Sunday, September 20, 2009

Building on the Capitol Steps by Scott Kelly

Around 9:00PM on any given Tuesday night, an open group of MC’s redefine free speech on the steps of the Capitol building. Unabridged, unabashed and unhinged, the Capitol City Cypher is all about rhyme skills, networking and perfecting the craft in a truly Austin environment.

The Cypher is a place where any MC, established or not, can come test his mettle. The atmosphere is more supportive than many close-circuit cyphers that may be less open to outsiders – here, anyone is welcome and the only measure of a man is his mouth.

“It’s not really about battling,” cypher founder Greg Levin says, “It’s about building. Guys who can’t afford studio time and want to network, or who want to work on their freestyles, they can come here and really get better at what they do.”

Most hip hop heads consider freestyling a crucial part of one’s mic skills and an integral part of b-boy culture, something that Greg has been fascinated by since hip hop exploded in the early 80’s. From Long Island to NOLA and finally to Austin, Greg has seen many hip hop scenes flourish and is drawn to Austin’s unique style.

“The cypher is definitely a democracy. There are no rules or regulations, we just started coming here [to the Capitol] and more and more rappers started showing up. Then we started getting crowds,” Greg says.

Even though Austin is considered a music mecca, hip hop is often not given its place on the plate. That doesn’t stop these MC’s from infusing their craft with the same free-spirited energy that has made quality music synonymous with Austin.

“It’s something that I know can be changed,” standout artist and cypher regular Doc Deuce says. “There’s a lot of talent in Austin and someone will blow up soon.”

Austin has struggled to find a name and place for itself among the crowded local music scene, but the building they rap in front of isn’t the only piece of Renaissance Revival situated downtown. Stylistically the rhyming is coming from West Coast conscious hip hop more than the Dirty South that the region is known for, although each rapper is cultivating his own unique blend.

It’s a place people can come and see some of their favorite local MC’s in a smaller setting, really doing their thing among peers. Touring emcees will drop on through and producers come by to feed some new beats to the hungry artists. The group is welcoming to bystanders and can’t help but draw a crowd.

“The Cypher is a beautiful thing,” Doc Deuce says, “I’d like to invite you all to the Capitol steps so you can see what we’re really building here.”

Article credits. Scott Kelly (
Photo credits. Greg Broseus (

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