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There were times when more hip-hop albums sounded like this, like Ces Cru's Constant Energy Struggles, the Kansas City duo's debut full-length album on Strange Records. There were times when albums were formulated around concepts big and small, dedicated to pushing envelopes, sharing pin-pointed messages and built around lyrical conceits that required intense listening, confident rhyme flows that created new patterns, music that thumped and bumped and pounded and grooved. Those times are not now, but Constant Energy Struggles arrives in this moment—sounding not like an anachronism or a revival, but a celebration of a lineage that, while overshadowed by other aspects of hip-hop, has continued to evolve and progress outside of the mainstream.
It's only fitting that Ces Cru—comprised of rappers Godemis and Ubiquitous—would release Constant Energy Struggles. For the past dozen years, the two have operated mostly as a duo, all that remained of the much larger Ces Cru.
"Ces Cru was a collective of like-minded individuals," says Godemis, a founding member of the group since high school. When he first began rhyming, he was simply doing cover versions of albums like Mac Mall's Illegal Business? "The thing at the time was to be able to learn the rhyme and not only know the lyrics, but to be able to spit them at the same capacity as the record. It was like having a guitar and learning a solo." One day, during his sophomore year, while he was reciting some Boot Camp Clik verses, a classmate who was already rhyming, gave him some backhanded encouragement: Oh that's cool, but you should write your own shit. "He said it like he was the shit because he was writing his own stuff and I wasn't," Godemis recalls. Not long after, a friend approached Godemis with headphones and let him hear a verse he had recorded over Das Efx's "Microphone Master." That night Godemis wrote his first rhyme. Soon enough, Ces Cru began to take root.
"We made a lot of music without any clear direction," says Godemis, adding that Ces Cru became infamous for shutting down ciphers and studio sessions about town. "We just tore up the streets in Kansas City together. It went from being more like a gang to a group as things progressed, as we started booking shows and actually making albums and putting time and effort and money into the music. We just thought that one day we could possibly eat off this rap life and we enjoyed out-rapping motherfuckers."
When Ubiquitous—a Colorado native who grew up on acts like Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J and the Fat Boys as well as metal, punk rock, ska and electronica—moved to Kansas City in 2000, he had already been polishing his rap skills over jungle beats. "I used to rhyme at raves," he admits. "I guess that's why I like fast-paced rapping and making really progressive rhymes, stylistically speaking and content-wise." Though Ces Cru had swelled to include six full-time rappers and had declared membership closed, Godemis was impressed by Ubi's skills during a recording session and invited him to join the group. As time went on, members moved, moved on, went to jail–leaving just Godemis and Ubiquitous. "These days, it's just him and I: Aquemini," jokes Ubi. "We discussed the prospect of admitting other people into the crew, and even really strongly thought about it multiple times. But when it got down to the wire, we were like Nah, it just needs to be me and you. We're probably done adding members for life and we're just out here mobbing together."
Together, the duo independently released 2004's Capture Enemy Soldiers (featuring appearances from former member Sorceress) and The Playground in 2009—both heartfelt, intricate works of beats, rhymes and life that play with music, words and ideas with astounding ease. Since signing with Strange Music at the end of 2011, the duo has released a pair of solo mixtapes—Godemis' The Deevil and Ubiquitous' Matter Don't Money—as well as an EP, 13. Their new release, Constant Energy Struggles, takes everything that has come before it and advances the
argument for hip-hop as a wordsmith's affair.
Inspired by conspiracy theories, metaphysics and everyday labor pains, Constant Energy Struggles contains lyrical exercises like the Tech N9ne-featured "Juice," a masterful homage to Rakim's classic "Juice (Know the Ledge)" and the four-bar patty cake "When Worlds Collide" which finds Godemis being "too fly" before crash-landing and "looking for the black box, FBI search methods/Soul of Saddam, I'm the motherfuckin' bomb/ Check it: inspiration of Hitler/ Bruce Lee's work ethic" before Ubiquitous picks up with "Sun Tzu, manifest a Dalai Lama mindstate/Hijack a G6, trippin' tryna fly straight."
Produced by longtime collaborators Info Gates and Leonard Dstroy as well as Strange music's go-to beatmaster, Michael "Seven" Summers and others, Constant Energy Struggles is a well-rounded affair, both musically and topically. The slow blues-rock of "Smoke" and the slight psychedelia of "Confession" address the issues of balance, strife and love within romantic relationships. "Wall E" speaks on the destruction of the Earth: "People pretend like the shit they using just disappears/As if it doesn't accumulate every fiscal year/ Shit don't evaporate, vanish without a trace/ There's a island made of trash, you can spot it from outer space," raps Godemis.
Closer to home are tracks like the rejoiceful "Shake It Up," the introspective "Perception" and the menacing "Fuck Me on the Dough"—songs which deal with the ups and downs of blossoming fame: the delight of success, the expectations of fans, the shadiness of promoters. "Constant Energy Struggles comes from real life experiences," confesses Ubiquitous. "Everything I'm talking about is stuff that actually happened to me in the past or recently." Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening number, "Lotus" where Godemis notes that they "came a hell of a way from battling squads, murdering features" and admits that "they might've been local forever had Tech not swooped them."
But Tech N9ne did swoop them. And Constant Energy Struggles signals that Ces Cru is just beginning.