of music seriously these days. Quality music ensures longevity. Take your time. Make something unforgettable.
MD: I noticed you covered the Smiths on your guitar. Have you been learning a lot of their music? What do you think about their influence on today’s music? Do you think they’re underrated as a band?
I don’t learn much music on the guitar, I just write it. I hate reading music and I rarely have the patience to learn by ear. I had to figure out some of Johnny’s riffs though. Noel Gallagher of Oasis once called Johnny Marr “a wizard,” I agree. I’ve been around musicians my entire life and I’ve never heard anything like Johnny Marr’s playing. The ending of “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” always makes me cry. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Severely underrated band. The Smiths easily make top 10 bands of all time. Personally my top 5. Their influence is everywhere and it’s a crime they don’t get the credit they deserve.
MD: Let’s get a little deeper and talk about you personally. Aside from music, what makes you happiest in life? Are you a religious person? Do you have faith in humanity as a whole? When’s the last time you felt free and alive? The last time you felt scared? What is your happiest childhood memory? What would you say was the best year of your life thus far and why? What’s the greatest advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?
Music is what makes me happy. Nothing else makes me happy. Hip Hop is my religion. I want to have faith in people but we just keep messing everything up. I try though. I keep fighting for what’s right. I try to do my part. We all have to try if we ever hope to make this place better. The last time I was in the studio is when I felt free and alive! I think the last time I felt scared was when I thought about outer space…It’s scary ’cause were all so small and nothing really matters. My favorite childhood memories are mostly around 2000-2003. I grew up in some busted up apartments and everyone knew everyone. Fun times but one memory doesn’t stand out above the rest. When I was 7, that was the best year of my life, it was just a good time and I had a lot of friends. I’ve gotten so much great advice but the first thing that comes to mind is “Treat your music like a job,” and that advice came from my Dad’s old drummer.