Find you in the cypher

R.A.W. Cyphers bring hip-hop communities together.

R.A.W. cyphers take confidence and practice.
R.A.W. cyphers take confidence and practice.

Last March, Martez Wiggins, AKA Woozy Blanks, looked around the cozy space of Alteregos on Gottingen Street and realized it was the perfect spot to bring together HRM's hip-hop communities through freestyle rap events known as cyphers. With DJ and producer Lindell Smith, an engineer at Centreline Studio in Uniacke Square, the duo's monthly R.A.W. cyphers are heating up. On Saturday, Alteregos hosts another one and it's about time you checked in.

"I've been rapping since about 2005, after my sister died," explains Wiggins. "It was a creative way to express myself and my feelings. And you start to see people's creativity through freestyle, and it can be surprising, too." Depending on the number of artists, cypher cycles last from 15 to 40 minutes. Unlike song performances or battle rapping, cyphers work in circularity as artists freestyle over instrumental loops, passing the mic in a rotation and building on verses.

"We let artists know the beats ahead of time, and they can prepare stuff, but some people are just really good at improvising off the beat, or they're really good at playing off the crowd, or incorporating another artist's verses," says Wiggins. "We also do warm-ups to get it started."

Over the last 14 months, cypher guests have included J-Bru, Ghettosocks, Busta Scriptas, Shevy Price, Mickey Blankz and many more. Wiggins reaches out to artists or plans special events, like the all-female cypher this past March, which also included poetry and first-timers.

"Some of them had never freestyled before," says Smith. "So I think what makes a good freestyle is confidence. Even if you just say, 'Hey my name is' and it's strong, people get excited." Wiggins agrees that it takes confidence. "And practice, as much as possible," he adds.

As for the music, Smith selects the instrumentals: "I play everything. Reggae, new hip-hop, classic hip-hop, everything, because there's such a variety of people who come and they like different things, so we play it all," he says. "Sometimes the hip-hop community in Halifax can seem really separated, so this is a way to bring together people from all over, from Cherry Brook and Preston and Dartmouth and the Square and Halifax, and have a good time together."

After the cyphers, the cafe turns into a dance party. "We want people to stay and have fun all night," says Wiggins. There's also a bottle draw (last month it was Patron). Since Alteregos has always been about keeping Halifax hip-hop alive and inclusive, the R.A.W. cypher is just one of the many hip-hop events that the cafe puts on, but it's the one Wiggins feels the most.

"Eventually, I want to be able to outgrow the space," says Wiggins, who has worked at the cafe for three years. "It would be great do theme nights, I've thought about that, and it'd be great to have enough artists freestyling and enough people coming out to need a bigger venue."

R.A.W. cypher
Saturday, May 30, 10pm
Alteregos Coffee House, 2193 Gottingen Street