Back in the day, a cipher was a generally random gathering of cats who let the spirit take them and spontaneously busted out in rhyme. A cipher could be spit a capella, to a beat box, or, if you were lucky, you had an instrumental in your boom box.
It was generally good natured and devoid of all the battle hostility. One person would build off the person before them and it would generally be off the top. Sorry folks, no “styling on you” moments or rap eye jammies.
As Hip-Hop moved away from the concrete jungles of New York to less pedestrian areas, the cipher became less common, as you can’t really have one in your car, we can’t hear you in the club, and at barbeques, you’re too busy eating or playing dominoes.
BET recently breathed some life back into the cipher as part of the promotion for their recent Awards show. They had groups of rappers showing their emcee sides in a little homage to the way things used to be. For this exercise, we’ll take a look at “Cypher # 3.”
Hosted by the legendary DJ Premiere, this clip features four emcees getting down over some good old fashioned boom bap. Despite the fact that none of these verses are off the head, and ignoring the conspicuous fact that all of the artists in this particular clip are *gasp* Def Jam artists (shout to Shakir), as a whole they did a bangup job. However, this is Hip-Hop so you know there’s a competitive element to everything. So I ask the question: Who Killed Cypher # 3 the most?
First up, WE DA BESSSSSSST’s first son Ace Hood. Spitting the most clearly written verse of the four, he doesn’t do anything to play himself out. His delivery is smooth, and he sounds polished. He’s clearly the baby of this bunch but there’s nothing here to be ashamed of. Solid
Contender number two, Dipset Representer, Skull Gang General Juelz Santana. Without the generally noisy production of his cohorts to hide behind, Juelz abandons the kiddie Cam style and actually does some Mc’ing on this. Couple nice lines, delivery started a lil off beat but he found his rhythm and finished strong. For a while it actually sounded like he was trying to go off the dome. Probably by design but he did his thing. Not the best but a good showing.
Next up, and in my opinion the title taker of this joint, Loso a.k.a F-a-b-o-l-o-u-s. He showed the most confidence, the most presence, and the second most energy behind Juelz. His punchlines were witty and well-timed and he just seemed in control the whole time like it was nothing. I always thought his output was generally beneath his actual talent level, but to me he’s clearly the best on this joint. Bodybags.
Last but not least we have the collabo killer Jadakiss of death (one of the most underrated names ever). I have to say, I was underwhelmed by Kiss’ performance on this. Maybe he’s going more against his own performance history, but there are no face frowning moments or no “OOOHH” moments like “haters shaking like Ali holding the torch.” Just run of the mill Jada. There’s no energy or hunger or excitement. It feels like he mailed it in. It’s not a wack verse by any means but I feel he could roll out of bed and spit that any day. Fab bodied him on this.
There you have it, one guy’s opinion, but how do you guys fell about it? Peep the poll. Hit me up, but before I’m done I got a final bit of fun it’s the mighty Mos Def in a cipher of one, that’s mos and not least sounding clearly like a beast and with that alley cats I’m a have to say peace. Cypher 4 here I come.
**No rappers were hurt in the production of this article.**