Mr. Personalities 

Cex abandons superstardom, rediscovers many inner people

IDM producer-turned-indie-rapper-turned-one-man-indie entertainer Cex, aka Baltimore native Rjyan Kidwell, exploded the docile IDM landscape in 2001 with his free-your-laptop-and-the-ass-will-follow beat chemistry. Since then, Cex has shape-shifted more times than a Transformer, and not always toward the emotionally stable.

"I used to always be thinking about what I thought was supposed to happen," says Kidwell over his cell phone in Chicago. "I was psyching myself up before anything came out, thinking, 'This is the one; this is the one that's going to do it. I'm going to sell 10,000 records in two months. I've got to, because if I don't, I'm gonna die.'"

Hyper, neurotic, funny, goofy, and full of more ideas than he can let out of his mouth, the twig-skinny 22-year-old has finally abandoned that anxiety, and just in time. If the doubt black-painted throughout his 2003 full-length Maryland Mansions had snowballed any more, Kidwell doesn't know what he'd be doing right now.

Since June, he's been living in Chicago and riding his bike around the flat city. He's been working post-production on the April recordings he made with Portland, Ore., duo Nice Nice, which is slated to become his next record, Invisible Sidis, due next year. And he's been practicing with his friend, Joan of Arc drummer Cole Parks, on material for an upcoming tour, for which Kidwell plans to play some upbeat riffs on Mansions songs, plus some of the new funk 'n' tweaked booty quake.

Some of that new stuff -- such as the "Ice of Baltimore" demo briefly posted on Kidwell's Web site ( -- features Kidwell morphing yet again, finally sounding chipper to be witty. Since debuting at 18, he's always maintained a pliable persona -- he's dubbed himself the "white Eminem," called himself "skeleton porn" when he'd rock the microphone in his tighty-whiteys, and never shied away from being the living punch line to a joke -- but throughout his constant touring, he was barely holding himself together.

"It always seemed like going on tours and meeting people and playing shows, everyone always acted like life was really normal," says Kidwell. "Nobody really talks about how fucking weird it is. So I was making the music, and the music was making me tour, and the new music that I wanted to make was all about the tour. It was all about the life. A little bit there on [2002's indie-rap] Tall, Dark and Handcuffed and a whole lot there on [2003's glam-hop] Being Ridden, and then Maryland Mansions is entirely, 100 percent [that]. You're getting this straight dispatch from what this twentysomething-year-old kid is doing and feeling at the moment."

Mansions is a Nine Inch Nails downward spiral into self-loathing and coy nihilism. Cliche as it sounds, it was Kidwell's self-help through his mental wreckage, though his explanation feels less navel-gazing than candid. "I wanted to hear a record that dealt with being frightened," says Kidwell. "And there was just not a whole bunch of records that I could get my hands on at the time, and I still feel this way, where I really feel I'm listening to somebody who's not secure."

Kidwell's unabashed frankness and humor are the two things that run throughout his music, the elusive attraction that makes Cex so appealing: He's approachable because he's vulnerable, and not in some pity-me emo way. He has doubts about what he does, as all sane people do. And though he admits that his "mistakes" come from making "musical decisions instead of business decisions" -- as in, his label, Jade Tree, would have been happy had he toured for six months after Mansions' release, but his head wasn't in it -- he's finally made peace with who he is and how he works. And that the size of his photo in Rolling Stone is beyond his control.

"If anything, I feel more empowered to make even stupider business decisions," says Kidwell. "I guess I consider that a mistake because that's why a lot of people aren't interested in Cex, because Cex is a big mistake. It's a kid who shouldn't be singing about how he shouldn't be singing. It's about being scared and being weak ... And the easy thing to say is that there's a reason nobody sings about any of those things. And I totally agree there is a reason. And every time I roll into McDonald's to get that $1 McChicken, I think about that reason."


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