Two years ago, Kristopher Charles “KC” Malone experienced a transformative dream.
The Washington, D.C. producer entered a spooky carnival pavilion filled with existential challenges and lessons. After waking up, he shared the lucid dream with longtime friend and collaborator David Brescia-Weiler.
“It was a crazy, trippy dream. I was in this carnival, and people didn’t recognize me. I wanted to express what it was like, so I called David, and said ‘Hey man, would you want to make an album?’” Malone said. “I had never done anything like that and neither had David. It was a broad ambition that came from COVID and being inside … this was super lockdown time.”
Despite being in lockdown, Malone and Brescia-Weiler turned that life-changing dream into a vivid, musical reality. The duo formed a new creative collaboration called KDC Guild and embarked on an ambitious journey to develop and executive produce Cise Pavilion, a hip-hop, audio-narrative concept album filled with a global cast of 60-plus artists, musicians, audio engineers, actors and comedians.
“We weren’t necessarily trying to start a company; we just wanted to work on a project together. We were like, ‘We need to do this,’ because everybody was jumping on board and getting excited,” said Brescia-Weiler, who’s also based in D.C.
“We couldn’t have predicted people from Vegas, Berlin and LA would have suddenly said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go. Send me the contract, and I’ll do it.’ We grew with the process as well.”
KDC Guild’s Cise Pavilion vision quickly grew into a classic hero’s journey brimming with 11 valuable lessons (or tracks) along the way. The insightful album thoughtfully explores the concept of “cise,” a D.C.-based term for “hype,” through protagonist Malone’s personal experiences and interactions with others in a carnival-themed world.
Compelling “cise” metaphors for jealousy, greed, peer pressure, hyperbole and vanity sprout from the digital sphere and overflow into everyday life. With Cise Pavilion, KDC Guild advocates abandoning these toxic behaviors and creating a harmonious environment that promotes acceptance and authenticity.
“Part of the point of Cise Pavilion as a project and something we all grapple with is … that temptation (of ‘cise’) is always there. As much as I’d like to say I don’t need other people’s validations, I might get excited when I get a lot of Instagram likes versus more than I normally do,” said Brescia-Weiler.
“I think that’s an internal struggle that we all have, and it’s been a fun exploration, not just for KC and me, but we get to have an ongoing discussion with each person that’s part of the project. It’s given us a lot of time to think about it … because we’re in a social media age where do you have to puff out your chest and hype yourself up a little bit or try to get on the latest TikTok trend to be seen.”
Admit One and GasLit
For KDC Guild, the Cise Pavilion journey starts with a captivating four-track EP, Admit One, which dropped in October. Packed with infectious hip-hop beats, soulful rhythms and introspective “cise” themes, it features catchy collaborations with Teeda Teez, Choo Jackson, Gallowayyys and Ro-Derrick Branch.
“The EP is a perfect appetizer because it shows what we do as well as our brand. In terms of collaboration, a lot of the songs are dynamic, but they’re simple. These are fun songs that grab you,” Malone said.
“The album sounds totally different because there are narratives, comedy and interludes. When people go back and listen to this EP, then they’ll say, ‘This is a Guild sound, or this is the Guild way of doing things.”
To create the burgeoning Guild Admit One sound, Malone and Brescia-Weiler collaborated with the EP’s featured artists through a series of Zoom meetings, phone calls and in-person studio sessions.
“It was about seeing a need to connect all of these people who deserve platforms. It’s part of building a team, and that’s what KC had in his head when these roles came up,” Brescia-Weiler said. “They trusted us with their art and putting it out, which is a big thing for an artist of any kind.”
In February, KCD Guild also released the poetic hip-hop single, “GasLit,” as another prologue to Cise Pavilion. The track blends jazzy instrumentation by pianist Ronald Walton with an impactful monologue and hypnotic beats by artist-poet Ra Washington.
Throughout “GasLit,” Washington addresses the harmful legacy of systemic racism and champions the overdue call for a societal transformation.
“‘GasLit’ is an intermediary … it shows you the poetic stuff and the more long-form narrative. If you were to take the EP and ‘GasLit’ and mix them up, then you’d get Cise Pavilion,” Malone said.
“Ra is great artist and poet out of Cleveland, and he’s in a band called Mourning [A] BLKstar. Ron Walton was one of my students when I taught at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. He’s a young, up-and-coming pianist who’s classically trained.”
With ‘GasLit’ and Admit One, KDC Guild prepares listeners for their immersive foray into the intriguing Cise Pavilion. Once inside the carnival world, they accompany Malone through a series of alarming encounters with quirky characters and questionable attractions. Those experiences are drenched in enticing hip-hop, soul and pop elements, seamless interludes and well-scripted skits.
“We find ourselves caught up amidst the ‘cise’ and exaggeration. The goal of the journey through the album is to get us to evaluate our priorities and define what is essential in life,” Malone said.
Malone’s Cise Pavilion evaluation begins with the magnetic GrandeMarshall opener, “Welcome to Madness,” which fuses pensive synth, soft electronic drums and ticking cymbals into a haunting hip-hop beat. The track slowly provides an eerie sense of comfort as the journey unfolds.
GrandeMarshall sings, “Fear not, where trouble abounds/Step right up/As we travel down/Halls and mirrors/Tunnels of love/Merrily we go/Round and round and round.”
“When I created the script, I put moments or things throughout it that would make you think you’re at a carnival or a fair. I tried to overlap those in song, and I would have a way to convey that sort of emotion,” Brescia-Weiler said.
A spectrum of emotions rise and fall as Malone interacts with parking attendants and enters the inescapable Cise Pavilion. He develops an insatiable hunger on Genevieve Artadi’s “I’m Gonna Eat,” as jubilant synths, stomping bass and pounding electronic drums echo a growing curiosity.
Artadi sings, “One solid feeling/For just a evening/Something sweet/Til I’m free of the empty/Too close to reach it/And known to teach it/I may be complete/But I’m gonna eat.”
“KC has had to convince me that I am a producer. I was like, ‘Are you sure? I’m not over here twisting knobs and pushing this up and down,’ and he was like, ‘That’s not just what a producer has to be,’” said Brescia-Weiler, who’s known Malone since middle school and has a background in writing and acting.
“A lot of our role has been facilitation and understanding that each artist is gonna need a different work schedule. Some people wanted to Zoom every other week, and some people were like, ‘I’ll email you back in two months.’”
Another compelling Cise Pavilion stop includes the elusive search for greatness on Sebastian Wilsdorff and LA 5EME REPULBIQUE’s “Phenomenon,” which blends clacking electronic drums, pulsating bass and dizzy synths into a frantic discotheque anthem. They repeatedly sing, “You’re nothing like a phenomenon.”
“We gave the artists a prompt in terms of like, ‘This is the scene. This is your role.’ We talked back and forth, and they did the song. With Sebastian, David was going through these old ‘80s dance things, and we sent them to him and said, ‘Try something like this,’” said Malone, who’s also been a DJ and teacher.
“Because we weren’t in person, we couldn’t physically be in the studio when things were being made. We tried our best to give them as much as we could as if we were in person.”
After two years of preparation, KDC Guild handed Cise Pavilion over to Noise on Resistance for mixing and mastering. Released earlier this month, the album serves as the first part of an ongoing multimedia experience, which will include animated videos, an experiential listening party and more.
“We really want to make everybody feel like they’re the protagonist of the project as they experience it. We don’t want to make it feel like they’re watching a video. Instead, we want it to feel like a video game background for them to be inside of and at the Cise Pavilion,” said Brescia-Weiler.
In the meantime, Brescia-Weiler and Malone will participate in “Sound Scene 2022: Trust,” a June 3-5 Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden event filled with audio art installations, live performances and small group workshops that explore the concept of “trust.” They also will identify the future of KDC Guild, whether that means a series of live shows or another project.
“We both have a talent for facilitating people and bringing them together and seeing a larger vision come through with a lot of different roles,” Brescia-Weiler said. “We both know it’s only the tip of the iceberg because we have so many talented and super passionate people who have been involved in the Cise Pavilion and are waiting for the chance to be part of whatever is next.”