Does anyone know whether 2 Chainz or Drake won that award? What award? It could be any of them, so it doesn’t really matter, does it? The truth is no one watches the BET Hip-Hop Awards to find out who wins. If I came home to a BET Award on my coffee table for best snarky commentary about a rapper with his shirt unbuttoned well past his sternum, I would not even recognize it. No, the actual award presentations, and most of the live performances, serve as an unwanted greasy appetizer that precedes the main course: the cyphers.
This year doesn’t have the sheer star power of MMG or the unbridled lyrical wizardry we witnessed courtesy of Shady 2.0. 2012’s Cyphers returned to the previous format of rappers of varying levels of fame rapping with varying levels of enthusiasm, corniness, talent and actual effort resulting in a mixed bag of verses that range from damned good to groan inducing. So let’s revisit last night’s events and recap the good, the bad and the ugly.
And before we begin, praises to Yardie for the videos. BET, those auto-play videos are not the business. We the people hate those.
Grand Hustle Cypher: Trae The Truth, Chip, Iggy Azalea, B.o.B, and T.I.
The Good: Trae the Truth kicked the festivities off with a nimble performance worthy of a Texas legend, and Iggy Azalea rapped fairly well in her newest accent, but this cipher was all about The King reclaiming his throne at the site where most of his recent trouble began. I know this doesn’t sound right, but it felt good to hear Tip rapping about guns again. His periodic eggshell walking around his ignorant side over the past few years has resulted in some weird music.
Best line: “Demolish haters egos by being honest/you garbage/Bugattis and Ferraris/Throw Maseratis to strippers/Maybachs in my garages/And Rovers/I’m so official” – T.I. in moment that hearkened back to the stuntastic Rubberband Man we all know and love.
The Bad: I like my British rappers named Dizzy Rascal (xenophobia for the win!). Also, B.O.B.’s Cadillac transformed back into an acoustic guitar at the end of his verse, leaving an unprepared Bobby Ray to fend for himself…and rhyme off beat.
The Ugly: The British kid’s also named Chipmunk.
The Raw Cypher: Jaybird The Purdi Boi, Hopsin, Schoolboy Q, Mac Miller and Mystikal
The Good: Hopsin completely ignored the fact that he looks like a f***ing weirdo and rapped fairly well. Schoolboy Q brought some much needed grit to a group that included a man with his shirt unbuttoned well past his sternum. Mystikal rhymed “RRRAAAHHH” with “RRRAAAHHH” three times, and still somehow managed to come off.
Best Line: “RRRAAAHHH” - Mystikal
The Bad: There was a man with his shirt unbuttoned well past his sternum who said things like “drink some water with some AIDS mix!” Also “Bill Murray/Donald Duck,” Mac?
The Ugly: There was a man with his shirt unbuttoned well past his sternum. His name was Jaybird the Purdi Boi. Jaybird the Purdi Boi. Let that thought hitch a ride on your synapses and float around your brain for a while. Also note that in the first seconds of the cypher he pretended to look into a mirror and admire himself. Wow.
The True School Cypher: Jean Grae, Sarkodie, Ab Soul and Talib Kweli
The Good: Jean Grae is terribly underrated, so it’s always good to see her rap on national television and get some well-deserved shine. Ab-Soul extends the streak of dominant performances by the TDE clan with his unique blend of aggression, metaphysics and multisyllable dexterity. Kweli gets the biggest applause line of the night
Best line: Kweli’s “I’m Frank Ocean at a Chik-Fil-A/I’ll never get served” got the most applause, as previously stated, but Soulo had too many standouts to pick just one.
The Bad: Jeanie’s pause. While Jean’s verse was great, I think Royce’s “Hi Rihanna” from last year had the unintended effect of increasing the gimmickry to an unnecessary level. At least one rapper per cipher tries some cheap trick to steal the show. Meh.
The Ugly: Kweli’s allusion to circumcision by razor blade. *shudders*
The Iron Mic Cypher: RZA, Angel Haze, Joey Bada$$, Driicky Graham, Childish Gambino and A$AP Rocky
The Good: Well damn, Troy Barnes. Your boy Childish Gambino stepped it up, and takes the belt in a round with some star power in A$AP Rocky, and a talented young upstart in Joey Bada$$. Even Angel Haze holds her own among the rappers with dollar signs in their names and the (former?) TV star.
Best line: Angel Haze’s tweet about Omarion.
The Bad: I was hoping that Childish could go a full verse without mentioning white people and his relationships with them. I was wrong. The whole orange juice schtick was still pretty clever as final line, gimmick be damned.
The Ugly: Driicky Graham's “I’m spitting rappers out like orange juice pulp.” Light-skinned n****s lose again.
West Coast: Xzibit, YG, Kurupt, E-40, DJ Quik, Kendrick Lamar and Snoop
The Good: Quik keeping the beat with an inkpen on the table for the duration of the cypher. Xzibit put a verse in his verse he could rap while he was rapping. Kurupt and Snoop Lion coming off the dome. Forty Water the legend showing you square bears how it’s done. Kendrick being Kendrick.
Best line: "I’ma boss/Put the president on hold/*E-40 noise*"
The Bad: YG is definitely one of the voices speaking for the young people in LA, so he earned his spot in the cypher, but he was totally outclassed. No slander for the Quik verse as he was also on Bic beat machine duty at the same damn time.
The Ugly: Nada. This was the highlight of the night. The whole cypher was fun and lighthearted, but still a serious display of talent from the newcomers and the pioneers. Also, big respect to YG and Kendrick for deferring to the OGs by standing while the legends enjoyed their well-earned spot at the table.
Ruff Ryders: Mook, Cassidy, Eve and DMX
The Good: X sounded reinvigorated and Cassidy is at home over a break beat, but this was generally a cypher you could skip.
Best line: "Whip elephant/big body/the trunk in the front" – Murder Mook
The Bad: Sometimes rappers with backgrounds in the battle arena have moments when they try too hard to be clever. “If they wanna borrow five/It never end/So I say If she owe cho cinco (Ochocinco)/My advice?/Then never lend (Evelyn)” from Murder Mook is just not good.
The Ugly: Realizing that a legend’s time may have passed before he does. Also, when did Cassidy become a Ruff Ryder? Wasn’t he always Swizz’s…You know what? Nevermind.