Rap Dictionary defines a cipher, also spelled (Cypher) something like a jam session in which everyone contributes to the creative experience;
Now a cipher could be a group of MCs, DJs , graf writers or dancer’s. It could even mean a group of pot smokers, but let’s just stick to the core of the matter. A cipher of rappers seems to be dead, the only slightly visible art form of hip hop are the dance ciphers.
A crowd in parks, basketball courts and street corners, headz bumping. Various sounds and laughs heard all over the place, oh’s and wows, hands clapping. MCs in the centre taking each other on in the battle of words. It seems like those are the “the good old days”. What ever happened to cipher days? The spot where MCs were discovered, where they sharpened their skill, shaped their flow, a place where they built a reputation, developed fans and supporters, built a name, met with other MCs, a place where beautiful hip hop memories were made? Unscripted, raw, fresh and on the spot word play.
Ciphers were a place where the crowd got a chance to be a part of great memories, epic moments and good old fun. Where MCs were made and broken. It was a place where people got to see history in the making, to witness the power of word.
We hardly ever hear of these joints any more. It was the culture where underground MCs tried to break in. Word phrases, disses, comical ridicule, smart content, conscious alert, mind blowing flow, fast paced spitters and vernacular kings. People got together to hear the fastest, the maddest, the baddest, the funniest, the wackiest, even the bluntest. It gathered all kinds of word smiths in that one place to say their piece.
Many artists started there, some were made there. Today does not seem to be the case. Ciphers were a big part of the hip hop music movement. They meant something. It was a case of “make it in the circle, make it anywhere”. They defined an MC. It was like an initiation of some sort. Even beyond the business and skill, ciphers were a place for hip hop to continue living, when it wasn’t played on the radio.