What Is a Rap Cypher? [+HOW TO GET GOOD WHEN IN ONE!!]

Hip hop is quickly becoming one of the most popular styles of music. Over the past century, hip hop and rap have grown quite a fan base, and these fans love going to concerts, festivals, and cyphers.

A rap cypher is a group of followers or fans that gather around to watch an impromptu hip hop or rap performance. These typically take place on an amateur level but have become increasingly more popular as hip hop has grown in popularity.

To learn more about rap cyphers and these impromptu performances, read on!

History of Hip Hop, Rap, and Cyphers

Rap and hip hop began in the Bronx of New York City and was first seen as a means of peaceful political protest. Because these protests were often race-related, most of the first rappers were of African or Latino descent.

This means of protesting began to gain momentum and popularity around the 1970s when the demographics of the Bronx began to change rapidly. White people began rapidly moving to suburbs, leaving minority groups in the unkept cities. Many faced economic hardships and looked for a new way to express their frustration; therefore, initiating the birth of hip hop.

Throughout the following decades, hip hop was going to be introduced to DJs, MCs, and finally rappers. DJ Kool Herc was one of the first performers to use rapping in hip hop music, and he is also largely credited with rap becoming so popular in the hip hop community.

In the 1990s, hip hop really began to take the world by storm; truly, the whole world. I can remember DJ Kool and Doug E Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew being some of my favourite music at the time!! It was like nothing we had heard before! Watching the above video brought back some real childhood memories!

Hip hop was being referred to as a “global musical epidemic.” As more people were being exposed to this new style of music, more people wanted to experiment and try out hip hop for themselves.

This need to express and experiment created the birth of the cypher( or cipher). Cyphers created a place for people to experience the music and try out some of their own ideas in front of others. Cyphers inspired a sense of creativity, competition, and community. Even though they originated in the Bronx as well, cyphers began to pop up all over the world.

In a cypher, artists were encouraged to share their own freestyle raps with other hip hop connoisseurs, while being exposed to new talent and new music. It became a staple in the spread and popularization of hip hop and rapping and is still a huge part of hip hop today.

break dance was also growing in popularity alongside rapping in cyphers!!
I have fond memories of how break dancing rose to popularity alongside rapping!

Freestyle Rapping

The main point of a cypher is gathering to share freestyle raps, but what exactly are freestyle raps? How are they different from regular hip hop or rap music?

Well, freestyle can be broken down into two main groups, pre-written and improvised. Some rappers will diligently plan and write a few verses or bars they’d like to share with whoever may be at the cypher. They will do this days or weeks before they ever set out to perform.

However, other rappers may show up to cyphers without anything pre-written or planned. These rappers will hear a beat and be able to generate rhymes off the top of their head. Sometimes, these impromptu styles will resemble a sort of rap battle, and performers will go back and forth, dissing one another with their verses.

These two different styles were seldom popular at the same time. In the beginning of freestyle rap, the first definition was almost exclusively accepted. “Freestyle” was just a pre-written piece about any topic the artist decided upon. In modern-day freestyling, we see more of the improvised stylings and rap battles occurring.

Freestyle artists perfect their craft by viewing it as a conversation. They may also view it as a rhyming game, which they practice frequently. The meter and rhythm of freestyle raps are much more relaxed than they are in traditional styled rap music.

How to Hold Your Own in a Cypher

So, after reading all of this, maybe you decide you’d like to watch or even perform in a cypher. That’s great! The first step is learning how to give a great performance, which means learning how to freestyle rap.

More than likely, you’ll encounter a cypher that is arranged like a rap battle, so you’ll have to be ready and able to perform an improvised rap rather than something pre-written. Here are just a few tips on how to master improvised rapping:

  • Freestyle rap in your car. Instead of blasting tunes and belting out your favorite song, try coming up with some of your own verses. This will turn your boring drive into productive time spent honing your craft. Start by freestyling a capella so you can go at your own pace, and then add a beat once you feel more confident.
  • Scat or mumble on rhythm. Sometimes, the most important part of freestyle rapping is getting a sense of the beat and flow of a song. You can practice doing this without having to stress about rhyming words and rapping things that make sense. This is a great first step if you’re new to freestyle rapping and need to get a feel for the music.

Once you’ve mastered scatting to the rhythm, you can try only rapping on beats 2 and 4 or build rhyme patterns on those beats. Keep doing this until you feel confident enough to try something a little more textbook “freestyle.”

  • Expand your vocabulary. The more words you know, the more words you know that rhyme. Learning new words and expanding your vocab ensures that you have a huge word bank to choose from when you’re searching for that next rhyming word or phrase.
  • Record yourself. Every now and then, it is important to critique yourself and see if you are meeting the expectations of a cypher. A great way to assess your progress and do this is by recording yourself. You can record audio and really focus on sound quality and poetry of your freestyle, or you can record audio and focus on your showmanship and performance ability as well.
  • Practice using all different kinds of beats. Don’t practice with the same few tracks over and over. Freestyling is all about being prepared with whatever is thrown at you in the cypher. The more beats you’re familiar with, the easier it will be to adapt when it comes time to perform.
  • Write your own rhymes for practice. The more thoughts you’re able to get down on paper, the more likely you’ll be able to use some of your pre-written rhymes in your improvised performance. This is viewed as especially impressive because you’ll look well-rehearsed and confident using complex rhymes.

With enough practice, anyone can be a great freestyle rapper. It just takes time, patience, dedication, and, most importantly, love and passion for the music. You’ll be ready for your first cypher in no time.

Conclusion

Cyphers are an important part of the establishment and popularization of rap and hip hop music. As rap has changed over time, so has the cypher. However, it still remains an instrumental part of the hip hop music industry today.

Rap and hip hop may never stop changing and dominating the charts, but it will always have its history and background. Thanks to the cypher, hip hop was able to grow in popularity and change and influence the world for decades. The roots of hip hop, including cyphers, are what makes it stand apart from other genres. Without these roots, we may not know many of our favorite songs today.

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