You can’t really fault every Philly hip hop guy for falling in love with Ethel Cee. It’s bound to happen at some point. It could be her succint and worldly lyrics that draw moths to the flame. It could be her confident and fly style of dress that turns heads for what she is not exposing. Or it could be her fascination with Curb Your Enthusiasm; anytime a young black woman aspires to impersonate Susie Green with a dead-eyed seriousness, the heart begins to tremble.
The first time I met her, it was the recording session at Yadibox studios for the song “Not That Easy” off the Reef the Lost Cauze’s last LP A Vicious Cycle.
I was the engineer that day and realized after hearing her verse that Ethel Cee was onto something. I think it was the fact that someone correctly rhymed about a cheshire cat. You can watch two clips of that session here
Everyone in Philly who raps is “on the grind”. This is the badge you wear when you are a struggling artist buring CDR’s, doing countless shows to prove their worth, getting burnt by clown ass promoters/engineers/DJs, and stacking YouTube hits to impress today’s A&R aka tomorrow’s Boston Market shift manager. Ethel has somehow eschewed this insignia on her rap sheet all the while putting in the work of a cat “on the grind”. People naturally gravitate towards her. You forget that she is working hard, along with DJ UV of Bee Eater Records, to build a strong brand for her nimble and forceful brand of hip hop; you just want to hug her and bust jokes all night.
I remember feeling the same way about Jean Grae after her deft live show. Yeah, she put clowns in their place, had the party rocking, and unloaded murderous freestyles but afterwards you feel like approaching her as your best friend’s older sister who went off to college first: with respect, charm, and politeness. Ironically the second time I saw Jean Grae, it was at the Trocadero where Ethel Cee not only hosted the show, but beasted a 10 minute freestyle on-stage alongside Dave Ghetto and Fel Sweetenberg.
Maybe it’s the Gods of Comedy rewarding her due dilligence to Seinfeld re-runs–Ethel is getting more press and love now then ever before. They can’t ALL be crushes. She has carried herself with class and a burning work ethic, and now everything is hitting on all cylinders. You can hear her new EP Dirty Samples after the interview or head over to Dumhi.com and check her in the video along with Random for the summertime jam “Dumhi Cannons”.
Now it’s time for Ethel Cee to Learn You Something.
1. At what point did you realize music was what you wanted to do?
I don’t know. (lol, What a way to start off an interview with “I don’t know”). But I truly don’t. I always knew that music would be a part of my life somehow, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. Quite honestly, I still feel that way in many ways. Performing is something I love to do, but will I want to do it when I’m in my 50s? Who knows. But I DO know I will have some involvement in music whether it be onstage or behind the scenes.
2. How has Philly shaped your sound or molded you as an MC?
Philly does not offer props very easily. I love that. You should be able to leave here and have some of the thickest skin you can imagine. I hear about people who get super agitated because they’re not receiving the recognition they THINK they deserve. They want shit handed to them and want to be in certain circles because they have dubbed THEMSELVES as the next best thing. And I’m like, “You DO know where you are living, right?” Nah. It doesn’t work that way. Not here. Philly is an excellent boot camp. It’s made me tougher and less needy. Not less hungry, but less needy. There is a difference.
3. Who are the people you look up to and learn the most from?
My Grandma is super tough. SUPER tough. She’s been through a lot and still found the time to raise me, made sure I had three banging meals a day and cuss me out when I needed it. My Mom is also extremely dope and someone I also consider a survivor. My sister is a hard working New Yorker/Philly native. My father is one of the smartest men I know. My family doesn’t think I pay attention to them, but I do. I also learn a lot from people I thoroughly dislike. I learn more from people I can’t stand versus folks I actually like to be around. I take whatever they have done or said to me and make a mental note that says: “Yeah, don’t do that.”
4. With everything you’ve learned thus far, what do you wish you could have told yourself at the beginning? Would you have done anything differently?
I could have gone without dating those couple of guys that one time. lol. That was just unnecessary. But I digress…
This is tough because, of course if I had known certain things would turn out the way they did (whether it was musically or personally), I would have stopped myself before I took the steps that lead me there. But everything happens for reason. It’s SO cliche, I know. But that’s what I’ve conditioned myself to believe.
5. What’s hard for you? What do you struggle at?
About 2 1/2 years ago I was diagnosed with panic/anxiety disorder/PTSD. Not cute. Some people get over it quickly, others never do. For me, it has been an ongoing thing. I have good days, I have awful days. What’s hard is that when you are dealing with a severe condition like that AND trying to carve a career out of something like music, it’s very difficult to balance the two. Music FORCES you to be in public and be social. Anxiety disorder ain’t havin’ none of that. Doing simple things like having a dinner meeting in public or being at a packed party or even sitting in one place in the studio while waiting for the engineer to get ready can be a real life nightmare. And no one knows. It’s not the type of thing you can see on someone. So you could be talking to me in the club about something regular and I’m screaming to leave on the inside. Kind of like Howie Mandel and the germ thing. BUT, I get by. I used this as my answer because, it’s honestly the main thing I struggle with, it affects every aspect of my life, but I’m still one of the dopest people you know. lol. (Hopefully). Plus, millions of folks are going through the SAME exact thing and might smile when they read this and go “Hey, I’m not alone, Ethel Cee is a psycho too!” Ha, it helps to makes jokes.
6. Here’s a scenario: tomorrow you become the CEO of a major label. What are the first 3 things you would do as the boss?
Well, first I would panic. (Just kidding). Nah. First, I would call another CEO and be like “Do you have a rags to riches manual somewhere in YOUR HR Dept. because I don’t know what the fuck to do!” Secondly, I would grab all the folks I believe deserve a decent shot at the big time (that sounded so 40′s didn’t it?) and pray to God that I don’t screw up their career with my stupidity. Lastly, I’d party all night long in celebration of my newfound career and put everything on my tab. (See Section V in the Rags To Riches Manual: How to Blow EVERYTHING You’ve Been Given in a Matter of Hours)
7. What are some of your favorite albums?
Fever to Tell by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Waltz for Koop by Koop, Hell Hath No Fury by The Clipse, The Massacre by 50 Cent, Letter From Home by Pat Metheny, Lest We Forget by Marilyn Manson, Hardcore by Lil Kim, Black on Both Sides by Mos Def, Sam Sparro by Sam Sparro, Parachutes by Coldplay, The 1st Lyricist Lounge, The Colour and The Shape by Foo Fighters, First Born Second by Bilal, Celebrity Skin by Hole, Life After Death by Biggie, Pretty Tony LP by Ghostface, Ironman by Ghostface, Ruff Draft by Dilla, WorthNothings by Georgia Anne Muldrow, BP3 by Jay-Z, From the Bottom Up by Brownstone, CrazySexyCool by TLC, Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, Illadelph Halflife by The Roots, Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt, A Star is Born by Judy Garland, Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet…I can go on…I know I’m missing a ton.
8. What is inspiring your work right now?
All of my hardworking friends, all the emotions and situations I run into being a single gal, the great relationships I’ve had, wanting to beat my disorder, the desire to travel some more, wanting to be successful, the feeling of empowerment I get from just about getting to the point of not caring what people think. Lots of stuff.
9. What advice would you offer to someone getting in the business at this time?
Surround yourself with a small group of people you trust. Visit your other interests/hobbies besides music if you have any, so you don’t lose your identity in this thing. Not everyone is going to like you or want to support you…get over it now. I am by no means, an expert. I figure these things out as I go.
10. Any words to live by?
“Disregard Men, Acquire Currency.” lol
Also, be authentically you. You’ll sleep much better at night.
Ethel Cee Primer
Reef the Lost Cauze f/ Ethel Cee “Not That Easy”
Ethel Cee on her new EP Dirty Samples
Stream and download Ethel Cee’s EP Dirty Samples, produced entirely by Fel Sweetenberg, at Bandcamp