Photo Credit: Polina Yamshchikov (for NPR)
If hip-hop was a city, the barber shop would be the town hall. Those in the suburbs or more rural areas may not have a neighborhood barber shop, but if you live in a city like New York (aka the birthplace of hip-hop), the barber shop is still a hub for all things rap and beyond. That's why The DJBooth has teamed up with Joell Ortiz to create Fade To Famous, a new cypher series that celebrates the essence of hip-hop; dope bars and a clean cut.
On this inaugural, all New York affair, Joell and DJBooth took over Fade 2 Famous in Brooklyn and opened its doors to any and all Big Apple rhymers who thought they had what it takes to go bar for bar with Joell. Check out our full mini-documentary on the day, complete with a closing cypher. This right here is hip-hop at its purest.
Of course, the best part about any cypher is crowning a winner and getting hyped to discover promising young spitters. After all, what's the point of pitting New York's best new rhymers against each other if we can't get those competitive juices flowing? So, in the true spirit of a cypher, let's dive right in and crown a champion of the first ever Fade To Famous Cypher.
Now, when repping New York, the mecca of hip-hop, we couldn't let just anyone into the cypher. To get the best of the best, each contestant had to show they were a cut above with a opening 16. After deeming six talented emcees worthy, it was time to get to battling.
Tru Heat - Bronx, NY
If I learned anything from middle school, it's that you never want to be the first person to do anything. This ain't no science fair! In a cypher, that risk increases two fold. You have to set the bar high and be extra lethal so that the people remember you when it's all said and done. Clearly, Tru Heat had no reservations about leading off. The Bronx emcee stepped in and hit it out of Yankee Stadium, peppering the beat with confident bars and a lethal yet fluid flow. Way to set the tone, Tru!
Justin May - Bayonne, New Jersey
Justin didn't take a train all the way from Bayonne, get up in front of a barber shop full of rappers to spit some softness. Nope, the young rhymer definitely made the trip worth it, rattling of some lethal bars with a furious, rapid-fire flow that could be heard all the way to 1520 Sedgwick Avenue; you can tell he relished the chance to showcase his skills.
Justina Valentine - New Jersey
Justin wasn't the only one to make the trip from Jersey. Redheaded rhymer Justina Valentine also hails from Jersey and also has some venomous bars. Props to Ms. Valentine for really brining back the essence of a cypher with an off the top freestyle. Where most cypher verses are sketched out before, she brought it back to the roots, making up her bars right on the spot. Big props.
LQ The King - Brooklyn NY
Hailing from Brooklyn, LQ didn't have to travel as far as Justina or Justin, but he might have had more pressure as he had to defend his home field of Brooklyn against the tri-state area's best. While cyphers are known for brash, braggadocios bars, LQ changed it up a little, providing some deeper, thoughtful bars on fatherhood sprinkled in with his pull-no-punches bars. Of course, he still had that raw energy and the cut-throat flow needed to command the mic and it's that combination that might just make him my pick for the cypher champ.
Budda Lee Raye - New Jersey
Not only did he have the best fitted, but I think Budda might have had the best performance. He had the unbridled menace needed to command the attention of the crowd (eliciting a few ooos) but was also surgical and precise with the delivery; the perfect combination of attitude and technical ability. The controlled venom made for a unique and memorable performance that might just get him the crown.
Mags - Brooklyn, New York
Trying to thrwart off the Jersey invaders, Mags took to the mic last and ended things on a high note. Damn he had a cool flow. I really dug his cadence. Where most try to sound as hard as possible, Mags took a more finessed approach with a more fluid, flexible cadence. The end result was a effort that had a little more bounce than those of his competiton.
Joell Ortiz - Brooklyn, New York
Obviously, Joell is a big name, but at the end of the day he's a die hard hip-hop head so he wasn't going to let the unknown cats come in and show him up. The Slaughterhouse emcee reminded everyone that while he does songs with Eminem, he's happy to step into the barber shop and cut down the competition. If you haven't already, you're definitely going to want to check out his new House Slippers album. YAOWA!!!
It's a touch call, each emcee did their respective thing, but in the end, it was Budda's unqiue flow and expert lyricism that impressed us most. LQ was a close second, but I loved Budda's jabbing delivery and command of the mic. Plus, he had a stellar good kid m.A.A.d city reference; what's not to love? So Budda is technically the winner, but really there are no losers. From you, the fan, to all the emcees who stepped into Fade To Famous that day, we helped bring hip-hop back to its roots - rapping for the sake of rapping - and for that, we applaud everyone.
Keep an eye out for another Fade to Famous cypher, and in the meantime, be sure to tell us who you thought had the best verse!
P.S.- A million props to the guy cutting hair during the cypher. That man right there is a true barber!