We raise our shots of mescal and toast to the energy around us.
By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT
The Kansas City Star
A fitting toast, considering Im sitting with Ces Cru, and the hip-hop duos debut album, Constant Energy Struggles, hits shelves on Tuesday.
People around us think nothing of it. To them, were just a group of 30-somethings having fun, eating tacos and burgers while country music plays. But I know this might be one of the last times I sit quietly with my friends, Ubiquitous (Mike Viglione) and Godemis (Donnie King), with no one taking notice.
Today, they are several cities into the Strange Music Independent Powerhouse Tour with Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko and other label mates. Theyre playing in more than 50 cities over two months, the finale bringing everyone back home to Kansas City for a May 11 show at the Midland.
I look at Ubi and Godi and tell them: You know this tour could change everything. Random dinners in Westport and impromptu video shoots could be hard to pull off when fame comes for you.
We laugh. Godi raps Drakes Started From the Bottom, and everyone at the table chimes in, Now were here.
But where is here? Up until two weeks ago, Ubi still worked as a bartender at Port Fonda. Godi considers a modest midtown apartment home. They arent living lavish. But the door is open. Opportunity abounds.
Ces Crus digital EP, 13, debuted on the iTunes Top 5 last year, and Klick Klack Bang, the video from that project, got more than 500,000 views in six months. And though they can walk around Kansas City without causing a frenzy, the same cant be said at shows.
Last year, during the Hostile Takeover tour, Godi discovered how different things are now that they are part of the Strange Music family created by Tech N9ne, a KC native and perhaps the music industrys most successful independent rapper.
Godi likes to hang outside after a show and chat with fans. And he wanted to smoke a little something. A pretty lady walked by, and he asked her to join him. They sparked up. And the fans spotted him. Hes lanky, often wears a hat, and with his long locks and mischievous eyes, he stands out.
Godemis! Ces Cru! a fan yelled. Suddenly, hordes of fans swarmed toward him and his new friend.
My first instinct was to run, he says. But then I gave in. I dived into the crowd. They were screaming, I love you, and kissing me on my face. I gave my glasses away and didnt realize until later I was wearing Ubis glasses. It was crazy.
No. The tipping point isnt far away. But the guys always keep one foot planted firmly on the ground.
Weve spent so many years in obscurity and almost big breaks, Ubi says. There were times when we had no money, lots of turmoil and so many changes. We value this.
Their gift is double-time rhyming fast and lyrical. They can even rap in a round. Yes, a round. As in Row, Row, Row Your Boat style but pure hip-hop delivery.
They have consistently sold out shows at bars in our city for a decade. They even had their own festival last summer. When its a Ces show, you just know it. The vibe is thick; its a community of fans. Everyone knows the words. They shout, The cru is Ces!
I didnt know what we had, but whatever it was I knew we had it, Godi says of their stage show. I cant describe it, but we always pack little spots in a way no one else has. So we keep doing it.
They caught Tech N9nes attention back in 2008 when he saw them rock the crowd at a show headlined by Houston rapper Devin the Dude. Their undeniable magic got them signed to his label a year ago.
Ubi says its Kansas City that gives them the edge. Maybe the it is our city.
Being in Kansas City gave us a high standard of quality, he says. There are a lot of artists here and there is an ongoing competitive nature. We push one another to be better, to be professionals.
After 13 years, they are undeniably pros. There were other members, but theyve been a duo since 2004. It hasnt always been easy.
People try to pit them against each other. Some like Godemis better. Hes grimy and blatant, with a cool nonchalance. And his lyrical dexterity? Stealth.
Others prefer Ubi. Hes unexpected. With his eyeglasses and choppy haircut, people at first dont realize hes a lethal lyricist. Apart, they have fans and solo mixtapes. But together? Unstoppable.
Our friendship has genuinely been tested over the years, Godi says. But were family.
The two met at a mutual friends house back in 2000. Ubi was working on a song with Kansas City rapper Vertigone, and Godi was there listening to the track. He liked it, so he spit a verse too. Right away, they liked each others styles.
Both of them had a rapid-fire delivery and a knack for sharp lyrics. They loved freestyling. Each was a fan of Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah and PlayStation. They just kept running into each other. In 2001, Ubi would join Ces Cru.
Over the years, theyve gone through real life experiences together. Not just the fun days of playing Command & Conquer or late-night parties. Were talking fatherhood, living together, living apart, working together at the Melting Pot, money, women, city-to-city tours and big breaks that never happened.
Their brotherhood has grown to be so tight that its not strange for them to finish each others sentences or freestyle a verse and say a few of the same things. In some ways, they are two sides of the same coin.
Ces stands for Conglomerate Elements of Self-Consciousness. But over the years, the name has taken on many incarnations, with the latest being the album title, Constant Energy Struggles.
Godi says the new album says it all. It is their story. He says its their Liquid Swords or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 90s hip-hop albums by Wu-Tang Clans GZA and Raekwon. To compare an album to those classics is to make a statement.
A lot of thought went into the project, the two say. For the first time in their partnership, they titled the album before writing a single verse. It forced them to really think about how the songs worked together. The result? Ubi says theres a spiritual overtone to the record.
Tracks like Wall E, like the movie, take on global warming and the deterioration of the Earth. Seven Chakras examines relationships, auras and energy. But there are gritty tracks, too. F Me on the Dough tackles shady business practices in the industry, and Juice, is an homage to Rakim, arguably one of the greatest emcees to ever touch a mic.
We want to make a mark, to be an influence, Godi says. The way artists look up to OutKast and Wu-Tang, we want to get to that point.
Ubi says their career is like being in a pool with no detectable bottom. The waters can be high and low. The challenge is staying afloat together.
We learned the benefits of sticking together many years ago, Ubi says. It only gets greater when we are together. We are individual entities moving forward together, and were going to hold on for as long as we can.
Long live Ces.