Since 2006, the BET cyphers have been one of the biggest highlights of the BET awards. Rappers come together in a room, strip away their multiple layers of behind-the-scenes effects to deliver epic 16 bars or more over a simple instrumental.
The cyphers which began with a focus on American rappers and their origin cities became a platform for rappers to show off their skills. It has since grown to become an international standard practice for hip-hop enthusiasts all over the world to enter into the competition in hopes of earning its allotted BET feature.
In 2010, the BET awards used the Cyphers to showcase how much hip-hop had influenced the rest of the world by featuring a clip of a BET All Africa Cypher during the live award show. The cypher mostly featured rappers from Ghana, but it was well articulated and received. Following this premise, eleven of Nigeria’s best rappers (male and female) came together to make a Nigerian cypher for the 2011 BET awards. The result was a 9-minute long bar-after-bar rap off.
Unlike the Ghanian version, the Nigerian cypher didn’t make it to the live show of the BET. But it didn’t stop the audio and video clips from going viral locally, thanks to social media and a killer verse from M.I (that everyone did not stop talking about.) Curiously, despite its popularity, Nigerian rappers haven’t made any other submission to the BET awards ever since.
So what happened?
Nobody can really tell. There is a number of possible conclusions, each more grim than the former. The first is the dearth of lyricism in Nigerian hip-hop. There are only a few names who can deliver 16 bars worthy of the BET without sinking into out of context braggadocio or struggle-punchlines.
Another possibility to consider is how it will be near-impossible to collect some of the biggest names in Nigerian hip hop in one room, on amiable terms today. With the declaration of the ‘street take over’ by some factions of the industry, Nigerian hip hop has been silently divided into the puritan rappers supposedly making “real hip hop” and those making “fast food” music to merely sell records.
The final reason is perhaps the biggest question mark on the purpose of BET cyphers which is simple: “Who BET dun epp?”
While the industry may have changed to no longer accommodate the need for BET cyphers, the significance of the only Nigerian edition remains relevant enough to spur the creation of another. The cypher had a unifying factor which saw some of Nigeria’s biggest hip hop acts coming together towards a goal.
The pressure of being on the same audio space with other equally talented rappers also pressured every emcee to deliver their best. Besides, the 2011 cypher mostly featured rappers who were edging for an international outlook, it would be great to see a more African take on the BET cypher by the new crop of home grown rappers.