Hip hop is an art-form rooted in community, mentorship and creative competition. Without these core functions there would be no fuel to fire the engines of a cultural powerhouse that has acted as a launching pad for countless artists since the early 70’s. Hip hop as a culture was catalyzed during a series of block parties thrown at an apartment complex in the west side of the Bronx. It was common for DJs to spin disco, funk and soul but it wasn’t until they DJs began isolating the percussive breaks during popular tracks. In order to keep “the break” of a song to play extended you would need two turntables that would alternate playing that portion of the record. This method of keeping the rhythm began to attract poets and wordsmiths would rhyme over the repeating beats. Crowds began to grow, they culture sprouted a unique dance form (breakdancing) and a specialist method of communicating art visually (graffiti) completing the foundational circle of a culture that would take the world by storm.
In the early years, before any record industry would enact their influence, it was critical that artists would both teach and challenge each other in order to refine their skills. Behind all of the glitz and glam of modern day hip hop popular culture this creative conduct is alive and flourishing in the basement furnace of hip hop.
Every Monday evening in the “Free Expression Tunnel” at NC State there is a gathering of artists who are holding the torch for the most fundamental function of hip hop and rap music. It is known as “The Cypher”, a free-form gathering of professional musicians side by side with beginners to conduct an open-air, open mic expression of spoken word, rap music and lyrical refinement.
The concentration began in 2010 initially organized by artists Hunters Mike Live, Tuscon & Ghost Dog. People gather, form a circle while encouraging and challenging each other to hone their improvisational freestyle rhyming styles.
In the years since the event’s inception the freestyle cypher has grown substantially sprouting parallel cyphers in Appalachian State University, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Asheville, Durham, and UNC-Chapel Hill. Artists come to the cypher from other states, by word of mouth, just to return home and try to start cyphers in their own respective cities. It’s a beautiful infection of affection.
If hip hop is to persevere it is critical that the crucible of the cypher continues to thrive. A place where artists can find community, mentorship and challenge while acting as fertile ground for ideas, innovations and creative expression.