Cypher (Explicit)


n. a message written in a secret code
v. convert ordinary language into code; “We should encode the message for security reasons” (The Free Dictionary)


n. Anything cyclical. If your freestyling, you rap in a cypher (one after the other). Interrupting another man will break that cypher (unless he’s next in line and the dude behind him is falling off).[…] Never break the damn cipher (Urban Dictionary)

People of color are more likely to be blinded by police lights than spotlight. We’re more likely to turn up dead Saturday night than just turn up. There are three things that made me want to make this post. First, that I needed to pull together a portfolio and these videos remind me that poetry doesn’t just come to you through page and mic, but in everything you come in contact with if you listen hard enough. Second, Zola’s twitter story about sex trafficking, attempted suicide, and violence going viral. And how, while it’s hilarious and well-written, it’s a perfect reflection of how people of color talk about trauma as if it’s an everyday occurrence, because it is. Third, this is a language I understand very well. It’s the exact opposite of Chen Chen’s The School of Fury. My family raised us on words, on quick quips and wit, on beats that thunder so loud our hearts’ teeth chatter. Listening to cyphers feels like coming home and in a world that wants us gone, it’s one of the safest, most powerful feelings I’ll ever get. Despite a world that demands our silence, these artists speak their truth and speak it loud, and in this post, I want us all to listen.

Broader Than Broadway: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, and Black Thought

This is the one that got me falling down the rabbit hole. My sister and I are huge fans of theatre but most of the people we know laughed it off, called us Oreos for loving such “whiteness”. Watching this cypher made theatre an “us” thing, a black people can have this too thing, a speaking up isn’t just for white people thing and that’s real important.

The Cypher: Tech N9ne, B.O.B., Kendrick Lamar and Machine Gun Kelly

“If you ain’t reppin for your people
then you shuckin and jivin”

(click here to watch on YouTube)

BET Hip-Hop Awards 2014 Cypher: Mook, Arsonal, Calicoe, Couture, and Plus Loaded Lux

“So they through me to the lions’ pit,
I came back with the lion
Taught it how to sit”

(click here to watch on YouTube)

2012 Ruff Ryder Cypher: DMX, Eve, Cassidy, and Murda Mook

“I do this for my chicks that don’t rest
Don’t stop until you the best”

(click here to watch on YouTube)

The Cypher 1.0: Cortez, DNA, Ms Fit, Da Don

(click here to watch on YouTube)

2014 BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher: Goodz, T Rex, Tsu Surfer, & Rain 910

(click here to watch on YouTube)

BET Hip Hop Awards 2014 Cypher: David Banner, Treach, Vic Mensa, Snow tha Product, and King Los

My jaw literally dropped during this one.

(click here to watch on YouTube)


Contributing Editor

Alexis Smithers is a twenty one year old explosion of messes. They are queer black writer that was published in a book about how horses heal (Wild at Heart by Heather Kirby), and has work that can be found on theEEEL. Fun facts: they tied a pillowcase to their back and tried to fly after seeing Sky High, their mantra can be found in Wreck-It Ralph, The Babadook, or Orphan Black (depending on the day) and they’re terrified of mostly everything but art makes the fear easier to hold.