Free The Optimus
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Free The Optimus

Asheville, NC | Established. Jan 01, 2007 | INDIE

Asheville, NC | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2007
Band Hip Hop Alternative




"Free The Optimus on a mission to spread their vision"

Influenced by the likes of The Roots, Wu-tang Clan, and Run DMC; Free The Optimus, a hip-hop group based in Boone and Asheville, North Carolina, have found themselves growing a steady following with their string of new releases and live, energetic shows.

FTO’s three prominent members consist of 34 year-old MC and founder Chris Shreve, who is a senior lecturer at Appalachian State University, DJ Jet, a Carolina Music Award nominated DJ based in Asheville, NC, as well Mike L!VE, also an MC based in Asheville.

Other members include She Caretta, Shreve’s sister, who provides the group with graphic design work, Phil Dangerous, who helped form FTO back in ‘07 with Shreve, and Shep Bryan, a producer and multi-instrumentalist for the group.

“I understood what branding was from working in the world, and I took the time to think about it and figure it out,” said Shreve when asked about how the vision of FTO began. “FTO is meant to be an implication of freeing the part of you that is locked down and cannot be optimistic, but it can mean anything you want, really; free the oppression, free the cypher, however you feel.”

Along with FTO, Shreve and other members are heavily associated with Appalachian State’s Cypher, a local free-styling event that takes place every Wednesday at the “freedom tunnels.” Started by Shreve and members of the hip-hop group Pragmaddix, the cypher has grown from a very small group of freestylers to a large, weekly event. “I met Pragmaddix at a show at Murphy’s [in Boone] and we linked up from there,” Shreve said. “We were thinking about a cypher but didn’t know where to start it. We eventually decided to do it on the first Friday of June 2014, which coincidentally was also the same night as Art Crawl. It soon grew from there.”

While the cypher is predominantly filled with rapping, Shreve and its participators welcome all forms of art and creativity, including instrumental performances, spoken word, and singing. “If you have something to express, even if you want to talk or dance or sing, then we welcome it,” Shreve said.

While FTO have been releasing music for a while, including their newest single “1234,” a fiery lyric-driven track backed by vinyl scratching and delicate piano riffs, they also tour across the southeast with almost 150 dates per year.

FTOLive, the name that the group uses for their live show, not only debuts the new addition of Mike L!VE as a member, but also represents the crazy energy found in their live performance. FTO has performed at festivals across the Carolinas, and have even headlined a show at The Orange Peel in Asheville. “People don’t want to go to a show and see people just rap their lyrics, they want to be entertained, and so we’re really trying to up the ante with our live show by including some cool stuff.”

While FTO may be staying busy through their new music and touring, they still haven’t forgotten what their own values are as a group. “FTO has the idea that you can do whatever you want if you’re willing to work hard enough for it. We really want to change the world through others, through music and art. Change the world and explore your potential,” Shreve said.

While discussing the future, Shreve stated that focusing on FTO is the most important thing right now. “My goal is that in five years, FTO will be successful, and the acts that follow them will be big as well,” he said. “I would like to be behind the scenes in that time so I can pass it on and watch it happen with my own eyes.”

FTO is currently in the process of making new music, and will be performing at Timo’s House in Asheville, NC on October 23rd.

Written by Jordan Williams - The Poke Around

"N.C.-based Cypher Univercity movement grows in Asheville"

“We get born in the Cyph every minute that we breathe it / Cypher with my shadow and my heartbeat, believe it,” writes Boone-based rapper Chris Shreve, aka C. Shreve the Professor, of hip-hop collective Free the Optimus. A cipher, by conventional definition, is a code. In the Urban Dictionary sense, a cypher is a cycle — in freestyling, one rapper follows the next without breaking the circle. And on North Carolina college campuses, it’s come to mean not just a freestyle-in-the-round, but coming together in a spirit of creative expression and mutual respect.

Cypher Univercity (the “c” in univercity represents the urban roots of hip-hop) was started in 2010 at N.C. State University in Raleigh by MC Mike L!ve. The rapper, who now lives in Asheville, assembled his friends in the school’s Free Expression Tunnel to take photos for his album, God Cypher Divine. He was captured on video that night saying that the gathering might turn into a regular weekly engagement — and that’s just what happened. The five-year anniversary of the movement will be celebrated — along with the release of FTOLive, a new album from Shreve’s group and the first with L!ve as a core member — at The Orange Peel on Saturday, Aug. 29.
School’s in

Over a half-decade, Cypher Univercity spread to campuses in Greenville, Greensboro and Boone. A weekly cypher is currently held in Pritchard Park, but L!ve hopes it will move to UNC Asheville’s campus at the start of the fall semester. College students “are the youngest versions of grown adults,” says L!ve. “These kids are into art, they’re into expressing themselves. These are experiences they’ll remember for their rest of their lives.”

For that reason, L!ve and the other MCs involved with the movement have crafted their cypher not as a spotlight-grabbing, ego-boosting contest, as some mainstream cyphers suggest. Instead, L!ve cites the late religious leader Clarence 13X — a contemporary and onetime student of Malcolm X — who founded the youth movement The Five Percenters. While that group’s purpose is a topic of some disagreement, Clarence 13X did share teachings with his followers through sessions he called Ciphers.

The lessons of Cypher Univercity begin with its rules:
1. Respect (the craft, yourself, your fellow humans).
2. Project (speak up, put the word out).
3. Keep the peace.
4. F**k the camera.
5. Be original.

While No. 4 seems the most irreverent, it’s about how “rap and hip-hop, in their core forms, are very spontaneous and organic,” says Shreve. “It doesn’t mean the camera isn’t allowed, but you don’t need to be focused on that. It doesn’t need to be a music video.”

But it can be. Rising North Carolina rapper Rapsody shot the video for her single, “Drama,” at the cypher in Raleigh. And while Shreve, who was there, says it felt awkward to rap to the camera, that video has since been seen around the world. Hip-hop artists such as Asheville’s Hunter Bennett, as well as Tuscon and Jrusalam who will perform at the Orange Peel show, can be spotted on the film.

Universal language

Despite that kind of exposure, L!ve wants the Cypher Univercity events to be free of ego. Instead of high-profile rappers and videographers, “a lot of times it’ll start a cappella,” he says. “No beats. We’ll just go around in a circle.” For those who need a rhythm, the group will add accompaniment by beatboxing.

“While you’re doing it, life is happening all around. It gets interwoven into that moment,” L!ve continues. A passer-by might “kick something on the guitar and we’ll rhyme over it. Nine times out of 10, that person also sings, and next thing you know, we have a singing guitar-player as part of the hip-hop cypher.”

That sense of openness and acceptance relates to rule No. 1, which deals with how cypher participants treat each other and how they act as a community to maintain a spirit of peacefulness. And while Shreve points out that some rappers have brought heavy, politically charged and angry material to the table, the attitude among artists remains respectful. “This is lyrical, not physical,” according to the rules.

That’s why the Aug. 29 event at The Orange Peel is also billed as a stand against racism. The Cypher Univercity organizers see their movement as one that can positively impact race relations. “The whole movement is rooted in a foundation of respect,” says L!ve. “It’s a universal language.” The N.C. State cypher attracts people of all ethnicities and backgrounds, he says, so “tell me why, in five years, there hasn’t been one outbreak of a fight?”

Rap against racism

The openness of the movement not only allows for interaction among groups, but for new rappers to hone their craft alongside seasoned artists. “We’re gonna show ‘em how it’s done,” L!ve says in a Double A Productions video promoting the Orange Peel show. “We the leading revolutionaries are going to lead by example for the future.” But it’s not just rhetoric for the benefit of YouTube viewers — the cyphers create a platform for people of all walks of life to hear and be heard.

“Racial conflicts are really complex and express themselves in a lot of different ways,” says Laura Jeffords, executive director of The Mediation Center. “When people have this venue for communicating ‘What is my story, how did I come to think this and how did I reach these conclusions about what I want and what I think is important?’ that gives people a place to tell their story. [It also gives] other people a place to witness that story without necessarily responding to it in the moment. There’s a lot of room for understanding and finding common ground in that and for recognizing that person’s humanity.”

She adds, “Sometimes with art, because it can be a more complex and nuanced way of communicating, it can be a really neat way for people to hear about other people’s experiences.” Jeffords points to initiatives like the YWCA-led Stand Against Racism as powerful opportunities for people to address topics of race relations and perceptions through community, group and individual activities. Such outlets, she says, are more important now than ever.


“Part of what’s so important about mediation is self-determination,” Jeffords says. “People can and should and need to express themselves in the way that works for them. … We encourage people to tell their story in a way that’s meaningful to them. When people hear those stories, that’s where they find common ground.”

Such opportunities might become more available. The Cypher Univercity movement is growing (the Asheville-based cypher celebrates its first anniversary this month), as is attention on the North Carolina hip-hop scene. FTO recently received the Carolina Music Award for best hip-hop group in the Carolinas. “We are thrilled to have had our hard work recognized,” Shreve says, but he’s also aware that with attention comes competition, shifting values, commercialization and other potentially ugly side effects. Still, he says, “if you get a higher platform, more people can hear your passionate message.”

The forthcoming FTOLive album ties in many of the Cypher Univercity ideas. The name, says Shreve, both highlights L!ve the MC and celebrates the group’s live show. “It was a cool way to look at beats, for me,” he says. “This time, I wasn’t listening for me. I was like, ‘I can hear L!ve destroy this!’” The variety of MCs on the album means there’s a beat and style for every musical taste, and the guest list includes local favorites such as Colston, Bennett and Chachillie.

A video for the song “1234,” set to be released close to the Orange Peel show, plays off the four pillars of hip-hop (the DJ, the MC, breakdancing and graffiti). The scene is a classroom setting. Shreve’s day job is as a teacher at Appalachian State (hence his stage name, “the Professor”), so there’s an inside joke, but the rapper master-class theme is a big nod to the Cypher Univercity movement. If the stage (and the street and the college campus) could be his classroom via hip-hop, “I’d like it be that I taught my class to 50,000 people each summer, and they all got it,” says Shreve. - Mountain Xpress

"C. Shreve the Professor can’t stop, won’t stop in ‘Summer Ransom’"

C. Shreve the Professor has been one of my favorite rappers that not too many people know about. Like any good secret, he’s full of wonders and surprises, and he’s finally released something beyond the typical song or EP, a full length album has finally emerged to see the light of day.
Summer Ransom is a lyric heavy, smooth sounding piece that eloquently pieces thoughts together to bring together some really enlightening lyrics together. With a heavy emphasis on their talent than flashy signs and designer clothes, the rapper brings the true essence of what it means to be a true lyrical master. - Earmilk


2014 - C.Shreve the Professor "Summer Ransom"
2013 - C.Shreve the Professor "Professing Vol. 2"
2013 - C.Shreve the Professor "Professing Vol. 1"
2012 - C.Shreve the Professor "Table Scraps"
2012 - Free The Optimus "FTOverseas"
2012 - Mind Ninjas "Burning Leaf Technique"
2012 - Free The Optimus "The Rise (of c.shreve)"
2010 - C.Shreve "The Mouthawilson Mindstate"



Free The Optimus is an Asheville, North Carolina based hip hop collective focused on bringing improvisational lyricism to jazz influenced boom bap soundscapes. C.Shreve defines Free the Optimus as “a call to action—to set free our optimal ability & our optimistic perspective, and to transform the world around us.”

In live performance form, FTO consists of C.Shreve the Professor and Mike L!VE on vocals, DJ Jet on the turntables,and a rotating selection of guest MCs & musicians. The jazz / hip hop mindset of free form improvisation and collaboration is a vital component to the FTO live experience, as songs and structure are often tossed aside in favor of the energy and groove of the moment. 

Free The Optimus has toured and shared stages with The Hieroglyphics, Cannibal Ox, Big K.R.I.T., Three 6 Mafia, Guilty Simpson, BJ the Chicago Kid, Planet Asia, Blueprint, Tanya Morgan, Illogic, Rapper Big Pooh, and many more. FTO has performed at the Blue Plum Festival, Harvest Boone, Hidden In The Hollow, DURM Hip Hop Summit, Boone in Blossom, Raleigh Fall Music Festival and GURP Fest. 

FTOLive, the next full album release, is being finalized and will be released in early 2016.

Band Members