Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Cex
He did once call himself the white Eminem (though now he's more into being the "black Marilyn Manson"), and we know how kindly the parental-advisory generation regards Eminem—well, pre-8 Mile and a spate of you're-the-man-now-dawg! soccer moms, anyway. And like Eminem, Cex is an articulate white rapper with a cocky sense of humor ("Food is disgusting!/It's what they make shit from!") and a few issues when it comes to merging his media-friendly stage persona with the man behind the mic (that'd be 21-year-old Rjyan Kidwell). But Cex grew up Catholic in Baltimore, not trailer-park broke in Detroit; he got into Bowie through his dad's record collection; and he even did two years at Johns Hopkins studying fiction. If he wasn't able to rattle off the exact Days Inns you'd have to go to for free drugs after the show, your parents might almost have more to talk about with him than you would.
I'm a little scared about Cex. should I be?
Maybe. Though he almost audibly winces when we mention it, his newest album, Being Ridden, might establish a frightening new genre: emo rap.
So is Cex just for people who are in love?
On "Earth-Shaking Event" (a snotty state-of-the-art-form address that he calls Ridden's first party jam), Cex gives a big middle finger to all the whiny indie-rock singers out there: "We oughta stop singing stale regurgitations of the Smiths!" But the very next song drips from an anguished acoustic guitar line—and whiny indie-rock singing—into an uncomfortably upfront account of Cex's deepest insecurities; it's the first of Ridden's several pity-party jams. He thinks it's the best track on the album, and sure, it's emo, if that makes you feel comfortable: "I'm not going to yell at somebody for calling my music something," he explains. "That's like that mom who goes into school and says, 'Oh, my baby would never do that! I don't know how your son got that black eye!' I'm willing to take the consequences of what my baby has done. But the types of stories I want to hear are not about big deals, like, 'This is how I got the girl,' or 'This is how I won the Super Bowl.' I wanna hear how in sixth grade, somebody called me a name or whatever and it messed up my life for the next eight years."
Is Cex really as big a deal as everyone says?
"This is horrible," says someone when they hear Ridden in my car. "Please don't get into hip-hop." But the critical line—from people who are at least marginally into hip-hop—is that Cex's ambitiously genre-busting oeuvre is somewhere between bratty horseplay ("Writing Cex off 'cause they say I'm not serious," he gripes on Ridden) and incomprehensible genius. He did start the first of four albums (all written and recorded on a computer in his bedroom, the first three released on Kid606's label Tigerbeat6, the fourth on Temporary Resistance Records) at the tail end of high school, but that's just hard work, he says. "I always say I'm gonna stop reading reviews of albums, because it really fucks me up," he says. "Even though I used to do it—I used to get $60 for 300 words from Baltimore CityPaper. But the genius thing? I don't think anyone believes it. I'm more like a little kid, sort of putting on these clothes, looking at myself in the mirror and fixing them to make it more 'me.' But you take a 21-year-old that has four albums and the word pops out of the critic's mouth—one down, 299 to go."
Will Cex hurt the first time?
He might hurt himself, but you'll be fine—in fact, you'll probably be better for it. Critical debate aside, Cex makes sure that at his live shows, he puts his balls on the table. "I have done it literally," he says, "but I mean more figuratively. My performance philosophy is heavily influenced by pro wrestling, and especially Mick Foley, whose book I read in college—and I was heavily, heavily into it." People shouldn't be surprised that lots of girls come to Cex shows, he says, because he puts out the effort ("Dead fish on stage, dead fish when you go home with them," he shrugs) to keep the audience hot, happy and (maybe) horny. "I'm back on the Trent Reznor train," he says. "He made the world listen to industrial music: 'SORORITY GIRLS, YOU ARE GOING TO BUMP AND GRIND TO 'CLOSER.' And there were some real nice girls in this country getting down to 'I want to fuck you like an animal.'"
But what does Cex really feel like?
Not like you'd expect—like any Catholic worth the name, he's being ridden by a lot of doubt. "I was reading an article about a player in the NCAA who, before every game, listens to Jay-Z's 'Blueprint,'" Cex says. "And he's sitting there with headphones on, mouthing the words 'I WILL NOT LOSE.' And I was thinking that if any song ever summed up what I felt about music, it's that song—but I've never even felt or suspected that I will not lose. The whole thing is always a cunt hair away from complete and utter disaster." He wants to be like Bowie more than Eminem, a risk-taking artist with a long, experimental career—and if that means an emo-rap album or two, so be it—instead of just another white guy doing rap who eventually flames out. (Cex reviewed a Vanilla Ice comeback show for the CityPaper years ago; we wonder if it haunts him.) Simply put, Rjyan Kidwell wants Cex to mean something: "I don't feel like the story has been told very well," he says, "so here is what it's like for a weird kid from Baltimore who's wanted to be famous since he was little, but didn't admit it till recently, and he's doing his best to make what he's doing his job. And it's weird—a weird-ass fucking life."
Cex performs with The Dismemberment Plan and Enon at the House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-BLUE. Fri., 8 P.M. $13. All ages.
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