(Editors' note: We're interrupting our usual Please Jam protocol of commenting on new singles to weigh in on what has become a marquee cultural event in rap music, the BET Hip-Hop Awards cyphers.)
JAMES: The longer this went on, the more I appreciated it, and Rocky is clearly way ahead of the rest of the A$AP crew in terms of talent and ability. The other three rappers were all using an intensity in their voice to sell the rhymes. Rocky is so smooth. That kid has bars. Hell of a verse. Probably something he’d only save for BET, too.
VINCE: I wanted Ferg to show a little more amped, defiant perversion. He's especially entertaining when he's reveling. The other three from the Mob were decent. And then Rocky showed out. All that screwed-chopped/Clams Casino production tamps down just how Harlem he is. But over that break beat from The Godfather James Brown (I can’t think of the particular song, right now, which is incredibly embarrassing), your boy Rocky got on his New York ‘ish super slick. The Mob hook was hard, too.
JAMES: This was the most anticipated cypher of the bunch, mainly because BET leaked a fifteen second clip of Kendrick Lamar dissing Drake. Aside from this little competition/rivalry/turkey-beef that may or may not actually be going on between those two, this was also the cypher I had highest hopes for. I expected more. ScHoolboy’s got an album coming out sometime in the near future. Did that resonate? He might need a live crowd to really get going. I mean, it was nice, but mostly forgettable. That’s actually pretty much how I felt about the whole thing, though I really enjoyed Jay Rock. Maybe it’s an exposure thing. Either way, looking forward to more of his music.
VINCE: Ha. Rhyming over “Shook Ones”...interesting.
I feel like Q was literally freestyling his verse. That felt like it was off the top of the dome. Which would be dope. Either that or he was botching his bars and that would be dumb. Q also strikes me as someone that doesn't take kindly to the jester role, so these inauthentic cyphers might not be his thing. But they NEED to be his thing, as emcees get very few large-scale platforms like this, unless you're already a star.
Kendrick is supremely talented. The way he plays with the tempo and cadence of his flows in his verses is one of the most artistic elements in rap vocals right now. As for the Drake lean-beef, I need to do some research. I had no idea they had legit issues. I mean, the two dudes just collaborated on a hit (“Poetic Justice”) that was on heavy rotation for half of 2013. There's no way any rapper could take “Control” seriously. So what's the deal here?
Your boy K.dot is feelin' himself though...like a post-Carter II Wayne. Kendrick can feel rock star status approaching and he's adjusting his swag accordingly. His tour with Kanye and his follow-up album are important.
JAMES: I love how Slaughterhouse is so pissed that they get disrespected -- well, not so much disrespected as overlooked -- and they just channel it into things like this. They don’t sweat it either, just lay down bars on bars on bars until you have to take notice. Crooked I nearly had Joell Ortiz rolling on the floor at one point. It wasn’t quite an ether, but this cypher made it quite clear that Slaughterhouse is on par with anyone in rap lyrically. One question...where was the Rap God?
VINCE: I was uninspired. In that 2011 “Hi, Rihanna” cypher -- the one in which Eminem went coconuts -- everything about their cypher was a statement. I don’t know if you remember that year of cyphers, JC, but it was 2011 and Slaughterhouse closed the show. Before them there was a Maybach cypher, a cypher of foreigners, a skinny jeans cypher...a freaking Chris Brown-led cypher. Everything was style over substance and then Slaughterhouse -- with Yelawolf -- came out and SLAYED those clowns. Gave me goose bumps.
With no Em, Joe a reality star and Royce semi-reserved, this year’s was merely four incredibly talented emcees (to varying degrees), tossing out a C+ performance that still bested their peers cyphers. That's saying a lot.
Lil’ Kim And Friends
JAMES: Well this is a pretty random crew of people. I thought it was weird that Action Bronson wasn’t on the TDE cypher, and I then discovered his signing was a Twitter hoax, which was depressing to realize. Everyone on here can spit, but what was up with Travi$ Scott? Maybe he’s camera shy. Looked like he was out of his element [Vince note: Bingo. That dude ain’t no emcee]. Not that it mattered once Lil’ Kim appeared outta nowhere. She completely stole the show.
VINCE: Worth it for Kim's face and Foxx's curves. I am definitely objectifying Foxx -- she seems, ahem, enhanced -- and she doesn't seem all that interested in spittin' bars. What did she give that cypher? That wasn’t a hot-16...more like a room temp-4. The curves were working overtime though.
Jon Connor And Friends
JAMES: Well this was immediately disappointing because it’s the same beat as the last one. I like Wax. Shoutout to the farmers in Peru. Jon Connor is pretty good, too. But that guy Rittz from Atlanta? That guy is awesome [Vince note: Tsk, tsk, tsk. So blatant with the tribalism]. Gonna be perusing his collection soon.
VINCE: Jon Connor came out sounding out Talib Kweli then morphed into a potpourri of other influences. This was an aesthetically and geographically commendable cypher. You had a B-girl from NC, some Italian dude dressed like Adam Levine and, of course, RITTZ. I don't even know where to begin with him. He spoke of not letting Nas down. I can assure him that he won't, as I'd be floored if Nas is somehow invested in dude’s career.
The Real Husbands Of Hollywood
JAMES: This was very well done. It reminds me of what you were saying last week about Trinidad Jame$, that everybody in that generation grew up kicking freestyles. Obviously, these BET cyphers are scripted, but they still all managed to come up with a pretty strong verse. I’m sure Nick Cannon and Nelly were helpful. Even they both held themselves accountable for people more known for television now.
VINCE: Only Boris Kodjoe seemed uncomfortable, because, yes, there’s no doubt that K-Hart, Nelly, JB and Cannon all grew up kicking freestyles with their friends. In addition, they’re all performers, so this was nothing for them. That crew has a lot of chemistry. Hart has a nice franchise on his hands. I still think his best musical performance was his remake of “Lost Without You” on the first season of Real Husbands.
Pro Era Post-Award Show Cypher
JAMES: Game over.
VINCE: Random thoughts…
-- The beat selection was expert. Those are the joints you wanna rhyme over.
-- Dessy Hands was so overtly emcee’ish. The way he bogarted through the pack yelling “warm it up, warm it up, warm it up, argh!” That was a quintessential cypher move. Even the way he handled his mic, with the cord wrapped around his fingers and wrist. True School.
-- If all the young crews battled over the same beats, Odd Future would take the crown, then Pro Era, TDE and A$AP in that order. If the crews battled over beats that matched their known aesthetic, Pro Era would win, then TDE, Odd Future and A$AP in that order -- nothing is better for battles than boom bap. If the leaders of each crew had to battle to break a four-way tie, Joey would be the victor, with Kendrick as a close second, then Rocky, then Earl (although, Tyler is the leader). I say this because battling is not just the bars, it also has to do with presence and showmanship and Earl lacks in that arena, while Kendrick drips with charisma. Joey is the perfect storm. Bar for bar, Earl would probably just edge Joey.
-- I’ve said this before, but Pro Era reminds me so much of my crew at that age. We’d have had that exact same cypher, spitting over those exact same beats. Same disposition, same everything...maybe just a few more 40 bottles. They’re such throwbacks
-- Almost forgot...Please jam...