Born in Omaha Neb and raised in Ft. Lauderdale Florida, DJ Ceez, born Clarence Jones, always knew he would be involved with music...somehow. Growing up listening to RnB titans Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green among many others, he had a turntable as a kid and was the kid with the boombox in the back of the team bus rides to b-ball games. So while hooping in college, and transferring from Creighton University to UIC (the University of Illinois at Chicago), he was introduced to house music when he got to Chicago. The first mix he heard was the famed Hot Lunch Mix on WBMX and it was a wrap after that. Throwing parties in college lead to his own mobile DJ service which led to work at famed Smooth Sounds Recording Studio here in Chicago. Since then he has been in bands (Colla Destra, 21st Century Hip Hop), on tour (GTS Entertainment Tour 2015 most recently) and in the studio, with singles with Niki Gee, StephStaa, Lester Jay, Tiff Beatty, Sarah Kopp, Munk Julious, Radiant Device and more. He is currently head of Urban Mentality Music Group with records with StephStaa & Munkjulious, Niki Gee and Lester Jay charting on Traxsource. Also, he is the force behind Stargasm, a club/progressive arm of Urban Mentality Music, along with partner Tommy Sigmon and DJ/producer for hip-hop stalwarts 21st Century Hip Hop. Having played clubs from LA to Miami to Mexico, he calls himself a "professional mixer" having played many different genres of house, hip hop, DnB, Garage to name a few. Catch him every Thursday broadcasting his show "Pheromone" (6 years and running) on Gottahavehouseradio.com (6-8p CST).
Niki Gee is a brilliant beautiful ball of light and is a sought out talent around the country. Known as the Peace and Love Poet, Niki Gee delivers poetry ranging from enlightenment to eroticism. She has graced various stages from Beast Women to Punany Poets and recently performed a one-woman play at The Goodman Theater. Niki Gee’s delivers her performance with a permeating energy that leaves audiences feeling not only entertained but uplifted. You will certainly enjoy the energy in her human form.
I had a chance to talk to both of them about their newest single, Be Her, their other collaborations and what makes them such a great team!
Black Widow: You guys have done a few collaborations together. How did you guys connect?
Niki: Yeah it’s been a few. I’ve only worked with one another DJ, Steve Paradise, out of Italy. Ceez is the only producer I work with. We met at a video shoot. Ceez was shooting a video for a song called Sky High.
Ceez: Yeah that was for Christine Fazon. I did a single for her and was shooting a video for it and Niki was at the shoot.
Nikki: He put out a call out for more people for the shoot and my friend, Aztec, another artist he works with, took me there. W!e met and we clicked. I told him I was a spoken word artist and he mentioned he wanted to work with a spoken word artist. He told me that day he wanted to get together and work on some things. It was a year later but we connected and we’ve been doing music ever since.
Ceez: I can verify all this is true [LAUGHTER]
Niki: He’s been my brother ever since.
Ceez: Yes! I love, love, love, me some Niki G
Niki: You know the funny thing is he knew I could do it but I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I was ready but he wasn’t hearing that. He made me do it!
Black Widow: Made you get up in the studio huh? What’s the difference if any, for you when writing poetry vs writing song lyrics? They are similar but different in structure. What made you feel like you weren’t ready because you’ve been doing poetry for a while?
Niki: This all happened when I was re-emerging back on to the poetry scene, around 2012. I would go to poetry events and just take it all in. I didn’t let anyone know I was writing and I wasn’t performing either. I still don’t feel like I write lyrics because I never really have a hook. I still feel like I’m writing poems and with Ceez and I, our collaborations are spontaneous and genuine. I’ll get the track and write about 4 or 5 different pieces to it and then when I’m in the studio, I’ll decide I don’t like any of them and write something completely different right there. That’s happened on a few occasions.
Ceez: Yeah…she’s the worst on herself, but as a producer, I allow for that in the process. An artist will change their mind and I’m ok with that. Everything happens organically. We don’t have hooks per say to the songs; I may slow the timing or something like that. It’s really her piece, so if she has to perform it she can without a lot of back-ups. It’s really how she feels and emotes and how she makes the track come across... You had to bring it out of her because she wasn’t sure if she could pull it off. She’s committed. Ever since I first her heard her on the track, “In the Mood”; those lyrics are just a testament to her dedication. The tone of her voice when she settles into is really easy to produce around. When I would listen to her do her pieces, I was immediately drawn to her voice.
I would imagine her voice and how she could translate that into something that was deeper and would grab you musically because that’s what her work does. It just naturally flowed.
Niki: He stopped sending me the titles of the track because I would write a piece that vibed off the title. He doesn’t do that anymore. [LAUGHTER]
Ceez: yup…it might go through 3 re-writes before we get there [LAUGHTER]
Niki: Even with the song, Red Guitar, we were listening to the track and drinking a wine called Red Guitar. I just start writing according to the vibe I’m getting. It’s really a spontaneous process with us. Sometimes it’s even freestyle.
Black Widow: Those are those magical moments! When everything is just right and you are totally open creatively.
Ceez: Absolutely! Absolutely!
Niki: Ceez is really accommodating and patient. I don’t know how other producers do it with their artists. I was always trying to be extra prepared when I came into the studio but he’s laid back and allows me to kick back and really get into it.
Black Widow: It’s one thing to work with different people but when you have a producer who really knows you and your style, I think it makes for a more authentic collaboration. You can hear that on a track. It’s a trust level I think.
Ceez: That’s very true. I’m sure you can relate working with Mike and Terry. They know you, what you like and your style. Sometimes Niki would get in the studio and knock it out and I’d love it but she would be like Nah let’s do it again… I’m telling you, artists are usually the hardest on themselves. Sometimes you need someone else to give you that affirmation and encouragement.
Black Widow: I totally relate…I’ve done that a few times with my producers. I’m extremely critical of myself sometimes. You want everything to be perfect and you want your producers to like what you are doing. Sometimes you can overthink it and you guys (producers) have to reel us back! [Laughter]
Ceez: I know! [Laughter} but I get it because that’s what creative people do. I do it at times with my music. You want it to be perfect.
Black Widow: Yeah, we can over think it sometimes because we love it so much. I know for me, I love working with people who know me and what I like and over the course of time, I learn their creative process and the entire recording becomes more collaborative. That’s when you get that symmetry you hear in the music. Not everyone has that with their producers. You guys have a nice symmetry and you hear it in the music and the lyrics. When you combine creatives it can be great or like oil and water. How do you guys balance your ideas and input so you are able to have a nice equilibrium?
Niki: We’ve never clashed creatively.
Ceez is like a good husband. He sits back and lets me do what I do. Then at the end, he’ll make suggestions or additions.
He’s accommodating and open to my ideas too. Even with this new track, I added the singer, Mara Marie and didn’t tell him. She actually wrote the hook before I wrote the piece. I just wanted to do something different.
Ceez: I was blown away! Blown Away! I heard it and was like…YES! PLEASE! And thank you! Let’s get in the studio! [Laughter] Let’s do this!
Black Widow: So Ceez, can you give me a little background on how you got started and what attracted you to this genre called house music?
Ceez: I’ll give you the short version of it! [Laughter] I played semi-pro hoops in college and was always the guy with the boom box in the back of the bus on road trips. In college, I heard house music in the dorm for the first time. It was the Hot Mix Five on the radio and I knew I wanted to do that. Next thing I got turntables and started toying with it, then next thing you know, I was in a DJ Battle at the Rainbow. I come from that. From there I started doing studio work, School Sound recording with Jerry Jones. He put me on to the music game. I started doing remixes and learning and engineering sessions. That got me into music. I went from house to hip hop, had residencies downtown and started my own production company, “Urban Mentality Music”. Initially I was going to just do some projects and remixes but I started meeting these artists, these dynamite artists, and started working with them and it became easier to stretch out and do my thing. It was house music…My Way. It’s been great too, I’ve released stuff with Sean Ali and Munk Julius; those cats are so soulful. Love those guys!
Black Widow: Funny…he’s my interview this week!
Ceez: Oh cool! I love Sean….he’s amazing! That’s my dude!
Black Widow: See that’s what I love about these interviews. You see the commonalities in experiences. How you got started, how house music came into your lives….it’s so different, yet so similar. You really see the connections that this genre of music has created.
Ceez: Yeah it’s really interesting.
Black Widow: Niki, Who are some of some of your biggest writing influences? Who do you love?
Niki: I love Octavia Butler, Nikki Giovanni, it’s a girl named, Jasmine she’s a dope poet out of NY. Locally I love Lyrical Paradigm, K-love… it’s so many people.
Black Widow: I’m such a fan of your work. I love how you put your words together. Some artists do things for shock value but others do things that are shocking but there’s intention behind it. That’s what I love about your writing and delivery. There’s intention behind it.
Niki: Always! I love to put a peaceful and loving energy in the air. Words are powerful.
If I can say something positive and pleasing, and put that in the atmosphere, I’m cool with that.
It’s all moving energy. In the song, “In the Mood”, for example, I specifically put a line in the song; I now request now divine energy to flow through me. I want people to say that when they hear the song because it’s true!
Black Widow: That’s what I love about that mesh between poetry and house music!
Niki: YES!!! I call it “house-etry”
Ceez: Oh yes!!
Black Widow: It’s a different kind of connection. Just words over the melody...you are getting the lyrics 100 proof.
Niki: Exactly!!! That’s it!
Black Widow: When you have that and people who are already transferring energy on dancefloors, there’s power in that. That’s what I love about hearing spoken word artists on house tracks.
Niki: It is…it really is!
Black Widow: Let’s talk about the song, "Be Her". If you could use three words to describe this track what would you use? What’s the soul of this track?
Ceez: It’s a sensual playfulness to this song. You have Mara bouncing along the melody, and then Nikki comes in like POW!
Nikki: Yea for sure…it tells a story. It tells this story of a woman who is seen one way by others but how she feels about herself is totally different.
Ceez: You have these two different voices on the track, plus the melody so you are getting 3 different perspectives when you listen to it. It made it a fun song to make. I didn’t want it to go back and forth, I wanted them to play off each other a bit. So there’s a natural cohesion to the track. Mara brings this Playfulness, and then Niki brings in that sensuality. See that’s two words…I’m thinking of a third! [Laughter]
Niki: It’s a melodic soulful groove…those are my three words.
Ceez: well alright! That’s it!
Black Widow: See how writers put those words together! [Laughter]
Nikki: I got adverbs and adjectives! [Laughter]
Black Widow: Niki, performing live vs in the studio or on a poetry stage is very different. How have you learned to use your voice as a recording artist vs as a poet?
Nikki: I'm still learning that. I haven't performed the songs for a house audience. I’ve done Mamba a couple of times live though.
Ceez: I took out some of the natural markers of the track to allow Nikki to stretch and let the track flow. As an artist, you have to consider that live factor, to allow for adlibs and such. It’s a different type of thing.
Black Widow: What makes your collaboration so enjoyable?
Niki G: When you find a person and it works…that’s a special thing. Yeah, I don’t know if I’d work with anyone else, I love working with Ceez.
Ceez: I have such a great working relationship with Niki because I know she takes her craft seriously. I trust her to know her art. It matters how serious you take your craft. It’s a treat to work with real artists because they want to put the work and the time in. Once that trust builds, everything else starts to come together. It becomes really collaborative.
It ain’t all glamorous; we do what we do because we love it. I’m doing this until the end. I love it that much. You know as an artist, we are going to go hard with it.
Black Widow: There’s so much great music being made here with some really awesome creatives linking up.
Ceez: Definitely and I always take Chicago with me. Whenever I go on the road, I always bring and play Chicago music. It means something to me. I’m going to play a Niki Gee, Terry Hunter, Sheree Hicks, Julius the Mad thinker, etc.… its music from my hometown.
Black Widow: I love that!!! It's such an abundance of art and it doesn’t sound the same; that’s the beauty of the music we make here! I hate when the scene is painted so negatively sometimes.
Ceez: Yeah, I don’t care about DJ beefs or genre debates. That’s crazy and it’s just people trying to get known the wrong way. Spend your time being creative! That’s how I look at my craft. I take it seriously.
The music is my focus, not the side drama. As a creative, I’d rather spend my time being creative. I want to create more than spend time always figuring stuff out. Art, not math!
Nikki: Some people love to create controversy about themselves to help them get notoriety. That’s lame. It works sometimes but it’s still lame.
Black Widow: Tell me about it! We lose sight of the bigger picture I think. We are all artists who are competing on a global scale. I want people to hear as much Chicago music as possible. I want to see Chicago artists filling up the charts. Our sound is unmatched.
Ceez: It’s an incredible amount of great music made here by great artists.
Black Widow: That’s what this website is always about and will always be about, this scene as a whole! My projects in addition to the other incredible Chicago Artists too! It’s room for everyone. This is music I love!
Ceez: Me Too! I totally feel you on that!
Nikki: it’s a lot of folks working and putting out incredible art.
Black Widow: Yep…in studios, writing, producing, putting on amazing events…
Ceez: Mad love and respect to you for doing what you do. There is so much beauty that we tend to miss things sometimes. I do the same on my radio show; highlight different DJs and such. It’s not just about me, so I totally get what you are saying.
Black Widow: You get all these creative folks together and they start collaborating!!! WHEW!!!
Nikki: It’s beautiful to watch artforms collide…spoken word and house. They exist on their own but together…it’s a beautiful soup.
Black Widow: Yes indeed! I keep saying…Musical gumbo! [LAUGHTER]
Ceez: I want to create art with Niki and that’s the key. That creative process never shuts off. I’m always thinking creatively.
Nikki: Yeah the vibe is nice and easy to be creative with him especially in the studio.
Ceez: Nikki is amazing and I think she’s so talented. I love working with her. In the future, I would like to put together a live show with Niki.
Niki G: That would be dope!
Black Widow: So what’s in store for you guys in 2018?
Niki: Well I recently stepped into the acting ring. I was on stage at the Goodman theatre doing a One Woman Show. That was exciting. I also have a show coming, with Black Heaven called “Love & Lust”. It’s going to start in Chicago then we are hitting the road. We’ll definitely be in DC and NYC. I also will be continuing my one-woman show, “How Monogamy Ruined my Relationship” around June. In addition, I will be hosting a monthly storytelling open mic up north, called “Breakup Stories”.
Ceez: I’m doing WMC in March and plan on starting another season of my party called “Sanctuary”. I took a year off from that but I’m excited to get it going again. I’m also working on an independent radio series. Of course more studio work with a few artists, like Lester Jay and Niki Gee. I also have my radio show every Thursday from 6-8pm on gottahavehouseradio.com. I’ve been doing that for years now. I love featuring new music on the show! I slowed my gig schedule down so I can get in the studio more. I’m in a good place artistically.
Black Widow: Busy and booked! That’s a good thing
Ceez: It’s so cool to talk with you and tell you a bit about my story. I really appreciate it. It’s rare that we get to just talk about being creative and telling people about the process. You allow artists to be heard on a different level. That’s dope. It’s a reason why our paths crossed and I’m humbled and thankful. To be creative and have your work acknowledged is a beautiful thing.
Black Widow: Thank you both for speaking with me today! Continued success with the song on the charts and future projects!!!
Niki & Ceez: Thank you and continued success to you as well!
You can find Niki Gee, DJ Ceez, and Mara Marie at the following:
Discography: Available on Traxsource
- snapchat: Niki Gee
- Snapchat: maramariesings