On Catastrophic Event Specialists, CES Cru pulls no punches, taking shots at everything from mumble rappers to a corrupt, disenfranchising system. With adept lyricism and their precise, passionate execution, Ubiquitous and Godemis are able to provide an answer to the former. The latter ills, however, are a little more complicated; you can’t simply rap away a marginalizing system. They need help. They need a “Hero.”
Ces Cru’s latest off release Catastrophic Events Specialists, is arguably one of the most powerful cuts off an already explosive album. “Hero” is all about protecting the light and showing it to the world so it can spread through all the acrimony, all the caustic, poisonous elements permeating our communities. No superheroes, no quarterbacks, and definitely no politicians, “Hero” celebrates the average, everyday people–the doctors, teachers, firefighters, community servants—who inspire, encourage day in and day out.
Helping spread that light—hammering home the importance of being hopeful and inspired despite overwhelming odds– is a stellar hook from Strange Music’s resident songstress Mackenzie Nicole. In a certain way, Mackenzie serves as the “Hero” of the song itself. As Godi and Ubi surround themselves the chaos, she shines bright, delivering an ardent, heartfelt call to action.
Considering it’s such a crucial cog of the standout cut, we sat down with Mackenzie to get an idea of how the song came together and what the powerful message means to her. You might think its as simple as going into the studio and recording, but rarely are things that cut and dry. Though exceptional, “Hero” is no exception.
How did your feature on “Hero” come about?
“The way ‘Hero’ came together was unconventional and all a matter of chance. I would get to the studio before my rehearsals and most of the time I’d bother Ubiquitous or Godi. One night – this was towards the end of their album, obviously – it was just me Ubi and [engineer] Josh Barber and, like usual when the artists get together, there was a lot of lamenting – like ‘Oh my god! I wish I could have been on this album! Next time!’ So, me and Ubi talked for a while, like usual, and I went home. Nothing out of the ordinary. But I get an email from him saying, ‘Hey, I know this is late in the game, but I’ve had a lot of people tell me they hear you on this. Check this out, and let me know what you think.’
It was ‘Hero.’ I loved it! It was a wonderful song, and I got attached to the message immediately, and I fell in love with the hook – I loved the way it moved. Even before hearing it all the way through, I had a melody. I was singing along, before I even knew the words and that’s when you know…. Yes! But, it was a finished track. The hook was already there. So, Ubi suggested I do a bridge, but I loved his hook so much, I wanted to take a stab at it too for fun.
So, when we got in the studio, it was our engineer, Ben, Seven, and me, and it came super naturally. We had blocked out the whole night for it, but we knocked it out super quick. Ben went ahead and sent the “Hey, how’s this sound” version to myself, to Travis, and to Ubi, but he kept my hook and everyone liked it. I was so excited to take a stab at it, and so glad when Ubi decided to keep it. It was a funny stroke of luck that Ubi and Godi were in the studio, that I was early for rehearsals, that he e-mailed me. It all came together really well.”
What changed from the original hook to your version?
The words stayed exactly same, because if I’m going to come in and take a stab at someone else’s hook just for fun, I’m not going to change it fundamentally. I kept the same base melody, and ran with it. It’s gonna sound different, because, you know, Ubi and I are slightly different. In a lot of ways, it’s the same, it’s just my take on it.
Always the interviewer’s favorite answer… yes and no. No, in regards to [artists] do what comes naturally – whatever strikes you, whatever you feel during the song, as long as you follow your instincts. That’s the same across the board. I’d say the biggest change is that I’m a different artist. It’s been a long time since I recorded “We’re Not Sorry” and “Warrior,” and, in the last few months, who I am as an artist has changed. I’m inspired differently now, and you’ll see this in my unreleased music. The main difference isn’t the feel of the songs, but how I approach them.
Has working on this song made you reflect on your role as an artist to be a “Hero”? What ways can artists be that source of light?
Working on this song was really compelling, because they [Ces Cru] make very politically driven music. They don’t follow the norms of the culture and the genre. Rap at it’s core is a movement…a window into which the listener could discover this facet of American culture that was willfully ignored and so distanced from the crowds that heard the music. That’s what you do as an artist, introduce to fans to a perspective, whether it be controversial or whether it be agreed upon; that’s what make music so important.
The reason I love “Hero” is because right now, domestically and internationally, things are turbulent and “Hero” is a response to that. Recording “Hero” was another experience that made me step back and think about why I love rap music and why, at its core, this music is so important.
You mentioned your “unreleased music”, what are you working on now? What does your year look like?
This year looks crazy! Oh my god! I’m working on a lot! I’m working on a lot for the collabos album. The “Deleted” music video is coming out soon. I may or may not be releasing an album. That’s not going to be for a minute, but between now and then I’ll be releasing tracks. Last year was busy, but it was behind the scenes. This year is going to be very busy year, and it will be more “out in the open” busy that the fans get to enjoy.
As a standalone, “Hero” shines bright, but as a piece in the Catastrophic Event Specialists experience it becomes even more jarring. “Hero” is available on iTunes now, but be sure to get the full experience when Ces Cru unveils Catastrophic Event Specialists on February 10th. Don’t forget to keep a close eye on Mackenzie because, if “Hero” is any indication, big things are on the way.