Show of hands: How many of y’all actually watched this year’s BET Hip-Hop Awards?
Put your hands down. We can’t actually see them.
Between the first vice-presidential debate, season premiers (Flash on CW!) and the fear of your brains melting from Desiigner’s performance, I’m not sure how much interest there was in this year’s show.
If you missed it, you really missed nothing. Outside of Lecrae and Big K.R.I.T.’s outstanding performances (coming to 10 million think pieces near you!) the usual suspects won awards, children in tight pants “rapped,” the Rev. Dr. DJ Khaled delivered a few of his Snapchat sermons.
You know, the usual.
But around there, the only reason we give the Hip-Hop Awards the time of day is because of the cyphers – one of the few times BET actually embraces its rap roots. While past cyphers have spawned unforgettable performances – the TDE, G.O.O.D. Music and Slaughterhouse cyphers come to mind – recent years have struggled with aging acts and unproven rookies stumbling through performances. But every year, at least a handful of artists rise up.
Let’s take a look at this year’s cyphers and determine who rocked hardest.
The Roc-A-Fella Tax Write-off Cypher
Peedi Crakk: Guess he’s not Peedi Peedi anymore. If you’ve heard any Peedi verse circa 2005, you’ve heard his – except slower. Fine for what it was, though. 3/5
Neef Buck: Remember when Young Gunz was nominated for a Grammy? I’m sure Neef does, who actually sounded pretty inspired here. The bars, though, were just slightly above average. 3.5/5
Omillio Sparks: Same ol Sparks, sadly – awkward delivery, forgettable bars. He’s never found a way to stand out from the pack, and that didn’t change here. 3/5
Freeway: Freeway certainly sounded … different. It’s like he left his trademark rasp back in Philly. However, he brought along his appetite – the charisma is still there, even if some of his patented edge has worn off. Good, but unspectacular. 3.5/5
David Banner Beanie Sigel: Beans was almost unrecognizable, especially with his scraggly African-American Studies professor goatee. Even though is punchlines were still (sorta) menacing, there was zero energy in his delivery. My dude seemed exhausted by the third bar. The Broad Street Bully was really showing his age out there. 3/5
Cypher Champ: Freeway
The Young Buck Cypher
Don Q: Look playa, it’s 2016. If half your bars revolve around you bragging about the ice on your wrist and $50,000 on your neck, you’re dating yourself. Take that back to 1999. 2.5/5
Russ: So dude says he’s the best white rapper since Em – while wearing Snow’s “Informer” glasses from 1993. Besides that, this was yet another in a line of solid but unspectacular performances. Technically fine but instantly forgettable. 3/5
A Boogie wit Da Hoodie: This was my introduction to A Boogie, and judging by the insane crowd reaction, I expected him to rip it. He’s got presence, no doubt, but it sounds like he got his rap PhD from the Silkk da Shocker School of Flow – he couldn’t catch the beat with Jerry Rice’s hands. 3/5
Kent Jones: Kent somehow though the best attire for the cypher was to dress like an inner-city Inspector Gadget. And like A Boogie, Kent got his Big Sean on and fumbled the beat quite a few times. I question his life choices. 2/5
Nick Grant: Anyone who comes out and IMMEDIATELY compares themselves to “BIG, Jay, Andre and Nas” is obviously setting the bar too high, but I can’t hate on that confidence. Grant went in, showing that he definitely has presence. 3.5/5
Cypher Champ: Nick Grant
The Tri-State Cypher
Sam Black: Shout out to Sam Black for tailoring his bars around current headlines. “You saying you struggle, that’s like me voting Republican/I can’t see it.” I appreciated that he attempted to share his life journey in the brief time allotted. He showed lots of promise.3.5/5
Ms. Jade: Yes, THAT Ms. Jade. STAN ALERT – I was a huge Jade fan back in her 2003 Beat Club days and was thrilled to see her back after spending a decade on the back of milk cartons. She hasn’t lost a step either, as gritty and forceful as ever. Good outing but I know she has more in the tank. 3.5/5
Kur: Philly’s Kur is yet another emerging rapper who is turning heads, but he seemed a bit nervous here. Remember in school when you had to give a presentation in front of the class but you talked reallyreallyreallyfastandranyourwordstogethersoyoucouldfinishquickly? That’s Kur here. Yes, I know he was “double-timing” his flow but there’s a big difference between utilizing a fast pace and outright rushing your bars. 3/5
Dave East: Dave has a ton of buzz right now, thanks to his well-received album dropping just a few days ago. His verse here was pretty solid but oddly abbreviated. Still, it’s easily one of the best on the show thus far. 4/5
Young M.A.: Speaking of buzz, M.A.’s “OOOOUUU” is set to be the hottest song of the fall. While her lyrics are just above average at best, it’s the X-factor that makes her a star. Her presence is commanding and she OWNED the stage here. About 30 minutes after this cypher aired, M.A. tweeted a vid claiming that BET chopped her performance way down and removed the best bars. That doesn’t shock me – this is a taped award show edited to fit the timeslot, after all. But what we saw here was pretty good. 4/5
Cypher Champ: Young M.A.
The Live #BLM Cypher
Oswin Benjamin: The best part of these cyphers is seeing young talent step up on national TV and seize the moment. Oswin Benjamin did just that: “I told my mama I wasn’t gonna curse on television/but f*** Trump with a condom out of the shelter system.” Rattling off the names of legendary black icons and weaving in new trailblazers like Colin Kaepernick, all eyez were on Oswin. Rightfully so. 4/5
Locksmith: Locksmith basically followed Oswin’s template, but in a less creative manner. While the former used black heroes as part of his punchlines, Locksmith just sounded like he was reading off a list of names from a black history program. He certainly wasn’t bad – but his sometimes stilted delivery didn’t help. 3.5/5
STIC, wearing Cookie Lyon’s blazer: Well, if there were any doubts about dead prez’s relevance in 2016, stic.man erased them. STIC’s poignant flow was as razor-sharp as ever, cutting away at the fluff to deliver pure, uncut truth. This was a breath of fresh air. 4/5
M-1: Just copy and paste my comments from stic.man above. “America eats the young, like cannibal breakfast/Wall Street is swarming with Hannibal Lecters.” WHOOO. 4/5
Cypher Champ: REALLY close here, but I’m giving it to Oswin Benjamin.
The Empire Cypher
Bre-Z, AKA, the girl who shot Jamal on Empire: Ol’ Freda Gatz actually impressed me here. I expected her usual Empire Thug Misses act, and we got it, but with a bit more fire. Her baby hair was cute but her bars weren’t. 4/5
Yazz the Greatest, AKA the annoying “Drip Drop” guy on Empire: Hakeem might literally be the most annoying character in all of prime time but, like Bre-Z, he stepped his game up slightly from those struggle bars his throws around on TV. I did give him extra points for randomly reminding us “Don’t vote for Trump.” 3.5/5
Big Ron & Mike Biv, AKA the BBD guys from New Edition: Yes, the original R&B rappers stopped by to kick those yes-yes-y’all funky fresh dope rhymes, sounding exactly like you’d expect – your Old Spice wearing uncles at Thanksgiving rapping like it’s 1984. And they STILL sounded better than Lil Yachty ‘n dem. 3/5
Cypher Champ: Bre-Z
The ‘We Randomly Threw Everyone Else Who Was Left In Here’ Cypher
Aaron Crook$: Took Crook$ a minute to get out of the blocks here but he eventually found his groove. Unfortunately, by then it was time to pass the mic. 3/5
3D Na’tee: I had totally forgotten about Na’tee until this cypher; she seemingly vanished into the abyss that now holds the remains of JT Money and Knoc-Turn’al. The Internet raved about her performance, and she definitely had a couple of stiff punchlines (“Every year when I don’t get an award it’s such a sad reminder that I get Robbed like Blacc Chyna”) but her flow was pretty choppy at times, with a few awkward pauses. Decent showing. 3.5/5
Rain 910: There seemed to be at least one rapper per cypher who tried (and failed) to get their Twista on, but Rain’s double-time flow ACTUALLY worked well here. He’s one of the few newer faces who sounded at ease on the big stage. 3.5/5
Consequence: Hey remember Consequence? Well, nothing has changed, this is the same ol’ Consequence. Unintentionally funny moment: Cons claimed to be “a black panther like Cam Newton.” I get what you were going for there, playa, but poor Cam probably shouldn’t be used for symbol of blackness right now, no matter what his team mascot is. Cons just can’t win. 3/5
Jidenna: Good lord, this was the definition of trying too hard. Jidenna started off fine before he staring wobbling around like a wacky waving inflatable tubeman outside a car dealership, then THE BEAT STOPPED so he could drop what I’m sure he thought were poignant bars in silence. Nas’ “Made You Look,” this was NOT. 3/5
Cypher Champ: Rain 910
The Really Short Guys Cypher
This wasn’t really a cypher per-se but a “battle” between Lil Wayne and sigh, Kevin Hart’s Chocolate Droppa character. There’s not much to say here: Wayne is the same Wayne we’ve been hearing since his 2013 “revival,” where he’s not as god-awful as he was circa 2010 but nowhere near as good as he was circa 2006. Kevin Hart rapped about hating mice and bread and stuff while the studio audience laughed like we were watching Married With Children or something.
It was cute, I guess, but we’ve seen these “comedy” cyphers done better in the past. This was just one guy rehashing a gimmick we all got tired of five years ago.
And the other guy was Kevin Hart.
Cypher Champ: Wayne, I guess
2016 BET Cypher Grand Champion
While vice presidential candidates squabbled on competing stations, Oswin delivered a message to the black community that was provocative, poignant and powerful. It’s hip-hop used in it’s more potent form. Oswin did more for black voters in those few minutes than our candidates have done this entire campaign season – he spoke truth.
He shined brightest in this year’s cyphers.
That is, unless Young M.A.’s mysterious outtakes show up and prove us all wrong.
Who do you think owned the cyphers? Let us know below.