Free The Optimus (FTO) is a collective that are on a mission to take back hip-hop with their new project, “Summer Ransom.” The album dives into the concept of dedicating yourself to the true core of creating and rising above the expectations of the industry. Based in Ashville, North Carolina, Free The Optimus came about from C. Shreve devoting himself to releasing his full potential, who then collaborated with a vast selection of MCs and producers as a means of developing a solid movement. Along with the “Sumer Ransom project,” Free The Optimus, have released a 5-part music video series, and are constantly expanding their skills in order to capture their raw energy.
We chat to C. Shreve about “Summer Ransom,” the experience of touring with Hieroglyphics, and the growth of the Free The Optimus collaboration. Ayla Dhyani writes.
You just released your recent project "Summer Ransom." Tell us about it.
“Summer Ransom” is a concept album that revolves around the idea that if you want to make the most of something then you have to take it upon yourself to make it happen. From an MC perspective, this means taking the summer (or the limelight) away from those that aren’t deserving of the platform given to them by the fame machine. From a personal perspective, this means literally taking your time (I’m a teacher, so summertime is literally time away) and running with it as far as you can.
How has the response been so far?
The response to the album has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve been performing some of these tracks at live shows for a while now, so they’re pretty road tested, and it’s been great to see the audience interaction with songs like “ Uaindope (We ain’t tryin to hear it!)” in the live setting. At the same time, releasing the songs so that people can listen on their own has helped highlight tracks that people love that we haven’t been performing, songs like “Dogfight” and “On Site,” that people really enjoy and that we should probably incorporate into our set.
How did the Free The Optimus collaborative come about?
Free the Optimus was a concept that I came up with about 7 years ago during some discussions and conversations with close friends. It’s a conceptual framework based on the premise that our optimal potential exists and can be tapped into, we just have to see it and free it. Three core principles can set this in motion: to be and do your best (optimal), to see with positivity (optimistic), and to transform the world (optimus). As I honed in a vision for FTO as a musical endeavour, I included several close friends and collaborators that helped with the creative process and with developing a working with a catalogue of music. Currently, Free the Optimus includes myself, DJ Jet, Good Shepard, Mike L!VE, Ill Will, Phil Dangerous, She Carretta, and James Millen as core members.
Having now released 10 full-length projects, do you feel that Free The Optimus has grown significantly over time?
FTO has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. In the beginning, we were much more on the outside looking in. We had music and had a vision, but making it happen was still a work in progress. At this point, we’ve put out numerous projects and understand much more about what is necessary to put out solid material, to run a tour, to network and build a movement, and bottom line to accomplish the goals and objectives we set out to achieve. We really have all the components necessary to take this wherever we want. It’s just a matter of setting our sights on something specific and then executing.
Tell us about your experience in touring with Hieroglyphics.
Touring with the Hieroglyphics has really helped us to see how vital it is to handle things professionally. From selling merchandise, to the actual performance, to the branding, everything needs to be on point and professional, otherwise why would fans want to spend their hard earned dollars on what you’re creating? A-Plus and Casual were more than happy to share their perspective and wisdom with me and to let me bounce some ideas off them. It’s something pretty priceless considering the trails they’ve blazed.
What projects can we expect from you on the horizon?
We’re currently going back to creating new music and have already completed a number of new tracks that will gradually coalesce into full projects. While we haven’t formalised full album concepts yet, one idea that will likely come about next is an album called “FTO L!VE.” This will be a project aimed at capturing the raw energy that our live show thrives on and will also heavily feature our newest member, Mike L!VE, along with myself. Our live show stars me and L!VE in a constant MC back and forth. All of our members work on side projects and solo projects (and are encouraged to) as well—Good Shepard has an indie rock/hip hop band known as Vanilla the Hun that is currently recoding a debut album and Mike L!VE is actively recording for a new solo album as well as contributing work to the new 1100 Hunters project Hunter Season.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
If I could collaborate with anyone it would be Black Thought (MC for The Roots). Since the first time I heard “What They Do” back in 1996, I have been completely blown away and inspired by Tariq Trotter’s commitment to lyricism, skills, hip-hop, and to the craft of being an MC. To be on a song with Black Thought would be an absolute dream come true.
What stimulates your soul?
Creativity and collaboration stimulate my soul. The process of manifesting art and of connecting with other individuals to push our mutual boundaries is absolutely vital to my experience as a human. The delicate process of bringing something to existence that was previously an intangible concept within your own mind is one of the most peculiar (and needed) experiences I have had in this life. To then have the opportunity to take these creations and actively perform them for an audience has become one of the true blessings and passions of my life.
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