Since 2007 The BET Hip-Hop Awards have been honoring the emcees, music, and artistry that keeps the culture we love moving forward and evolving. The ceremony’s rap freestyle series, “The Cypher”, highlights the lyrical ability, charisma, and stage presence of both hip-hop icons and emerging emcees in a traditional rap cypher setting.
Rappers have given some memorable performances throughout the years, with some artists making their mainstream debut in their cyphers to classic acts getting together, creating fan-favorite reunions, the BET Hip-Hop Award Cyphers has always created exciting moments for hip-hop fans.
In celebration of the 2021 BET Hip-Hop Awards and the first Rock the Bells Cultural Impact Award, we look back to some of the show’s most memorable cyphers.
Then, unknown to the mainstream, a young, hungry, and emerging Nicki Minaj spit an unforgettable verse, flaunting her over-the-top energy and vocal inflections, witty punchlines, and flow ahead of her debut studio album, 2010’s Pink Friday.
Eminem returns for the third time on The Cypher to deliver an acapella freestyle aimed directly at former President Donald Trump. Shady delivered a passionately aggressive monologue, venting his frustrations about the notorious politician’s controversial run term in office.
The RZA recruited his favorite emerging emcees showing promise circa 2012 in this battle of the mic. Hip-hop weirdos, A$AP Rocky, Childish Gambino, and Joey Bada$$ all talked their shit over classic RZA production, flaunting their larger-than-life personalities and bars.
Rev. Run and Ice Cube took over hip-hop in the ‘80s as the frontmen in two of hip-hop’s most prominent groups of all time. Since their glory days, each has become entrepreneurs and family men in their own right. Rev. and Ice Cube were joined by their rapper’s sons delivering a heartwarming family cypher, creating a coming of age moment for the iconic emcees.
Kanye West shows up ready for business in a three-piece suit along with his protege’s and G.O.O.D. Music label mates Big Sean, Pusha T, Cyhi The Prynce, and Common. The freestyle cypher was aired only a month before Kanye would release his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; some rhymes from the Chicago emcee’s verse were used throughout the album, giving fans a sneak peek of what was to come.
Mos Def, Eminem, and Black Thought set off the standard for one of the first viral moments from the BET Hip-Hop Award’s Cypher series. The trio offered their iconic flows, Yasin Bey delivering a verse from his record “Brooklyn We Go Hard,” Black Thought with some introspective bars, and Eminem adding his firey energy to the tail-end made this cypher a favorite for many fans.
Three generations of West Coast hip-hop brought it back to the lunch table on this rendition of The Cypher. DJ Quick, Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, E-40, and Xzibit team up with then-emerging Los Angeles emcees Kendrick Lamar and YG for this “passing the torch” moment in hip-hop history.
Fab, Jadakiss, Juelz Santana, and Ace Hood each deliver classic gritty East coast bars, spitting bars about hustling, parasailing, and champagne, each emcee one-upped the other, ending with a memorable verse from Top 5 Dead or Alive, Jadakiss.
After releasing his debut studio album, Section .80, in 2011, a young Kendrick Lamar would make his television debut on the BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher with Big K.R.I.T., Machine Gun Kelly, Tech N9ne, and B.O.B. Each emcee emerging into the mainstream after blog success, delivering their hungriest verses, especially Lamar, who would set the precedent that he was here to rap.
This now-iconic cypher stars Eminem and his rap supergroup, Slaughterhouse. The esteemed wordsmiths linked up as if they were the Rap Avengers, each emcee flaunting their individual powers in wordplay, wit, charisma, and punchlines all over the chilling instrumental of Eastflatbush Projet’s “Tried by 12.” The cypher re-popularized the beat, as everyone and their mama hopped on the beat spitting freestyles of their own, making this cypher the dopest BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher of all time.