“Playing it safe isn’t interesting,” once quoth Ryan Kidwell a.k.a. Cex. The 20-year old laptop beat-twister-cum-emcee just dropped his fifth major release in four years and has another one on the way. Though being young and white on the mic is not the most auspicious spot, Kidwell risks it with heft, hubris and humor, saying, “I’m like the white Eminem.” The kid is like crack: sit through Tall, Dark and Handcuffed (Tigerbeat6, 2002) just once and you’ll be hooked. How is he so young and able to speak with the wisdom of such ages? How does he expect us to take him seriously when he’s rockin’ gold fronts? Cex is the confusion, collusion, and conflict of all of this and more.
To some, Kidwell might prove that anyone can make music, but he also proves no one else can make it like he does. Step into the cipher and get smacked in the mental.
Roy Christopher: So, Ryan, what’s the story? Can you drop some type brief background on where this whole Cex thing comes from?
Ryan Kidwell: My mother’s brother, Hap. He dropped out of college in his third year and died shortly thereafter, when my mother was still in high school. I knew he had died but it wasn’t until right after I myself dropped out during my third year of college that my mother gave me a letter he had written to their parents explaining his decision, that was when I started to understand exactly what might have happened.
RC: I must say that I found Tall, Dark and Handcuffed a pleasant surprise (not that I was expecting it to be wack, but I was expecting it to be more in the vein of Miguel‘s stuff). You’re into a lot of different kinds of music. What’s the reaction to your output?
RK: The reaction to my “output” is all over the place. If you look over the critical response to all my records, to my career so far as a whole, it can seem like you’re reading about a bunch of entirely different people. Even the reviews of specific records are wildly different — especially the latest one. I try and put forth a real representation of what is important to me, what drives me, and part of being a real person is having a few dimensions, having a lot of interests, contradicting yourself sometimes, growing, changing, and all that. It doesn’t make the job of critics easier, but critics are the last thing I want to care about.
RC: Are people confused as to what Cex is all about?
RK: Yes, and I guess that’s exactly what makes some people Cex fans.
RC: Do you care? Do you consider this at all?
RK: Obviously, I care about what people think — if nobody gets my stuff, then it’s bad stuff. And if I can get more and more people to understand and relate to my music, then I’ve done a better job of expressing myself. On the other hand, I think I’ve done at least something small right in evoking such a wide range of reactions. There are people who say, “It’s so braggadocious and flamboyant,” and then people who say, “It’s so self-deprecating and paranoid,” and people who use the web site as a tool for interpreting the music, and then there’s people who saw the live show before they heard the records and consider the performance the most important aspect of what Cex is. To me, that’s all fine for now, I’m still working on making the airplane. I’ve always thought that when I make it, everyone will know exactly what it is and there would be no doubt whatsoever and no need for critical confirmation that yes, this is an airplane and yes, it is flying… but as time goes by, I think– maybe the disparity, the chameleon part of what I do, maybe that’s what powers the airplane. Maybe when I’ve made the airplane, the difference won’t be that there’s no doubt or disparity, but that there’s so much doubt and disparity, more than there’s ever been before, for me or for anyone.
RC: What’s your take on why the Hip-hop world, once seemingly open to so many new forms and variations, now has such high barriers to entry for new and innovative sounds?
RK: There’s so much music right now that anyone who claims to be or acts like some kind of expert on the subject is bound to be overwhelmed by the amount of things that s/he has to grasp in order to maintain a credible hold on that claim. The easiest way to fight that frightening, overwhelming feeling is to dismiss out of hand as much music as you can get away with dismissing. Underground hip-hop fans are the most possessive, I think, of any music fans. They definitely have the same tunnel-vision problems as indie rock kids, but indie rock kids tend to want to jump on weird things every once in a while, take chances at being ahead of the trends when they feel like they have a good inside line on what’s about to be cool. Hip-hop fans are, by and large, not trying to take a lot of chances with their tastes. Hip-hop has always been about struggle, and machismo and competition have always been integral parts of the music and culture, and it’s in this spirit, I think, that most hip-hop heads act so defensive and skeptical of new sounds and new voices.
RC: My friend Richard Metzger once said that the most subversive thing one can do is to become popular. Are you feelin’ that?
RK: I agree with him. I think he kind of understates the immense amount of work involved in achieving real popularity, though.
RC: Top 5 Cex books:
RK: Hmmmm, maybe: Dubliners by James Joyce, The Tunnel by Russel Edson, The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus, The Wall by Jean-Paul Sartre.
RC: Top 5 Cex records:
RK: Jesus… right now, I’d say Versus by Pearl Jam, Illmatic by Nas, Fiestas + Fiascos by Lifter Puller, a CD-R with all my favorite Microphones tracks on it, and a CD-R with all my favorite doseone tracks on it.
RC: Is there anything you’ve got in the works that you can tell the heads about?
RK: My next record should be finished by the end of the week, it’s called Being Ridden and it’s the most serious thing I’ve ever done by far. It’s a vomitting pit, I let my issues with doubt and my obsession with the banal details of past come out all naked and ugly — it’s a lot more like my website and my more recent live shows than any of the other records I’ve ever done. It will be released in March (2003) by Temporary Residence, Ltd, a label in Portland, OR, and an all-instrumental version will be released at the same time. There’s a lot of guitar playing on the record.