Cex – Being Ridden / Being Ridden Instrumentals

Cex
Being Ridden / Being Ridden Instrumentals

Cex, the alter ego of 21-year-old Rjyan Kidwell, has become something of a household word among the more hip-hop inclined indie-rock fans, due in large part to his total disregard of hip-hop and IDM “rules” and culture, his irreverent lyrics, and his experimentation when it comes to instrumentation. Along with Kid606, he founded the Tigerbeat6 label to release their music and assorted other laptop musicians, all trying to do something new and yet keep it fun. Fun’s been a key element in Cex’s music, as the young white boy is known to throw out twisted lines and dance naked at shows.
On Being Ridden, however, Cex actually seems to be growing up. For one, he’s put an even greater emphasis on the music itself. A combination of IDM glitches, computer beats and bleeps, and rock instrumentation, Cex tends to blur the lines between genres, likely what he’s been attempting all along. And therein lies the reason indie-rock fans have so enjoyed his music, even while some may condemn him for “posing” as a hip-hop artist. It’s true that Cex isn’t ripping out Eminem-style lyrics. Instead, his lyrics are a bit more relatable, and he shouldn’t be faulted for it.
The music itself is obviously a focus, as evidenced by the co-release of Being Ridden Instrumentals, an accompanying album that basically just strips the vocals out of each track. While it may be fun to have your own Cex Karaoke party, it’s hard to figure exactly why this album was made. It’s true that by paying attention to Cex’s often clever wordplay you overlook some of the musical nuances here, and they’re often pretty impressive as acoustic guitars mix effortlessly with computer-generated beats and sounds. But after maybe one or two listens, the uniqueness of the instrumentals disc wears thin.
The frenzied beats on “The Wayback Machine” provide an early glimpse of a greater intensity than you might expect. “You Kiss Like Your Dead” feels more organic and puts more emphasis on acoustic guitars, especially during the chorus when Kidwell has a Conor Oberst moment. A bit more serious, “Not Working” seems an ode to Kidwell’s own efforts to make a name for himself as Cex. One of the catchiest songs here is “Signal Katied,” with its chorus that repeats as the song builds on layers of vocals and guitars and drums. It leads nicely into the infectious and fun “Earth-Shaking Event,” with lines like “Now I feel it necessary to remind you, my friend / that splitting with your girl ain’t the most earth-shaking event. It’s plain to see, in recent history / so I suggest that you can it and hand the mic to me.” It’s like on this song where Cex asserts his hip-hop abilities the most while embracing the indie-rock scene even as he sings, “middle finger to the indie-rock singer.”
A few songs are rather annoying, like when Cex asserts his brilliance on “Stamina” and “The Marriage” is a fairly standard, with repetitive beats and a kind of bouncy pace that’s catchy at first but gets old quickly. Cex whispering about marriage is a tad disconcerting as well. The fuzzed-out assault of “Brer Rjyan” just gets distracting and doesn’t stretch Kidwell’s abilities at all.
Although not very familiar with Kidwell’s earlier work as Cex, I can say that Being Ridden is a strong step for this artist. Musically, it’s far and away ahead of most hip-hop artists, and lyrically, it’s a clever approach that goes beyond the heart-on-your-sleeve indie-rock lyricsheet. So the question might remain: where does Cex fit in? I suppose there’s no need to pigeonhole every musician, but ultimately his straddling of genres may put off as many fans as it attracts.