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The Cipher

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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.




219: Kurtis Blow

Kurtis Blow was the first rap superstar. He was the first rapper to be signed to a major label and the first one to have a gold single with “The Breaks.” But his career is a whole lot more than just that song and “Christmas Rappin’.” Even before stardom, Blow was a busy DJ and performer who was sharing bills with the likes of old-school legends DJ Hollywood and Eddie Cheeba. And after he broke big—with the help of his manager Russell Simmons—Blow stayed on top, releasing a long string of...

Duration: 00:56:30

218: Crazy Legs

Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon is a b-boying pioneer and the longtime president of the Rock Steady Crew, arguably the most famous b-boy crew in the world. He joined the Rock Steady crew in its early days, and quickly rose to become its leader. As early as 1981, he was already getting press attention as one of the best dancers out there in the still-new form of b-boying or breaking, and he invented many of the moves we still associate with breaking today. Crazy Legs and the Rock Steady Crew...

Duration: 01:12:14

217: Fred the Godson

Fred is a rapper who can say that hip-hop is in his blood, literally. Not only is he from the home of hip-hop, the Bronx, but his father also used to work at the NYC nightspot The Tunnel, whose hip-hop nights on Sundays, presided over by Funkmaster Flex, were legendary. So it only makes sense that Fred would grow up to become one of the best rappers out there. His intricate punchlines and metaphors are the stuff of mixtape legend, and his talent has led him to collaborate with some of the...

Duration: 01:07:54

216: Rock

Rock is best-known for being one half of the seminal rap duo Heltah Skeltah, along with his partner, the late Sean Price. The duo, also known as Rock and Ruck, released three albums and were a key part of NYC’s influential underground rap crew the Boot Camp Clik. As a solo artist, Rock has released a number of great mixtapes - including our favorite, 2010’s Rockin’ Out West. But despite several record deals, he’s never released a proper solo album, until now. Rock has just released...

Duration: 01:46:14

215: Lecrae

Lecrae is a rapper whose Christian faith is central to his music and his message, but don’t dare call him a “Christian rapper.” From the very beginning, as you’ll hear, Lecrae was determined to be both, as he frequently puts it, “authentically hip-hop and authentically Christian,” and his music, which has incorporated everything from Southern rap sounds to soul samples to rock guitars, shows that he has stayed true to that aim. Lecrae has managed to expand far outside the confines of...

Duration: 01:09:48

214: Trae Tha Truth

Trae is a true Houston rap legend who got his start as a member of DJ Screw’s Screwed Up Click. Since the late 1990s, he has been sharing his street stories using his one-of-a-kind voice. Through countless mixtapes and albums, he has helped shape the sound and focus of his hometown scene, and played a large role in bringing it to the attention of the wider world. But Trae is not only notable for his rapping. In 2008, the city of Houston awarded him his own day, and Trae Day has become an...

Duration: 00:55:32

213: Hurricane Harvey Special: Trae tha Truth, Killa Kyleon, & Z-Ro

Welcome to a special episode of The Cipher. This is an episode dedicated to Houston. Like countless people around the world, we were devastated by news of Hurricane Harvey and its effects on the city. If you’re a regular listener, you’ve noticed that we have many episodes discussing Houston music and culture with the city’s artists, businesspeople, and authors. So, because of that love for Houston’s music, culture, and most of all its people, we decided to reach out to three H-town rap...

Duration: 00:43:52

212: Bobby Brown

Bobby Brown is one of the foremost stars of modern r&b. Starting out with his childhood pals Ricky, Michael, Ronnie, and Ralph, he formed New Edition, one of the biggest groups of the era. But that was only the beginning. Bobby became a megastar with his 1988 solo album Don’t Be Cruel, whose hits like “My Prerogative” and “Every Little Step” helped usher in the New Jack Swing phenomenon. Following several years of nearly non-stop touring, his followup LP, 1992’s Bobby, continued the streak...

Duration: 00:40:48

211: Divine

Divine, as he is fond of saying, has gone “from crack to rap to tech.” His wild and inspirational story starts in Newport, Rhode Island, where he started dealing drugs just as the crack epidemic took hold—and also as hip-hop was starting to blossom. It wasn’t until years later, as he was finding his way out of the criminal life, that Divine let his passion for music take hold, and began his career as a rapper. But a chance meeting over Twitter with venture capitalist Ben Horowitz would...

Duration: 01:16:07

210: Shaggy

Orville “Shaggy” Burrell was raised in Jamaica, but started spending most of his time in Flatbush, Brooklyn starting in his late teens. It was in the streets of Flatbush that he began to turn his talent for creating on-the-spot rhymes into a career, performing at block parties and clubs and recording his first few singles. One of those early songs, a cover of the Folkes Brothers’ “Oh Carolina,” became a huge hit in 1993, particularly in the UK, and really launched Shaggy’s career. He went...

Duration: 01:46:16

209: DJ Toomp

Aldrin “DJ Toomp” Davis began his career as a DJ and producer for early Atlanta rap acts like Raheem the Dream and MC Shy-D. But it was when he met a friend’s cousin named Clifford Harris that things really got started. Harris rapped under the name Tip—which he would later change to T.I. to avoid confusion, after signing to the same record label as Q-Tip. T.I. and Toomp would together sell millions of records, create classics, and even help start a whole new genre. A whole new generation...

Duration: 01:18:01

208: Tom Silverman

Tom is the “Tommy” in Tommy Boy Records—he founded the label in 1981. After several early hip-hop and dance records, the label found success with “Planet Rock.” But it was in hip-hop’s Golden Age of the late 1980s and early 90s that the label would really blow up, signing acts like Queen Latifah, Digital Underground, House of Pain, Coolio, Naughty by Nature, and De La Soul. Silverman also founded the New Music Seminar, the influential and long-running music conference whose annual rap and...

Duration: 01:14:15

207: Ron "Amen Ra" Lawrence

Ron is a producer who is best known for his time as part of Bad Boy Records’ Hitmen production collective. Ron teamed up with Deric “D Dot” Angelettie, Diddy, Stevie J, and Nashiem Myrick to create iconic hits for Biggie, Mase, Diddy, Faith Evans, Mary J Blige, The Lox, and many more. After that run ended, Ron made beats for the likes of Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, and Luther Vandross. Ron is also a hip-hop historian and documentarian, and has made several films dealing with unjustly...

Duration: 01:30:06

206: Nana Ashhurst

Nana Ashhurst, formerly Carmen, played a key role in the history of hip-hop’s most iconic label, Def Jam, and in the career of its co-founder Russell Simmons. Of course, before that, she met Malcolm X through her activist parents and ran revolutions in Grenada—no big deal. She joined Def Jam in the 1980s as Russell’s assistant, but quickly worked her way up to president. While there, she also oversaw Russell’s expansion into fashion, movies, and comedy with properties like the fashion...

Duration: 01:29:22

205: Ernest Dickerson

Ernest Dickerson is a director, cinematographer, and writer who has played a key role in some of the best and most important film and television of the past four decades. He got his start in the mid-1980s as the cinematographer on movies by his NYU film school pal Spike Lee. Ernest show every one of Spike’s movies up through 1992’s Malcolm X—a historic run that included She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, and Jungle Fever, just to name a few. Ernest struck out on his own with a...

Duration: 01:39:38

204: Stevie Stone

Stevie Stone is an emcee who is part of the Strange Music family. However, his gravely voice and powerful vision make him stand out even among that talented crew. Stevie started out signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records, but quickly joined the Strange family—an appropriate move, since for his very first show, he shared the stage with the label’s co-founder and flagship artist Tech N9ne. Since then, Stevie has made a series of powerful and often experimental albums, including 2015’s Malta...

Duration: 00:58:20

203: Alan Grunblatt

Alan is the head of Entertainment One Music, a record label you may know better by the name it had until 2009, Koch Records. Koch is a label that had hits with veteran artists like Fat Joe’s Terror Squad, KRS-One, The Game, and Snoop Dogg; while also breaking new artists like Unk, Rich Boy, and even a then-new DJ Khaled. Hip-hop fans will remember the period in the mid-2000s where they had huge hits with Jim Jones, the Ying Yang Twins, Unk, Khaled, and more. But Entertainment One is only...

Duration: 01:06:50

202: Rocky Bucano

Rocky is the head of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum, a new and exciting project to share the history of hip-hop both in real life and in the virtual world. But his history goes way deeper than his current efforts. Rocky learned to DJ in the Bronx of the 1970s, as hip-hop was coming of age. His cousin, the great Pete “DJ” Jones, gave Rocky his start, and Rocky ran with it. He moved from DJing to promoting parties to getting into the record business, discovering talents like Teddy Riley and...

Duration: 01:06:49

201: Jay Smooth

Jay is the host of the longest-running hip-hop radio show ever, The Underground Railroad on New York City station WBAI. He’s had the show since 1991, and helped create the template of what an underground mix show is supposed to be. He also had arguably first hip-hop blog way back in 1997 with But Jay is perhaps best known as a pioneering video blogger. His video series Ill Doctrine, which deals with hip-hop, politics, cats, and lots more, has garnered millions of views,...

Duration: 01:38:47

200: 200th Episode Celebration With Kevin Coval

This is episode 200, and features a return from Kevin Coval. However, since it is our 200th, our producer Josh got Kevin, who’s also a big fan of the show, to turn the tables without us knowing and interview the show’s host Shawn. So if you’ll excuse a little self indulgence here’s the episode 200 with Kevin Coval, Shawn Setaro AND Josh Kross. Kevin is a poet and educator who is the artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, and the author and editor of a whole bunch of great books. The...

Duration: 01:53:12

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