Poor BET has yet to master the art of award shows. Much like a Memphis Bleek song, the only time it excels is when an outside source comes in to do the heavy lifting.
In the case of the BET Hip Hop Awards, we have to thank the DJs in the hip hop cyphers.
If you’re reading this blog I assume you know what a cypher is: a collection of rappers rhyming their faces off.
Last year’s awards show set the bar extremely high for cyphers thanks to Eminem and his ravenous crew. Does this year’s collection hold up? In a word, no. But there were some surprises.
Before we get into the cypher, if you haven’t already, check out my 20 Questions review of the award show itself. Hope you like 2 Chainz. Cuz I don’t.
Anyway, here’s the Cypher Report Card.
Cypher No. 1: The T.I. Cypher
Trae Tha Truth: Trae kicked his usual solid verse, along with his usual mumbling. Why does he rap like there’s a baby sleeping in the background? 3.5/5
Chip: Some guy from the UK. He did an admirable job but wasn’t very memorable. 3.5/5
Iggy Azalea: The crowd went NUTS for her for reasons I still don’t understand. She sounds like Charli Baltimore with a head cold. 3/5
B.O.B.: I’ve never been the biggest B.O.B. fan but he showed a lot of passion here. “Your girl thirstier than third-world villages.” Heh. 4/5
T.I.: T.I. does what T.I. does – “Grand Hustle,” “trouble man,” blah blah, same old stuff. 3.5/5
Cypher Champ: B.O.B.
Cypher No. 2: The Random Guys Cypher
Jaybird The Purdi Boi: Never heard of dude before tonight. He certainly loaded up on punchlines but didn’t have much in between. 3.5/5
Hopsin: Apparently Hopsin borrowed Method Man’s creepy contacts that give him demon eyes. Hopsin’s verse caught a lot of flak online but I thought it was relatively strong. 4/5
Schoolboy Q: The most overrated member of Kendrick Lamar’s Black Hippy/TDE crew. As usual, his flow was much too lackadaisical for my tastes. There’s a difference between laid-back and just lacking passion. I’m also not sure why he spent more time talking about Kendrick’s upcoming album that Kendrick did himself. 3.5/5
Mac Miller: How tall is this dude? Like 3’11? His delivery seemed way off. 3/5
Mystikal: To repeat a phrase I’ve been saying for years, “Mystikal is out of jail again?” Typical Mystikal – 80% voice, 20% lyrics, 100% weak. 2.5/5
Cypher Champ: Hopsin. Sue me.
Cypher No. 3: The Underground Cypher
Jean Grae: Now I’m a huge fan of Jeanie but her flow seemed WAY off. She just couldn’t adapt to the beat. Too bad, because her verse was nice. 3.5/5
Sarkodie: Some dude from Ghana. Even with the subtitles I couldn’t tell what was going on. Does that make me xenophobic? 2/5, I guess. Who knows.
Ab Soul: The most underrated member of Kendrick Lamar’s Black Hippy/TDE crew. I expected Ab to wreck shop but he seemed slightly lethargic. What were those TDE guys sipping and smoking before the taping? 3.5/5
Talib Kweli: FINALLY some intensity. Kweli came in and showed poise, confidence and lyricism. He lived up to his rep. 4.5/5
Cypher Champ: Talib Kweli. Duh.
Cypher No. 4: The RZA Cypher
Wu-Tang Clan kingpin RZA was behind the boards for this one, so of course it was awesome.
Angel Haze: This woman straight-up sleepwalked through her verses. “Only one ‘I’ like cyclops.” OK, playa. 2/5
Joey Bada$$: The hip hop progeny. The dude is years away from turning 21 but still can rhyme circles around your favorite rapper. His verse was strong, as expected, but didn’t blow me away, as I hoped. 4/5
Driicky Graham: Yeah, the “Snapback and Tattoos” guy. I gotta say, I expected nothing but the usual radio rap buffoonery but instead I witnessed a true showcase of his skills. He weaved together some decent punchlines along with a great flow. I’m not going to go cop a “Snapbacks and Tattoos” hoodie but I was definitely impressed. 4/5
Childish Gambino: Hip hop needs less Young Money and more artists like Gambino. His hilariously self-depreciating rhymes (“why the game f*cked up like my hairline?”) and creative delivery (his off-the-wall Whole Foods rant) make him the star of the show. 4.5/5
A$AP Rocky: The biggest mainstream star of the cypher wound up being the most disappointing. Like a lot of other established artists, he didn’t seem interested in going above and beyond. 3.5/5
Cypher Champ: Childish Gambino, surprisingly
Cypher No. 5: The West Coast Cypher
Xzhibit: The West Coast OG was READY to go in. He couldn’t wait turn the clock back to 1999 and make you forget about Pimp My Ride. Great showing. 4/5
YG: “Your money knee-high, my money yee-hah.” Playa please. 3/5
Kurput: Is Kurupt OK? He looked really emaciated. I was concerned. Oh, his verse? He was aiight. 3.5/5
E-40: E. Fonzerelli! He proved he’s “still hot like the left sink handle.” The man is a punchline machine. 4/5
DJ Quik: Quik, it’s 2012, why do you still have a perm? Quik was never a stellar lyricist … and that has not changed. 3/5
Kendrick Lamar: Everyone’s pick for cypher standout went as hard as expected, leaving almost all the veterans in the dust. Darth Vader says “Impressive. Most impressive.” 4.5/5
Snoop “Lion”: So, I guess Snoop is really going through with this Lion thing, huh? 3/5
Cypher Champ: Kendrick Lamar
Cypher No. 6: The Ruff Ryder Cypher
Mook: Like that Chip guy, Mook had a decent but forgettable showing. No one will be saying “YO MOOK KILLED DAT CYPHER” in the morning.
Cassidy: The Hustler crawled from whatever rock he’s been hiding under for five years, spitting his trademark punchlines. He threatened to make someone look like a lowercase ‘i.’ Ha! The guy struggles to make hit songs but when it comes to raw lyricism, he’s unmatched. He was made for cyphers. 4/5
Eve: ‘Bout time Eve got serious about rapping again. Like Xzhibit, she hasn’t missed a beat, sounding much hungrier than she has in years. 4/5
DMX: Ah, the verse I was waiting for. Of course, this being DMX, I think he forgot that we were on BET so half his verse had to be edited. Ugh. Still, what we heard sounded pretty good. 4/5
Cypher Champ: DMX
2012 BET CYPHER GRAND CHAMPION:
It wasn’t even close, he just spits so effortlessly. Not too many other artists can shine in a room filled with hip-hop legends. No wonder Schoolboy has a mancrush on him.
Overall, there was a depressing lack of intensity among lyricists. Most seemed like we were supposed to be impressed that they showed up. It’s pretty telling that a lot of the newer artists were too cocky to go hard, while vets like Xzhibit, Kweli and DMX were more eager to step up.
Despite that, honorable mention goes to Childish Gambino. He earned my respect tonight.