2015 BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher Review


You know, I’m REALLY interested in seeing the ratings for this year’s annual Hip-Hop Awards. With half the black community pissed at BET for skipping Million Man March coverage to air reruns of Holiday Heart and Get Rich or Die Tryin, and the other half busy watching the first Democratic presidential debate, viewership probably included me, Debra Lee, Future’s grandma and 20 kids who watched for the “Hit the Quan” tutorial.

You can  blame Debra Lee or #DaIlluminatiz or your boogeyman of choice, but this year’s hip-hop awards seemed to be an afterthought. It didn’t help that its main draw, the cyphers, were filled with more than a few unproven, unknown, or downright uninteresting artists.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t get some hot bars throughout the night. Before we go into the actual breakdown of the night’s cyphers, here’s what you missed when you decided to #BoycottBET:

— Transcript of Future’s performance: fdafas fdafdaf eagdags gtegadsfa gadfa ewgagvda agadfasfas

— Uncle Snoop Dogg opened the show by playing snippets of random songs off his iPhone. He had a few more forgettable skits throughout the night.

— Transcript of Rich Homie Quan’s performance:  fdafas fdafdaf eagdags gtegadsfa gadfa ewgagvda agadfasfas OOH OOH OOH OOH

— In a pretty nice tribute, Scarface received the I Am Hip Hop Award. Then, upholding the grand tradition of black award shows, he was immediately arrested after the show.

— Transcript of Travis Scott’s performance:  fdafas fdafdaf eagdags gtegadsfa gadfa ewgagvda agadfasfas

They should have given the closed captions the Lifetime Achievement Award.

But we weren’t here for the awards. We were here for the #bars.

The Freshmen +1 Super Senior Cypher

Charles Hamilton: Yes, Charles Hamilton emerged from the back of a milk carton to try to live up to the hype that was heaped upon us five years ago. Homie was rapping like his clutch was broken — he was stuck in second gear and couldn’t take off. “I ain’t write any of this,” he spit — maybe you should have, it would have been better. 3/5

Jackie Spade: Spade is the winner of Sprite’s Hot 16 contest and, historically, those winners make the most of the opportunity. He was definitely hungry but still lacked a little bit of seasoning. Still, pretty nice for a rookie outing. 3.5/5

Joyner Lucas: Speaking of hunger, my dude Joyner Lucas was FAMISHED. The brother may have looked like he bought his outfit from a stormtrooper but all was forgiven once those punchlines came raining down. “What’s an STD if you’re Magic Johnson?” — line of the night. 4/5

Tink: I’m admittedly a pretty big Tink stan, so I was ready for her to sweep the competition. What we got was pretty good, but she didn’t stomp all over her adversaries like Sasquatch as I expected. Her set just seemed too abbreviated. 3.5/5

Cypher champ: Joyner Lucas

The Def Squad Cypher

Erick Sermon: This was the cypher hip-hop heads were waiting for and I was a bit surprised they rolled it out so early. E kicked things off and, well, he sounded like E always sounds. Don’t get me wrong, Erick’s been part of some legendary groups and produced unforgettable songs, but his lyric content has always been marginal at best. I mean, this was his hottest bar: “rappers are 2pac spelled backward/caput.”


We still got love for you, E. 2.5/5

Redman: There’s gotta be an APB out on my man Reggie — that man MURDERDEATHKILLED that cypher. Red was stepping over body bags and kicking over funeral wreaths while rattling off his patented blend of lyricism and hilarity. “Lift my pimp hand up like, ‘why I oughta….'” had me DYING. The open-aired structure of a cypher allowed him to really cut loose. No restrictions, no rules, no mercy.  4.5/5

Keith Murray: Poor Keith really had his back against the wall here. He not only had to follow Redman’s path of rage, but he was also fresh off of getting his head handed to him by Fredro Starr in a recent rap battle. After getting a truckload of Ls delivered to your doorstep, no one would blame Keith for cracking under pressure. And after a clunky start (was he really throwing shots at Diddy?) he finished really strong. He needed that win. 3.5/5

Cypher champ: Funk Doctor Spock

The Rappers Your Younger Cousin Says Are Hot Cypher

King Mez: Mez was most recently featured on Dr. Dre’s Compton and like his features there, he was just kinda meh here. Not garbage, but besides rapping all ANGRILY n’ stuff, there was no content that resonated with the listener. 3/5

J-Doe: “Every dude hatin, I’m what every woman want tho …. You gotta be lame if you ain’t feelin’ that.” Speak for yourself playa. 2/5

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Raury w/ my grandma’s church hat: Props to Raury for trying to use the stage to kick a little knowledge and provide enlightenment, but that’s a tough task during a cypher when every syllable counts. Getting too wordy sacrifices your flow, which hurt Raury a bit here. 3/5

Casey Veggies: Casey sort of fell in the same trap as Raury — telling his life story and whatnot — but his experience on the big stage helped him not get overwhelmed by the track. Again, nothing wrong with the content, but getting introspective in a cypher only works in quick spurts. Spend too much time on Sunday school lessons and you lose the listener. 3.5/5

Vince Staples: The rap world is in love with Staples these days, so I know these seven words are gonna get y’all nestled directly in your feelings: Twitter lied. His verse was pretty average. And I know half of y’all are gonna flood my inbox saying ‘BUT HE KILLED IT B! HE OUTRAPPED THE BEAT.’ Um, yeah and his verses were no better without the beat as they were with it.  No Staples shade here, he delivered a solid performance, but Twitter WAY overhyped this one. Shocking, I know. 3.5/5

Cypher champ: Vince Staples, but just barely

The Hamilton on Broadway Cypher

Lin-Manuel Miranda: So this cypher features the Broadway cast of Hamilton, which is, um, interesting, I guess. It’s better than having the cast of Empire in the cypher, I’ll say that. Miranda stared things off, name-dropping rappers like Game on the witness stand. You ain’t gotta prove to us that you know hip-hop, playa. I just couldn’t get past his stilted flow. 2.5/5

Renee Elise Goldsberry: “We know the founding fathers but the mothers are a mystery.” Goldsberry knows how to tap into that female demographic. Not bad, actually. 3/5

Daveed Diggs: Advice for future cypher participants — ALL Y’ALL can’t pull of the double-time flow. Rapping faster doesn’t make your bars stronger; half the time it just makes them more incomprehensible. We got at least one or two Tacky Twistas in every cypher and it was aggravating. EVERYBODY CHILL. And oh yeah, Diggs was OK. It would have been even better if he slowed down. 3/5

Black Thought: Well of COURSE Black Thought would make his competition look like Kidz Bop.  His delivery is always so effortless, even in a pressure-cooker environment like a cypher. While most of the cypher rookies sound like they’re trying too hard, Thought makes it all seem so easy. “Keeping up with the Jones or the Kardashians, only to be exposed like Ashley Madison” — poignant and powerful. 4.5/5

Cypher champ: Black Thought. Duh.

The Beatbox Cypher

Nicole Paris: This is my first time hearing of Miss Paris, and she was easily the best beatboxer I’ve heard in years. She has the art down to a science.

Rahzel: Not to be outdone, Rahzel hit back by beatboxing the “Grindin'” beat. I did not think it was humanly possible for the human vocal chords to do that.

Doug E. Fresh: Fresh actually began the cypher with a few intro bars before letting Nicole and Rahzel do their thing, then stepped back in to wrap things up with a joint session at the end. It would be unfair to rate this on a lyrical scale but it was truly a special moment. Y’all can keep your turn up music and tight pants — this will always been the essence of hip-hop to me.

Cypher champ: Doug E. Fresh

The Battle Cypher

T. Top: This was a “live” cypher (on a taped awards show) featuring battle rappers. First up is T. Top, who graduatedMagna Cum LOUDLY from the Meek Mill school of YELLING A LOT BUT SAYING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. 3/5

K-Shine and DNA: These two decided to do the Jadakiss/Styles P tag-team rap thing, which works great on wax but is pretty awkward to follow in this format. The crowd seemed to like their half-hearted Kid N’ Play dance routine though — I was just shocked the crowd recognized that dance. They probably thought they were Hittin’ The Quan or whatever. 3/5

Charlie Clips: Another husky brother in tight black clothes — I literally thought T. Top was back to scream at us some more. 3/5

Rain910: This guy was WAY too lethargic. The track absolutely swallowed him up; I could barely make out his verses. The couple of punchlines I did hear were decent, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. 3/5

Cypher champ: Ummm, K-Shine and DNA I guess? Because we like when black folks dance.



Redman easily gets my vote as Cypher Slayer, with Black Thought just an eyelash behind. And shout out to Joyner Lucas, the boy has bars.

By far, this was the weakest set of cyphers in the history of the event. Thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of garbage here, instead, we were overwhelmed with mind-numbingly average bars. Def Squad’s set was the only thing close to being memorable, yet that pales in comparison to legendary performances like 2011 Shady 2.0 cypher or the 2010 GOOD Music cypher.

Go check out the Def Squad cypher on YouTube. Otherwise, resume your #BETBoycott — that is, until they air new episodes of The Game and y’all come running back.

debra lee

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Debra Lee for U.S. president.


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