Transitioning in the Cipher: Open Mike, Flawliss, CP
Between 2005 and 2007, CP often parked his car—a sleek Grey Honda Civic with customized “Lambo” (Lamborghini) doors—near the corner outside of Project Blowed. Equipped with a booming sound system, CP and others (like Flawliss and Open Mike in this video) could often be found huddled around his car, freestyling with each other.
One thing to note is how Open Mike, Flawliss, and CP transition into and out of freestyling with each other. From a quick glance, the transitions between rappers appear very seamless. There are points in the video in which For example, Open Mike opens the clip and is stringing together a freestyle that lasts about 20 seconds. Toward the end of his freestyle, Open Mike raps, “…take you over the border like Nafta, when I bring the rap, the Black manta, I’m the Black Santa, not the bad Santa, shit…” At the 20-second mark, both Flawliss and Randy (a white rapper standing to Flawliss’ left—next to CP) start rapping at the same time. It’s hard to make out what Randy says in this moment, but he says something that rhymes with the scheme that Open Mike was using. It’s easy to make out what Flawliss says, “Fuck a bad Santa…” At 21 seconds, Flawliss and Randy glance at each other, and without words, work out that Flawliss is going to have a turn freestyling. Flawliss continues rapping, “Nigga came back like a high ladder…”
I highlight this brief exchange to show that rappers use both verbal and nonverbal cues to negotiate who gets to rap in the cipher. The rest of this video clip illustrates other ways in which rappers work out turns on stage.
Flawliss ‘jumps in’ after Nocando
This clip features Nocando and Flawliss. During the first two years of my fieldwork, both were considered by their peers to be among the most highly-talented up-and-coming rappers at Project Blowed. While Nocando was known for his complex rhyme schemes and lyrical versatility, Flawliss was known for his humor and clever punch-lines (one or two line rhymes that are typically used in battles, but also in ciphers to elicit laughter and other affiliative responses from audience members).
Nocando begins this clip rapping, but shortly into the clip gets tongue-tied and begins stuttering—one of the main signals that a rapper is having difficulty sustaining their “flow.” Flow in this context refers to one’s ability to maintain a relatively smooth and unbroken series of rhymes until the next person signals that they want a turn rapping in the cipher. In addition to stuttering, Nocando begins to turn away from the center of the cipher, which is the shared focus of attention. As he turns, Flawliss jumps in and starts his freestyle.
E.Crimsin ‘jumps in’ after Verbs
This clip includes Verbs—who is facing the camera—and E.Crimsin, who was standing to the left of me while I recorded. At this point in my fieldwork, both Verbs and E.Crimsin were still developing into more well-rounded rappers. Although both are now considered veterans at Project Blowed and have gone on to record full-length albums, perform in multiple venues, and record music videos, both were still relatively inexperienced at the time of this video. Verbs, for example, fell off in multiple ciphers and while performing “writtens” inside of Project Blowed.
Like the previous clip, Verbs is in the middle of a freestyle when he becomes tongue-tied. Mid-sentence, he closes his eyes and sticks out his tongue while saying, “Oooh!”
This momentary break is all E.Crimsin needs. He quickly jumps in and starts rapping, “Oooh, lasso, like Sasso Will, I kill mutha fuckas with Forman Grills, they get cold and chill.” As noted in the paper, E.Crimsin and other rappers use another rapper’s fall off as a way to highlight their own abilities. E.Crimsin, for example, uses the last sound that Verbs uses in his freestyle to launch into his own freestyle.
THESE VIDEOS ARE ETHNOGRAPHIC MATERIAL THAT SUPPORTS A 2009 SPQ-PUBLISHED ARTICLE, "ESCAPING EMBARRASSMENT: FACE-WORK IN THE RAP CIPHER" BY JOOYOUNG LEE.