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Welcome to The Cipher, a weekly podcast featuring in-depth conversations with the most interesting figures in Hip-Hop.

Welcome to The Cipher, a weekly podcast featuring in-depth conversations with the most interesting figures in Hip-Hop.
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Welcome to The Cipher, a weekly podcast featuring in-depth conversations with the most interesting figures in Hip-Hop.




249: Mike Heron

Mike “Heron” Herard is a record exec, producer, manager, label owner, and all-around music business legend. He first came to the attention of underground hip-hop fans when he was the co-founder of Hydra Records, which released music by Screwball, Godfather Don, and many others. He then moved over to Rawkus Records, where he played a key role in Big L’s posthumous album The Big Picture. He has also managed Joell Ortiz, and is currently the Vice President of A&R at Shady Records. In addition,...


248: Jonah Hill and the 'Mid90s' Cast

Mid90s, which opened this past Friday, October 19th, is a film Hill wrote and directed about a group of skateboarding friends in—you guessed it—the mid-1990s. The incredibly authentic period piece features plenty of nods to the skateboarding scene and the music of the time period, including songs from the Pharcyde and the Gravediggaz, and a memorable cameo appearance by Del the Funkee Homosapien. This is Jonah’s first film as a writer/director. He has, of course, starred in tons of films,...


247: Jericho Jackson (Khrysis & Elzhi)

Jericho Jackson is a group made up of producer Khrysis and rapper Elzhi. Khrysis is best known for his work with the rap collective the Justus League, which counts among its members 9th Wonder. He is currently a member of 9th’s production team the Soul Council. In addition to his North Carolina crew, Khrysis has produced for Sean Price and Heltah Skeltah, Jean Grae, Evidence, Talib Kweli, Black Thought, and many others. Dedicated Cipher listeners will remember Elzhi from our talk with him...


246: K-Salaam

K-Salaam is a producer and DJ who, both by himself and with his production partner Beatnick, has made beats for some of your favorite artists. A short, by no means complete list includes Nas, Freddie Gibbs, Talib Kweli, Trey Songz, Lil Wayne, Murs, Bun B, Sizzla, and Young Buck. K-Salaam got his start in Minneapolis, where he was an integral part of the early years of the Rhymesayers label. He DJ’d for many of the label’s acts, as well as for their signature radio show. In recent years, he...


245: Nick Cannon

Nick, as you undoubtedly already know, is a musician, actor, comedian, TV executive, and all-around entertainer. He got his start doing stand-up comedy while still a teenager. He parlayed that into work at Nickelodeon, where he wrote for and starred in now-classic shows like All That, Kenan & Kel, and the appropriately-named Nick Cannon Show. He moved from that into starring in movies like Drumline and Love Don’t Cost a Thing, putting out several stand up specials, and even hosting America’s...


244: Daddy-O

Glen “Daddy-O” Bolton is a rapper, producer, executive, and all-around hip-hop Renaissance man. He formed the ground breaking Stetsasonic in 1981, and the group went on to release several classic albums and become the first great hip-hop band. As a producer and remixer, he worked with everyone from Audio Two to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to They Might Be Giants. He was an executive at MCA and Motown, and continues to consult with a number of companies. And he’s still releasing music to this...


243: Joan Morgan

Joan is a writer who got her start in the 1990s, helping to create what came to be known as “hip-hop journalism” with her articles at places like Vibe and the Village Voice. Whether she was writing about the Mike Tyson trial, profiling TLC, or investigating the sex trade in Jamaica, Joan brought her keen, Bronx-raised sensibility to everything she touched. Joan pioneered hip-hop feminism—and came up with the phrase “black girl magic,” to boot—in her classic 1999 book When Chickenheads Come...


242: Soundset Pt. 2 (Murs, Nikki Jean, OG Grip, Evidence)

Soundset is a festival in the Minneapolis area put on by the Rhymesayers label. It’s been running since 2008, and has grown from a show in a warehouse to a day-long outdoor event featuring some of music’s biggest acts. This past May, we went to the festival to hang out and talk to the performers, and and this is the second of two episodes where you can hear the results. This time, you’ll find conversations with Murs, Nikki Jean, OG Grip, and Evidence. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the...


241: Soundset Pt. 1: Rapsody, Grieves, K-Salaam, Sa-Roc, Prof

Soundset is a festival in the Minneapolis area put on by the Rhymesayers label. It’s been running since 2008, and has grown from a show in a warehouse to a day-long outdoor event featuring some of music’s biggest acts. This past May, we went to the festival to hang out and talk to the performers, and on this episode and the next one, you’ll hear the results. This time, you’ll find conversations with Rapsody, Grieves, K-Salaam, Sa-Roc, and Prof. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the first half...


240: Kalyn Heffernan of Wheelchair Sports Camp

Kalyn is a rapper and the leader of the eclectic Denver-based group Wheelchair Sports Camp, who have garnered critical acclaim for their music and their energetic live performances almost since their founding in 2009. Wheelchair Sports Camp - named after a real camp that Kalyn, who has brittle bone disease and has been in a wheelchair her whole life - used to attend, is a group that pushes the boundaries in sound and subject matter. Most performances consist of Kalyn, drums, and trumpet,...


239: Big Daddy Kane Revisited

This week, we talk to a man who needs no introduction, Big Daddy Kane. Kane tells us about his legacy, dissing Erick Sermon, who really produced his first album, and tons more. This is a Cipher-ized, improved version of an episode that originally ran in 2013. See for full show notes and comments.


238: MC Paul Barman

MC Paul Barman first started making songs in the late 1990s, during his time at Brown University. His wild rhymes about topics like a slacker college student who becomes half man, half goat in order to become a star quickly caught the ear of legendary producer Prince Paul, who produced Barman’s 2000 EP It’s Very Stimulating. That project introduced Paul Barman to the hip-hop masses as a guy as likely to drop a reference to a Polish filmmaker as LL Cool J, and to write lyrics that incorporate...


237: Phonte: No News Is Good News

Phonte first visited us in early 2016, when we had a career-spanning interview. But now he’s back with No News Is Good News, an incredible new album that turns the rapper’s last several years of tragedies and triumphs into amazing art. Phonte first came to most rap fans’ notice as a member of the critically acclaimed group Little Brother, and has since released an array of solo, duo, and group projects - most notably with Foreign Exchange. No News Is Good News finds Phonte reflecting on the...


236: Jean Grae & Quelle Chris

Jean Grae was our show’s first-ever guest back in 2012. She is one of the finest rappers out there, and a great producer as well. But in recent years, she’s expanded her horizons even further, pushing into comedy, sitcoms, instructional albums, audiobooks, talk shows, variety shows, and even her own church. Quelle Chris joined us in 2016. Since then, he’s released the acclaimed album Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often and the instrumental project Lullabies for the Broken...


235: D-Stroy & Q-Unique of the Arsonists

The Arsonists were a crew formed in Bushwick in the early 1990s. D-Stroy, who began his rap career in his early teens alongside famed DJ Tony Touch in the duo Touch and D-Stroy, helped to solidify a group that would come to consist of, among others, Freestyle, Jise One, Swel Boogie, and Q-Unique. After putting out several early singles, the group was the first hip-hop act to sign to Matador Records, a label better known for indie rock. They released their debut album As the World Burns in...


234: Epic Beard Men (Sage Francis & B. Dolan)

Sage Francis and B. Dolan are both from Providence, are both rappers who have roots in spoken word, have toured and sporadically recorded together for years, and even share a label—the Sage-founded Strange Famous Records. But it has taken them until 2018 to release a full project as a duo: the Epic Beard Men. Sage is a beloved underground rap veteran who has been releasing albums of his smart, introspective, and emotional music consistently since 2002, and touring the universe maniacally to...


233: Erick Sermon

Erick Sermon got his start alongside Parrish Smith as a member of the iconic duo EPMD. Starting with their debut single in 1987 and their first album the following year, the group released four classic LPs in a row - a nearly unprecedented run in a still-new genre - before splitting (for the first time) in 1993. At the same time, Sermon was instrumental in finding and introducing hit acts like Das EFX, K-Solo, Keith Murray, and Redman for his Hit Squad collective. After the breakup, Erick...


232: Evidence

Evidence first became known to most hip-hop fans as a member of Dilated Peoples. The group, which consists of Ev, Rakaa Iriscience, and the virtuosic DJ Babu, were beloved champions of hip-hop’s underground in the early 2000s. After a number of successful Dilated projects, Evidence decided to go solo in 2007 with The Weatherman. Since then, he’s continued to release music on his own, with the group, and even with his longtime friend, the producer Alchemist, as the Step Brothers. His latest...


231: Skyzoo: In Celebration of Us

Skyzoo is a fantastic Brooklyn rapper whose sophisticated lyrics and ear for soulful beats has long made him one of our favorites. Longtime listeners will no doubt remember that he’s been a guest on the show twice before. But this is different. Sky approached us last month with the idea of having an in-depth conversation to tease out the themes and ideas in his awesome new record. In Celebration of Us, easily his most topical project to date, deals with police violence, gentrification,...


230: Ice-T

Ice is someone who surely needs no introduction…which won’t stop us from giving him one anyway. He got his start in music as part of L.A.s mid-1980s electro scene, emceeing and managing the stage at the noted club Radio, working with people like The Unknown DJ and Chris “The Glove” Taylor, and making a notable appearance in the 1984 film Breakin’. Following the release of his classic song “6 in the Mornin’” and a fateful 1986 trip to New York City, Ice landed a deal with Sire Records, and...