When it comes to a cypher, you can’t beat the camaraderie of having everyone in the same room, hanging out like friends and encouraging each other when they’re up. The BET Hip Hop Awards couldn’t quite make that happen last night, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but it brought the next best thing: four absolutely stacked groups of rappers. The attraction of the night was the “Ladies First” cypher, featuring Teyana Taylor, H.E.R., Erykah Badu, and Brandy rapping over the beat for Brandy’s hit “I Wanna Be Down.” Taylor opened with some flexes (“If I’m comin’ how I’m comin’, I don’t half-ass / ’Cause R&B Tey will leave your favorite in the trash bag”) before H.E.R. turned the performance political, addressing Breonna Taylor’s police-shooting death. Then Badu came in as her iconic self, opening, “My face too cute / My game too strong / Your man too close / He on my phone / About these bills / Put mommy on the phone.” Brandy brought the cypher home, reminding us whose beat it was in the first place. “And if they say the sky is the limit, then buy a cloud,” she wrapped her verse. “And if they can’t see us as an equal, they not allowed.”
The night’s other cyphers brought the heat too, including a reggae cypher featuring legends like Skip Marley and Bounty Killer along with up-and-comers like Koffee. “We the generation with the knowledge and the hope,” Marley rapped. “We’re gonna change the globe / With everything we know / And bless up to the ancestors for paving the road.” Elsewhere, more up-and-comers got together in the “Hot New Crew” cypher, which paid tribute to late Brooklyn drill ascendant Pop Smoke. Adé and Buddy’s opening verses both confronted current issues, with Buddy rapping, “Can’t nobody come close / They just might have the ’rona.” Then Flo Milli came in like the star she already is. “Talkin’ money, well, then let your money do the talkin’,” she rapped. “Let’s see what your mouth can afford.” Deante’ Hitchcock brought the performance home, rapping, “But baby this Black body full of Black trauma / My Black kids gon’ have a Black mama / And they gon’ look at me like a superhero / Like the Black Panther and the Black Mamba.”
The activism continued in the political cypher. “They really the threat, but that’s how they portray me,” Polo G went in on his opening verse. “When you spit the truth, they try to view it as hate speech.” Chika then took the mic for her tight verse, rapping, “My money go to grievin’ mothers / I don’t need a Maybach.” Later, she continued, “Been rappin’ ’bout the same oppression back then on the 8-track / In hopes that every melanated person get to lay back.” Louisville resident Jack Harlow addressed protests in his hometown over Breonna Taylor’s killing, rapping, “Last we heard, they reviewin’ the evidence / Same old song and we all know the rest of it / 2020 turned the whole country to pessimists / You ain’t said a word, what the hell do you represent?” Flawless Real Talk stepped up next, still addressing police violence against Black people. “Knowin’ that my skin could be the death of me,” he rapped. “I could be the next to be / Killed by the people that were sworn to be protectin’ me.” Rapsody closed the cypher with the best verse of the night, further making the case for why she would take home the award for lyricist of the year. “Martin had a dream, pop / Breonna couldn’t dream, pop,” she opened, miming gunshots on her head. “Jammin’ with an attitude, they never ever charge cops / When they aimin’ at our body, blop-blop-blop-blop-blop.” It’s a verse we’ll have on repeat for days.