Baltimore MC

Rjyan Kidwell--no, that's not a typo--aka Cex, believes in making music in the bedroom

One of the most exciting hip-hop MCs performing today isn't gangsta, didn't grow up in the 'hood and incorporates just as much electronica and indie rock into his music as he does old-school rap.

Rjyan Kidwell, also known as Cex, is 22 years old and originally from the Baltimore suburbs, has five albums to his name and has toured the United States several times, often performing on bills with alternative-type rock acts such as Mogwai, the Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, the Dismemberment Plan, Kid606 and Super Furry Animals.

Now, Kidwell is headed our direction for his third gig in Tucson in two years. He will headline a show at Solar Culture on Sunday, Aug. 15.

Some critics have burdened Kidwell with labels such as the "great white hip-hop hope," which is not only racist, but also unfairly limiting. Kidwell agrees.

"People have the inclination that they feel like they can understand artists quickly, in one easily digestible piece of knowledge. Everybody assumes that a band wants you to get them with the least amount of exposures. That's contrary to my own life, how I go about making music and why I have to be in a band in the first place."

Speaking while rolling down the highway in Georgia last week, Kidwell notes that he's just trying to grow. "I'm not actively trying to be 10 different things to 10 different people, because I would fall short, but people are interested in an array of things, and people change and mature and grow. Bands should be able to be like that, too."

Kidwell--who pronounces his first name "Ryan," but changed the spelling to differentiate himself from other Ryans in school--grew up in Baltimore, city of John Waters and the TV program Homicide: Life on the Street, but moved away from home at a young age.

His chosen style of music, a lo-fi hip-hop mish-mash with assaulting electronics, has allowed him to create most of the music on all his albums--the most recent being 2003's Maryland Mansions (Jade Tree Records)--by himself, using keyboards, computers, samplers and drum machines; friends contributed a guitar or drum track here and there.

"I made all of these records for the most part in the bedroom, or the various bedrooms where I have lived in the last five years," says Kidwell. "Incorporating the noise and culture around me is really part of the nature of my music, and it makes a lot of sense to me as a young person growing up now. Music is so big an influence in everybody's lives. I'm feeling like I am having a real conversation with people, to let them know where I am coming from."

Moving from bedroom recording to onstage performing, though, has been an evolution fraught with experiments, both failed and successful.

"When I've toured before," says Kidwell, "I noticed a certain psychology in the listeners in terms of non-traditional instrumentation. By that, I mean anything that isn't the usual line-up of bass, guitar and drums.

"So in my intrepid observations in the field, I've come to the conclusion that certain things are poisons to certain people, like a computer on stage. People view them as these magical little devices that take away from the immediacy and validity of the performance."

Now, when Kidwell plays live, he uses jury-rigged samplers and effects pedals. "They are triggered by my hand punching stuff on them on stage. I can produce a wide range of our sounds, crazy things and shit. But it's more visually and viscerally accessible for the audience."

For Kidwell, music is not the only means of expression. His post-modern take on art and media means he's acutely aware of how the public views artists and distorts their messages--which recently led him to write his own biographical notes for his publicist's Web site. That document states that Kidwell is "an utter and astonishing failure of unparalleled proportions."

It goes on to iterate that the music of Cex is not of the ironic "so bad it's good" variety: "Cex is just bad--insipid and infuriating at once, completely worthless to anyone, the most staggering artistic failure of our time."

His bio is deadpan satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," and it is meant to separate him from the stultifying publicity machine and defuse the resulting cult of personality.

"When I first started getting attention from the media, I was intent about presenting something really coherent to people and also reflecting some of the post-modern ideas that I have about a band that reflect a real person. It got to the degree where I was even getting stressed about things and interviews and articles and how people were interpreting what I was saying," Kidwell says. "I really don't even try to read any press anymore, about anyone I know. It feels like a nice distance. ... I'm surprised more people don't poke fun at themselves like that more often."

Until recently, Kidwell arguably took himself a lot more seriously, maintaining a 480-page, four-year diary/manifesto on his own Web site ( He recently replaced that with a single Web page--a decidedly simpler affair that lists tour dates, boasts links to a couple of music videos and features a preview of Kidwell's new fanzine, Actual Fucking, which will be distributed at performances.

Kidwell explains, "I felt it was important to take a step back from the overindulgent ego exercise of that diary, and it's kind of like I don't need that monument to that industriousness, to what I've done for the past several years. I'm very interested trying to undo and counter all this first-person introspective thinking and move toward something that is more universal and second-person.

"So I put together the first issue of a fanzine at a Kinko's. It's kind of an old-school, photocopied 'zine like back in the '90s. I think the Web site encouraged sloppy writing in a way. Writing on paper is a different story. You make copies, and it's typed, and everybody gets handed it. It's a more direct experience."

Get your copy at Cex's show this week.

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