For those who don’t know, Cultivating Your New Experience, or C.Y.N.E., is truly one of the most underrated and underappreciated hip-hop groups currently making music. Sprouted from Gainesville, Florida,they have been together for upwards of 15 years. Jazz and blues inspired instrumentals produced by Speck and Enoch pay homage to past soul artists all the way to golden age hip-hop producers. Philosophical and humanist themed lyrics laced within tracks, vocalized by Cise Starr, paint vivid images for the listener to experience; these combined talents give C.Y.N.E. their unique sound and flavor that can’t be emulated.Below is a Q&A delving into the minds of the underground hip-hop artists and how they got to where they are today.
Who are your biggest inspirations? Cise: In the hip hop realm I would have to say the artists that had the most profound impact on me lyrically were Nas, Rakim, Black Thought, Wu-Tang, Camp Lo, De la Soul, Grand Puba, and Das EFX to name a few. I always loved smooth tight lyrical flows with genuine individualism and always tried to incorporate that into my own style.
Enoch: We all listen to a wide variety of artists from different genres, and we pull inspiration from all over the place - from John Carpenter to At the Gates to Aretha Franklin. It might not be obvious in our music sometimes, but our music is informed by this synthesis of different influences. As far as hip hop goes, I personally count RZA, Prince Paul, DJ Premier, Organized Noise and El-P as the producers that had the most profound impact on me, each for different reasons. There were so many great hip hop producers when I was growing up, but those are the ones that I always go back to.
Speck: We could also claim a huge list of films, books, art, and other pop culture / political / spiritual media as direct influences on what CYNE is and what CYNE sounds like. For me personally, the act of hunting for and listening to records — all of the dollar bins, thrift stores, and garage sales — has been one of the biggest influences on me. I’ve gone down endless rabbit holes of genres, eras, countries, musicians, entire label catalogs, etc… all in searching for samples. As a result, I’ve been turned on to so many great artists and records, have met amazing musicians and/or collectors, have grown and educated myself as a listener, and have built up my own personal archive of music.
When did each of you individually start making music? Cise: I really started writing rhymes around '95. I was about 15 or so at that time. I would write over Wu-Tang tracks, especially GZA's "Liquid Swords", putting my own words to it or just writing things without a beat. My early attempts at rhyming were heavily Wu-Tang influenced. I was way too insecure at the time to actually say my rhymes to people until a friend of mine who was more into the local hip hop scene tried to clown me and challenged me to battle, thinking I couldn't hold my own but his surprise I actually had material, and for that time I guess a decent flow. From there he and some other high school friends at the time, including Akin, formed a crew called Phalanx and performed local shows and such. As life goes, after some time everybody went their separate ways after high school. Akin and I stayed in touch though and eventually linked back up to form CYNE with Speck and Enoch.
Enoch: Speck and I started producing beats together around 1997 or 1998. I had taken piano lessons and had a couple other pretty basic experiences with the fundamentals of music at a younger age, but didn’t really start making music until I was about 16 or so.
Speck: Pretty much the same story. I always wanted to play music, but didn’t have the patience or focus to get really good at it. So I gave up many times, until I was about 13 or 14, when I started playing in bands. By the time Dave and I met in 1997, I had gotten my hands on a Yamaha SU-10 portable sampler (so shitty, but so good), and had access to a four track. Over time, our skills and our gear improved, especially after we started working with Clyde and Akin.
How did CYNE start? Speck: Once out of high school, Enoch and I continued working on beats and recording. We also started DJing and hosting an open mic night at the original Common Grounds venue (in Gainesville, FL). There, we happened to meet a giant rap crew called Phalanx, and they pretty much took over the venue for the night in what seemed like an endless cypher. That’s where we first heard Clyde and Akin. Then, a short while later, we were coincidentally introduced by a mutual friend of ours. He knew that they were looking for beats and that we were looking for an MC. Dave had shared a few beats with them, and soon after we all met at my place to record the first four track demos for the “Language” EP (Get it? CYNE language? Very clever), which was the foundation for our first few releases (“African Elephants,” “Paradise,” and “Octagon” were all recorded during that Summer) in 2001. To bring it full circle, we had our first show at Common Grounds, then started playing around Gainesville and other Florida cities. At the time, we collaborated with Rice and Beans, Must!Delicious, and Botanica Del Jibaro (all Miami-based labels) to put out our first 12” records (“African Elephants,” “Midas,” and “Movements”) before releasing our first full length album (“Time Being”) and a Japan-only compilation of older and unreleased material (“Collection” on P-Vine) in 2003.
How do you guys put yourselves in the creative mindset? Enoch: I don’t have any particular method for putting myself in a creative mindset, but a lot of times if I hear a great new album or song by someone, it can get me going in the right direction. Other times it can just strike out of nowhere. It can be frustrating though because sometimes you have the free time available to work on music but aren’t inspired, or the other way around. I have spent hours working on tracks that ended up getting deleted because I didn’t like them and have also come up with some of my better material in 10 minutes. Each song or beat is different.
Speck: For sure, a great live show or impressive record immediately makes me want to get back to work. It reminds me of why I love and make music. I recently read this inspiring quote that talks about (and, I’m paraphrasing here) music as a tool of communication and enlightenment, as a teacher, and as truth. Like Enoch mentioned, time is precious, and you can’t force productivity. So, aside from taking more time to really listen to more music, I’ve been working on ways to better accommodate the moments when inspiration strikes. I’ve got ProTools on my work computer for my lunch hour, I’ve migrated my production to a laptop (so there’s no excuse, even if I don’t want to go down to my basement to work on music), I’m switching up my sampling approach, and I’m minimizing my gear set up. Aside from that, it really can be something as simple as a rad record cover or an old album write up that will remind me to get back to work.
Cise: Mainly what I try to do is listen to the beat and see what it inspires, and free write until a topic forms. Once I have a general idea where the track is going I expound from there. Like Enoch stated every track is different and sometimes inspiration comes from when and where you least expect it.
What were your experiences like while working with Haruka Nakamura, Re:Plus, Nujabes, etc? Cise: Working with Nujabes was one of those eye opening experiences in the sense that it was my first time out of the country and first time really venturing out on my own to make music. Excited as hell but at the same time really nervous because I didn't know what to expect. At that time I didn’t know who Nujabes was other than this shadowy figure I spoke to on the phone with a few times before he flew me out there. Glad I decided to go because working with him was a positive experience that helped me grow into my own and find my voice as an artist. He was soft spoken but at the same time was very assertive and particular about what he wanted out of a track. Nujabes was very gracious host and made the trip an enjoyable experience. I unfortunately never had the chance to meet personally with Re:Plus. We mainly communicated through emails and collaborated that way. Haruka Nakamura I met the last time I was a part of the Nujabes Tribute shows in Japan. Very talented and genuine person. Actually the track "The Sun" we collaborated on was recorded at Nujabes studio in Kamakura.
Do you guys have any works currently in the making? Enoch: We have the second installment of our Wasteland cassette series completed, and it will be released in the near future. We also may have another release or two sometime in the not too distant future. We are always working on new material, so hopefully we will have a new release out into the world soon.
Speck: We try to stay as busy as possible, even without a release or objective in mind. Enoch and I are constantly trading beats. If they pass the litmus test, we send them to Cise. He and Enoch usually meet in Gainesville to record — in that way, we keep the production process moving, building up our library of tracks…
What were some of the biggest challenges you have faced while making music? Enoch: I think in the grand scheme of things, we have been fortunate to not have had to deal with some of the major challenges that some bands have to endure…nobody has died, nobody is stealing money from us, we haven’t had to deal with any sort of legal action or lawsuits, and we just tend to not surround ourselves with much drama really. Our biggest challenge would probably be the fact that the three of us each live in different cities, which can make recording and touring difficult. We all have day jobs and other responsibilities, so that can sometimes be a factor in our level of participation we can put into the group, but in the end, we manage to sort it out as best we can, and I think it works for us.
Speck: We’re incredibly fortunate to have a dedicated and growing fan base, who respect our catalog and are patient with our recording, release, and touring process. And, as Enoch stated, we’ve found a way to stay productive and connected (as a band, as collaborators, and as friends) despite our geographical distance. We’ve also been using most of the same production tools we’ve always used (MPC, vinyl, ProTools, some other outboard/analog gear), so we haven’t really hit a ceiling there yet, either. So, I would say some of our biggest challenges have been around independently releasing music, the shift toward digital distribution, and how that all factors into PR and exposure for the group. We’re incredibly proud (and in some ways happily stubborn) about how our music still gets passed around by word of mouth, versus paid media. It’s validating to have your music get shared through networks of friends and people who are passionate about music. That said, there are some instances where having more exposure could have paved the way for things like better tours or more leverage for guest appearances and remixes, etc, etc, etc… Really, we’re pleased with our output, we’re proud of our fans, we love working together, and we still make music for ourselves, above all else. So these “challenges” are sort of irrelevant in the world of CYNE.