With standing room only, groups of people squeezed into Bridge Studios last week to hear Classical Gifted for the first time. As smoke permeated the air, and hoodies fell over faces, the space seemed to get menacingly intimate. Blasting combinations of piercing drums, oozy synths and nostalgic samples from old cartoons, Cee Gee led his listeners with fleshy commentary about his beat creations and collaborations between every track. Taken aback by the rich, yet gritty street tales of popular, local rhymers like Rick Hyde, Ooze Gang and Frigid Giant spitting over Cee Gee’s curated productions, I took out my phone to capture a few videos. One of my favorite recorded moments of the night was after Cee Gee gave a thorough explanation of why Track 12 or “I’m Good” doesn’t have any rapping on it; A very eager Cee Gee cooped up behind turntables, assured the crowd “The mixing was kinda out of line…afterwards, it’s back to bars.”
(Cee Gee’s album art for Classical Gifted, which he mentions was inspired by the Peanuts cartoon)
With a plethora of beat tapes, projects and collaborations under his belt, you would think Columbus Green a.k.a Cee Gee would have been lowkey and casual about dropping his sophomore album, but Classical Gifted comes at an opportune time. Thanks to the rise of Buffalo Bred collective Griselda and a once in a lifetime moment to provide a beat for the spearhead, Westside Gunn, on none other than track 2 of the rapper’s highly acclaimed Hitler Wears Hermes 7, Cee Gee’s visibility on the local and national hip-hop scene has elevated.
With Classical Gifted released on the heels of Cee Gee’s buzz worthy beat placement with Gunn, the album serves as a smorgasbord of classical hip hop sounds and rhymes from some of Buffalo’s heaviest hitters. Executing both sonically and conceptually, Classical Gifted is more than just a project; its physical evidence of Cee Gee’s endurance as an artist.
Despite the recent clout and co-signs, Cee Gee ain’t new to this, he’s true to this. Collecting music since his tweens and producing beats for the last 10 years, it’s only appropriate to title the rising producer a hip-hop historian. A quick phone tap on his social media pages and you can find him celebrating and/or documenting album anniversaries, project releases and underground rappers. His affinity for rap music makes him more than significant in Buffalo; a city which is currently undergoing our own urban renaissance.
(Cee Gee pictured above)
“I was already ahead of the times with the collecting and everything. I’ve been here before the internet age,” Cee Gee explained. Reminiscing on his youth of “the days where you listened to the radio and watched music videos,” he exhaustively described his obsession for cartoons and Yo! MTV Raps. At an early age, the “Broadway Joes” producer knew he wanted to do music. Growing up on timeless anthems from Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest, and Nas- just to name a few, his initial plan was to be a DJ.
“For Christmas, my parents gave me and my brother our own stereo. I used to go through collections with whatever was out or the album cuts and just play it and let it record,” Cee Gee said. His attempts at rapping or singing didn’t sound good to him, and with a keen ear for sound, his constant search for boom bap and classical hip hop led him into the underground circuit. Listening to niche artists like Mos Def, Slum Village, and MF Doom eventually led to discovering rappers like Little Brother or producers like 9th Wonder.
“I didn’t have no access to media…all of this stuff wasn’t on Youtube yet”, Cee Gee explained.Whether it was Music Choice, magazines or Limewire, young Cee Gee found music and burned them to CDs. Describing his “ears of sound” and budding curiosity, Cee Gee took pride in his playlists. Starting his music collection in 2004 at 14 years old, Cee Gee didn’t start producing until 5 years later.
Recounting a year after his father passed, and a time when he was “disconnected with music,” he discovered his passion for beat making after a visit to see his uncle and cousin.
“My father passed in ‘08 and I was already tuned out of the music in that period…I kinda got back into it a little bit because my mom was playing a lot of music during the passing and then I started catching on with old music because you know, it brings elements of what I heard before…it was like sampling.” During a celebration for his uncle’s birthday, young Cee Gee and his cousin experimented with beats in a basement.
(Cee Gee pictured above)
“He had records and I flipped this one beat that I pulled…the only way he had beats were through the keyboard. After I did my first beat that was the beginning of my producing career,” Cee Gee explained. Eager to create more beats, Cee Gee’s resourcefulness came in handy once he came back home from that trip. Sharing his ideas with a classmate, they soon assembled to maximize their talents. Using his sister’s laptop and recording demos on tape recorders, Cee Gee kept on practicing with him as DJ and his classmate as the rhymer. Funny enough that classmate is known now as MC Semi-Auto and they currently collaborate under the name Almighty Rebelz.
“When I started learning how to make beats… I didn’t have no thoughts about me producing for artists,” Cee Gee said. Purchasing equipment and buying programs to create his studio was the young producer’s only goal. Going 3 years and half just beat making, Cee Gee who resided closely to his classic hip hop roots, didn’t foresee the appeal of his music at a time when Trap music dominated the mainstream. Between entering the workforce, dealing with health issues, and confronting personal critiques of his own music, Cee Gee’s intentions to provide beats for artists were very limited.
(Animated Cee Gee pictured above)
Citing his relationship with Brennan Hall, owner of Bridge Studios, as one of the first major connections for his career, and shortly after, providing his first placement for local MC, Ya Boy Twan, Cee Gee began attending local events to connect with artists in Buffalo.
“I started going to Allentown and get my party on…I was going to Hardware and that was the first time I remember seeing Daringer,” Cee Gee remarked. Daringer, who is well known for his production contributions to Griselda, was still a DJ at Allen Street Hardware Cafe back then; Cee Gee also bumped into rising local artists like G Premacy and Chuckie Campbell.
Between discovering talent and accommodating his skills to ever-evolving technology, Cee Gee gained attention slowly in the music community. To acquaint himself better with artists, the young producer would listen to others’ music to get an idea of their taste or in his words “catch up” to what was hot locally. Finally committing to creating a compilation album in 2014, Cee Gee proceeded to drop multiple smaller projects and mixtapes before releasing The Research in 2017.
“I kept on making beats and I kept on connecting with folks,” Cee Gee said. Performing live beats and DJing shows boosted the beatmaker’s profile. Mentioning all the unreleased beats from 2016 he created, Cee Gee did nab some memorable collaborations in that year with artists like singer/rapper Genecist, rap collective Mile High Muzik and D Magic from RichSlaves. The traction from Cee Gee’s contributions on local rapper’s projects brought well-deserved hype to The Research.
The Research is a blazing soundscape. The album, released in 2017 on Cee Gee’s birthday, May 20th, is his inaugural opus. Slow simmering drums, infections hi-hats and tender xylophone rings were just a few of the sounds that played as the backdrop for intense storytelling from rappers like Mad Dukez, Skoob and Frigid Giant. The 20-track album has some unforgettable records like “Definition of A True Mc,” “The Grind,” and a heralded local street tale with a fitting title “Seven One Six” all inhibiting a ferocious cadence from chosen wordsmiths.
“When I dropped my first album, I knew I needed a change of scenery… I like seeing shows around here but I wanna see what’s going on outside” Cee Gee acknowledged. It only makes sense that Cee Gee spent a lot of time in New York City after his first album. Inspired by the thriving underground scene just 8 hours away, the rising producer often found himself making moves in Brooklyn or Manhattan. Hopping on the Greyhound to attend rap shows was a consistent thing for him; but he kept his talents in Buffalo.
His silent force as a music maker in the local industry led to consistent collaborations with certain emcees. Partnering up with Frigid Giant in 2018 and forming DJ/ MC group “Green Giant,” the duo released their self-titled album just under a year after The Research. Mixed and mastered by Cee Gee, with the help of notable producer, DJ Shay (who’se produced for Benny The Butcher) – the album was created predominantly at Nickel City Recording Studio.
(Cee Gee, left and Frigid Giant, right performing)
“When I did the Green Giant… it allowed me to go in different places to perform…I was in Toronto the day before it came out,” Cee Gee explained. Scoring great reception from Green Giant’s release, the expectation for Cee Gee’s productions were high. Travelling regionally to places like Rochester and Canada to perform, the rising producer was persistent about expanding his horizons- but it didn’t come without a fair share of doubt.
Initially not wanting to do a second album because of his investment in other projects, Cee Gee resorted to a second album after the lack of follow through from certain artists. The energy to create another compilation project was intimidating for Cee Gee.
“I had to figure out who else would be on and I’m tryna to find a studio to record…The content I had to put into the project. The things that were going on around the city started getting big…I felt like I was kinda feeling underrated and overlooked. I felt I had to put a lot of effort with the beats that I was doing…This is around the time Griselda was starting to get huge.”
(Griselda: Benny The Butcher, left, Westside Gunn, center, and Conway, right, pictured above)
In the beginning stages of Classical Gifted, Cee Gee’s relationship with Griselda started to take form. Introduced to Westside Gunn and Conway a few years prior, thanks to his connection with Daringer, and eventually meeting Benny The Butcher, Cee Gee grew interest in making a beat for the trio. The rap group, whose been rhyming together for the last few years has gained major momentum. Signed to Eminem-led Shady Records back in 2015 and now capitalizing off their most recent Roc Nation deal, Griselda’s influence has cracked open opportunities for rappers and producers alike in Buffalo.
“I purchased everything that they did with the physicals, even with the vinyls which they’d be sold out real quick…I was kinda building with them. I did all this without doing music with them…It was timing,” Cee Gee explained.
Despite his love for Griselda, Cee Gee was experiencing disdain for the local music community at the time. Citing that he was being kicked off stages during Djing and felt he was being sabotaged by certain creatives, Cee Gee was ready to fallback on his career. But a chance meeting with Gunn during the rapper’s album release party for Flygod Is An Awesome God led to one of the producer’s hottest placements “Broadway Joes.”
Sending beats shortly after his brief conversation with Gunn, Cee Gee explained there was “very small talk,” between them for a while until he saw him again at the inauguration event for Alvin “Westside Gunn” Worthy Day. An exciting moment for both Westside Gunn and Cee Gee, they listened to what would eventually be titled “Broadway Joes” for the first time together on Gunn’s phone at the “Westside Gunn Day” celebration. Noting that both Gunn and himself held their first shows at Broadway Joes, the restaurant was a culture mecca for budding talent and a kickstart for both Cee Gee’s and Gunn’s career.
(Rapper Westside Gunn and Buffalo, New York Mayor Byron Brown)
Nearing towards the 2019 fall season, and Gunn’s seventh installation release for his Hitler Wears Hermes project series, Cee Gee carried silent anticipation.
“I was excited about his next project, but I was kinda curious if my joint was gonna be on it. I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t mention it.”
It wasn’t until Westside Gunn dropped the tracklist 3 months later, in early November that Cee Gee knew his beat would be on HWH7.
“My notifications and my comments went off…We posted it and shared it…He woke me back up,” Cee Gee mentioned.
(Album Art for Westside Gunn’s Hitler Wears Hermes 7)
With social media buzzing and hype building around Westside Gunn, Cee Gee’s confidence was boosted for Classical Gifted. Gunn highlighting Cee Gee’s beat work on HWH7 not only restored the producer’s fire, but solidified the contributions Cee Gee’s been making in the local music community for the last 5 years.
“That’s a song that you cannot skip. Its track # 2. Dj Drama is on the intro,” Cee Gee exclaimed. Reiterating that the 2018-2019 year was hard for him, Cee Gee’s placement with Gunn set precedence. Mentioning that artists have reached out to him for beats after HWH7 dropped, Cee Gee’s most memorable moment from Gunn’s release was getting a shoutout from esteemed underground rapper Terminology. With his profile ascending, Cee Gee’s Classical Gifted became a priority.
With many of the artists returning from The Research, Cee Gee also had some new faces on the new compilation like Rick Hyde, Toneyboi and Crotona P, just to name a few. Approaching his second album like a double album, Cee Gee made sure he displayed the diverse sounds he’s capable of while still maintaining his authenticity. ”What you gonna hear on this new record is that I was tryna break it off in half; like a double album feel. Because the “Classical” is more like a hardcore like boom bap sound; like gritty, hard samples. And then like “Gifted” is more melodic, smooth and jazzy sound; and also introspective too. Because there were some things I had guys talk about or discuss about what I went through since “The Research.”
With the 21 track project out a little over a week, the positive reception has only leveraged Cee Gee’s talents. Already on to the next thing, the rising producer has cited his upcoming collaborating projects with Genecist, El Camino and a sequel to Green Giant; his effort with Frigid Giant. Without divulging too much of Classical Gifted, Cee Gee has high hopes for the impact of his second album in the long run. “I thought that I was getting nowhere 10 years ago…Now I’m involved…And now folks wanna hear from me. This whole “Classical Gifted” is gonna be the next thing.”
Tap into Cee Gee’s Bandcamp to view and listen to his entire discography here: https://ceegeeincorporated.bandcamp.com/album/classical-gifted
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