After ranking the 2017 XXL freestyles, it’s only routine to rank the cyphers as well. A cypher is essentially a group freestyle, where the MCs rap one after the other. It’s typically very competitive and the aim is to out-rap the MC before you. But due to the nature of current US rap no one’s out to beat each other, it’s more about creating an entertaining verse. That’s a key factor I’ll be considering when ranking, along with lyricism, performance value and cooperation with the beat.
Before ranking the performances individually, these are the rankings for the cyphers as a collective:
1. Kyle, A Boogie, Aminé
Kyle, A Boogie and Aminé blow the other two cyphers out the park with their performance value, decent lyricism and showcase of personality, particularly Kyle and Aminé. All three gelled well together and there was no dull moment over the quick 3 minutes.
2. Playboi Carti, MadeinTYO, Ugly God, XXXTentacion
Lyrically this one is by far the worse, but as a collective they bring a lot of chemistry and entertainment value, which is one of the main aspects of a cypher. It goes great until XXXTentacion comes along and kills the vibe.
3. PnB Rock, Kap G, Kamaiyah
These three MCs were the anomalies of the list. They don’t really fit into a category (e.g. mumble rap) so they were tossed together. Ultimately it leads to the least entertaining and interesting cyphers. There’s a lack of chemistry and performance value between PnB, Kap and Kamaiyah. A very awkward trio.
If Tumblr was a cypher performance, this would be it. X was trying wayyyy too hard in this cypher. It is so painfully edgy. He cuts the beat, kneels down with his face covered and raps acapella and subsequently kills the whole fun and entertaining vibe of the cypher. Annoying thing is that he was rapping alright, but he presented the lyrics as incredibly deep when he’s not really saying anything with much substance. He already took the ‘deep’ approach with his individual freestyle, he should have kept it simple and just rapped normally over the beat.
9. Playboi Carti
Carti never sounds like he’s trying. But at least he has a beat to rap and ad-lib over, making his bars sound less shit than they actually are. He scatters his usual yuh’s, ay’s and wat’s across the mere 35 seconds that he performs, nor is there anything entertaining offered. If you’re gonna rap bad, at least make the bars memorable.
TYO makes up for what Carti misses. He’s very poor lyrically, but brings memorable bars: “Chop the top, chop the top, I get bored too quick / Silly thot, silly thot, want that boy to quit.” That ended up getting stuck in my head, so credit for that.
7. Ugly God
Ugly God is the only rapper that freestyled his cypher off the top. You can tell from the way he borrowed the final bars of MadeinTYO (“Diamonds when I talk, diamonds when I walk”). He brings the most one-dimensional content, but he shows impressive skill in switching up his flow impulsively. Plus he makes it clear that’s he just messing around and having fun, thus making his part quite entertaining.
6. Kap G
Kap G brings similar vibes to his stellar freestyle at first, but he showcased a major weakness halfway the cypher when he goes totally off-beat. It was quite embarrassing to listen to because he could have just slowed down and catch the beat again. That part aside it was a good installment in the cypher. It could have been the best performance in the cypher if it weren’t for his noticeable slip-up.
Kamaiyah has the most boring, rudimentary flow out of all the freshman. This is her major weakness ’cause if she flowed better they could elevate her basic bars to new levels. Lyrically she does better than anyone else so far which is how she earns a place this high, but it wasn’t entertaining and drags on for too long.
4. PnB Rock
PnB sounds like a nervous schoolboy when he raps, but he brought a decent flow to accommodate his uninteresting bars. The fact that my descriptions are so negative this far up in the list just shows how underwhelming these cyphers were, but we’re about to get to the good ones.
The top 3 performances all ended up being in the same cypher. Aminé held his own by showcasing some decent wordplay (“My girl said she wanted change and then she got a quarterback”) and cadence (“Tootsie Roll on yo tippy toe / Sold my soul ’til my soul got sold”). And shoutout Aminé for shouting out Sonny Digital. The producer is important.
2. A Boogie wit da Hoodie
A Boogie ends up on the polar side of the rankings compared to his freestyle ranking. A Boogie comes through with the most substance in his verse, switching up his flow a couple times while interchanging between plain rapping and melodic delivery. Entertainment and personality aside, A Boogie provided the package.
The only rapper to provide the whole package was Super Duper Kyle. His childish, cartoonish personality makes up most of the entertainment, adding superhero sound effects to start and end his verse off. He comes through with the most convincing rapping, bringing good one-liners, wordplay and a steady flow. Luckily he doesn’t allow his speech impediment to be a problem, something that bothered me in his individual freestyle. This cypher performance was easily the best.
That marks the end of the XXL Freshman posts. It was a very lacklustre list this year, as were the freestyles and cyphers, but it does represent the current nature of rap very accurately. It will be interesting to see where 2018 will take us; will hip hop turn back the clock? Or will it continue to progress in the melodic and lyrically-skeletal direction? Only a year left to find out.