10 Questions with Cee Brown
-written by Nat Richmond
In the early days of Hip Hop, the Masters of Ceremony ("MC" or "Emcee") has been widely recognized as the conductor of the party, while the Disc Jockey ("DJ") was the main event. From DJ Kool Herc, to Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash, Hip Hop was brought into the eyes of the mainstream AUDIENCE throughout the late 70s and 80s. Breakers, graffiti artists, doorknocker earrings, 8Ball jackets, adidas sneakers, turntable sets, and fat gold chains all became the basic ingredients of this new culture that exposed the complex, often widely unseen tales of the inner city youth. Finally, the war stories of the ghetto were given a proper platform for honest, raw, and authentic expression...which opened the well-deserved avenues for dialogue regarding the impoverished conditions, heartbreaking shortcomings, and unfair disadvantages that minority youth faced. Entering into the 90s, the MC, or Rapper, became the frontrunner and main headline for Hip Hop's most popular songs. The personality of the artist started to become as vital the lyrics themselves, and showmanship competency separated your average rapper from those considered "GOAT status". Present-day, showmanship consideration has grown more lax amongst the Gen-Z crowd, but lyrical dexterity and audience connection to the song has remained a top-tier consideration when Emcee's are being graded on their craft.
Erie-native CEE Brown has demonstrated consistently, efficiently, and skillfully for nearly twenty years that an emcee's dedication to the advancement of their craft, expression of their story, and relevancy amongst their audience cannot be understated in terms of importance for staying power. I met CEE Brown in the old 7th street location of Gannon University's WERG radio station. I was able to hear his earlier works, which impressed me immediately. His passionate delivery, commanding voice, and lyrical precision alerted me that he was a powerhouse in the making. He's made good on that promise ever since. A 13x award winner, CEE Brown has graced MANY stages both in Erie as well as nationwide. He's keeping the true essence of artistry alive as an Emcee, giving us the excellence that the forefathers of Hip Hop originally blazed the trail for.
What about Art inspires you?
Art is all about self-expression, getting your thoughts out, getting your feelings out. And that's what really inspires me, because it's the perfect outlet for people who have something to say. People who have a heavy heart. And people who are just..you know, mentally creative at all times and need a way to get those expressions out. So that's what really inspires me to continue to make art is the fact that I can be myself. I don't have to really compromise or anything like that. It's this mad therapeutic.
You being the wordsmith that you are…who would you say inspired you the most in this in this realm of Hip Hop?
I go between Tupac and DMX a lot because they were two of my first favorite rappers, and I just loved the fact, like with Tupac, I love that he was so poetic and he really touched on the human psyche. You know what I mean? He really talked about the human emotion and how people really feel. DMX pretty much the same thing. But, he was a lot more aggressive. And, you know, I grew up dealing with like anger issues and whatnot. So I was able to connect with him. So when I started doing my thing, as far as writing, I just drew from those two fellows right there to really get my point across.
So far in your career, what has been the most challenging piece of work that you've created?
I don't think any project that I've done, whether it's on Mixtape, EP. It was really challenging as far as trying to channel something or to touch on certain topics. Every piece of work I approach it with a side of me that I didn't get a chance to yet talk about or express. Each project, each song is an extension of who I am. So it wasn't really a challenge. It's kind of like I already knew where I wanted to go. I just had to pull it out of me. Now, I will say there has been like certain moments where I was like, “I don't know if I want to get this personal or if I want to go this route”, but I wouldn't say that it was difficult. I might have been in question a little bit, but it wasn't really that difficult of a task because at the end of the day, like, this is fun, this is what I do. I've been doing it for so long.
Why did you start writing? Was this the goal the whole time, or did you have maybe other aspirations?
I definitely had other aspirations. I tell people all the time that I never really wanted to rap. I never really wanted to be a rap artist, not because I didn't love rap. Obviously I do and I did. But, I was just shallow. I didn't want to be the guy on stage with, you know, cameras in his face and whatnot. So I didn't want to play that role. But I always love to write. And, I started writing, you know, my pre-teens, my adolescence started with poetry. The rap came about when I was about 17 or 18 and only took a stab at it because the friends that I were around, they rapped and I would make beats for them. So, I was like heavily inspired. It was like, okay, I'm making beats. I'm writing poetry. You know, I might as well just put the two together right now. So once I did it, you know, I just immediately fell in love with the feeling, how I felt during it, how I felt afterwards. It was just like, I think I found something that really is my lane because I've done other things. I was making beats, writing poetry, I used to draw pictures a lot. I wanted to be an illustrator. I wanted to be a cartoonist. So that was that was the first one of the first aspirations that I had. But, once rap came along, I was like, You know what? This might be the thing. This might be my destiny, if you will.
Do you feel that life imitates art or art imitates life and why?
I think. I think both. I think it starts with Art imitating life and then life imitating art. It goes back and forth. You know, because when we approach our songs, we draw from real life situations. But, a lot of times we manifest even more of what we're going through and what we're talking about. So, you know, it's a very tricky thing that we as artists have to be careful with, we have to watch.
What's your process for connecting with your fans? You know, how important is it for you to remain in connection with your fans?
It's really a mental thing as far as the process. I put it like this when I'm presenting these songs, I'm very well aware of that. I'm not just telling my story. I'm telling somebody else's story, too. And, I grew up off of music that I could connect with, so I just kind of want the same thing when it comes to me. Like, I want people to hear me, whether it's on stereo or in person and have that connection with me so they don't feel so alone. You know, it's always nice when somebody understands your situation. I just approached the stage. You know, on on that note, it's very important to me that people leave my show and they feel a sense of hope. They feel like they're not alone in this world and that somebody actually gets them and can comprehend what they're going through. And I feel like music is very universal. And it brings people together. It opens up conversation. I really make it a point to connect with my fans or people who don't know me when I do these shows. So we can just have that roundtable discussion about whatever is going on in our lives and hopefully we can come to some sort of a resolution.
What is your goal as an artist, what are you working on? Where is the energy going right now? The intentions?
Well, the ultimate goal is to make a living off of this. You know, I don't want to be a 9 to 5 by day, rapper by night. I love this too much. I feel like this should be my occupation, my career, my job. This should be the one thing that I can wake up and clock in to do. I honestly feel like this is my calling, you know? I don't want to be 70 years old looking back like, “Dang, I could have really done something with this music”. Or, “Maybe I should have pushed a little harder”. I'm just going to go for it now because I know that I will be fulfilled. You know, nobody likes to go to work and hate it all day or dread going to work when they wake up on the Monday morning. I don’t believe that is a part of life. I don't believe that's why we're here. We're supposed to be happy. I just got to the point in my life personally where I'm like, you know what? I'm way too connected with this music. Even though I've done a lot of shows and a lot of songs, I kind of shied away from the fact that this is who I am. This is what I embody. Because, I didn't want people to judge me. I didn't want people to think, “Oh, you know, he's trying to be a rapper. He'll never make it. That's not a real job”. And, it was because of those people that I would never really come out and be like, “Hey, I'm C Brown, I rap”. But, now that's where I'm at. Now this is what I do. I am a musician. I am a lyricist, if you will. This is what I am a creator, and I've always been a creator, a multifaceted creator at that. I just want to continue to show people that this is who I am and continue to put out content, music, videos, songs, you know, produce for other people like that. Like, I'm an artist, so I just want to continue to just hit people over the head with great content.
Do you have a process for keeping your music and your quality of music consistent?
So, I come home after work. It's usually about, on average, ten or 11:00. Make me something to eat. I come in the studio, I'll go through a folder of beats that I have when I've purchased or made, or I'll get on YouTube and see who got what out there. And I'll just, you know, tap into some instrumentals that I really like from some of my favorite songs. And, I'll just go to town and whatever feeling that I'm getting from the beat, I'll just start writing around that and I'm usually alone. It's late. I'm in here till like three or four in the morning, sometimes. Clocked in, locked in, not really on the phone. And I just I just go to town with it. You know, it's not really that big of a process. It's pretty much the space that I allow myself to be in. You know, could I go out and get a couple of drinks and have fun? Of course I could, you know, I mean, of course. But I was doing that a lot in my twenties. I was a party animal and I don't regret it. But now I’m stepping into my purpose, it feels so good. It feels like an awakening. I'm actually the epitome of who I'm supposed to be as an artist. I’m also at that point in life where I'm not really listening to anybody anymore and I'm not letting people steer me in certain directions because they want to hear certain songs from me or hear a certain sound. I'm a firm believer in there's a fan base for every kind of music for everybody. So I don't really care what my peers have to say or what they have to suggest. It's just me now and I even approach my music videos like that a lot of times too because I'm writing the video treatments and I know what direction I want to go in and how I want certain things to look. So pretty much it’s C brown taking over C brown and I'm just loving it. So I'm always in the studio, I'm always locked in. There's not always like a certain project in mind, but it's just me, just flowing and just letting things out and having fun. I'm back to having fun. I’m an independent artist. You know, it's best to be this way as a writer. You can do what you want to do. There's nobody, hovering over you, telling you what kind of songs to make, when you should put something out, when you shouldn't. Like I'm the captain of the boat now and not really cared about how anybody else feels about it, because that was the problem. When I stepped into this, I was too concerned with how everybody else felt that I wouldn't say No to everybody else's idea. But, now the tables have turned, and because I'm in the space by myself, it has unlocked something inside of me to the point where I cannot stop creating. It just flows. And, it comes out so natural. It's to the point where I would do a song recording and don't remember writing it. You know, it's like it'll be all in one night. I don't remember sitting down and writing this verse because it came out so, so natural and so fast. It was like, Wow. This is weird. It's a spiritual experience now. That's what it is.
Any closing remarks?
If anybody out there that is a creator of some sort, don't compromise your style. Don't compromise your art. Don't conform. You know who you are. And just put yourself out there to the best of your ability. Don't allow anybody to take control over what you're trying to do because nobody understands what you're trying to do. Don't try to fit into anybody's picture. Try to get everybody to see yours.