Summer Studio Cypher

On Friday, August 28th, 2015 I hosted a cypher in The NatCave Studio. It was a great success and a valuable memory for the studio.

If you have an Amazon Prime account like I do, hopefully you know it includes a service called Prime Music where you can listen to free music. In this collection I found the album Legend Of The Wu-Tang. Over the years I lost track of Wu-Tang as I gave more attention to the studio. Like most hip hop fans, I stapled Wu-Tang’s first album Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers in my head through repetitious playback. As I skimmed through the Legend Of The Wu-Tang’s tracks, I found that some of the songs were familiar, likely the album’s singles that played on the radio.

The song Uzi certainly struck a chord with me. I knew I had heard it before, I just never associated it with the specific album since Wu-Tang artists have had so many. Uzi’s beat is uptempo and it has these horn blasts and background chants that amplify the verses. It also features several members of the Wu-Tang Clan. The lyrics are awesome, yet as a music creator I couldn’t help but mentally remove the lyrics, hearing just the instrumental in my head as it played it. The beat is so hypnotic and New York (if I can use New York as an adjective).

The idea for a cypher has been in the back of my mind for a long time, I just never got around to organizing it. This felt like the right moment. My vibe was ready to align all the arrangements. I decided to have the cypher, whether or not poor planning would prevent its success.

I found the instrumental version on YouTube and posted it on Facebook with a note asking my artist friends to participate. This was one of those rare moments when a gem comes out of social media among the endless array of time-wasting post (what I affectionately label as “the sea of shit”). I posted this message on a Thursday. Continuing with my spontaneous spirit, I chose to host the cypher the next day. To my delight, my announcement received near immediate attention. Many artists resonated with my idea and rsvp’d that they would attend.

The phrase “You had to be there” doesn’t quite give the cypher justice. At it’s climax, twelve recording artists were working in the studio. Some had finished writing their verse before they came. Others wrote their verse right there on the spot. As they took turns crossing the booth’s doorway, I could hear the other artists in the background rehearsing their verses in anticipation of their performance. I captured lots of pictures and video from the various performances and posted them online as the cypher proceeded.

I surprised a few of the artists by joining the cypher. Most of them were unaware that I could rap. I invested heavily into my engineering skills during my adult years. However, my musical inspirations began with me writing and performing rap music in high school. When it was my turn to perform, I wondered how I would pull this off without another engineer. S-Rock volunteered to work the board and record my verse. I knew I was in good hands since S-Rock has a home studio setup and has experience with the recording process. I stepped in the booth feeling a little tipsy. Within a few takes I became annoyed work my decision to write complex wordplay to a fast beat, and now performing it with alcohol in my system. Fortunately karma rescued me. As I struggled to get verse out, I had a set of coaches on the other side of the glass examining my lyrics and suggesting adjustments to my flow. Amongst the group, notably Druhollah and False went as far as stepping inside the booth with me and writing out my words in order to reconstruct them. It was magic.

The night did come with a few unexpected challenges. The summer heat battled the studio’s air conditioner and was victorious due to the crowded space. Halfway through the night I propped opened the front door, hoping the hot air would escape. Some artists (I’ll refrain to mention who) discovered their drinking limit that night. Just about everyone was drinking something since I don’t allow smoking in the studio. Even I had a cup, which I normally don’t do in the studio because I’m usually on the clock. Most of the night I was facing the booth and the computer, visually ignorant of the scene behind me. I missed the point when the drinks crossed over the safety threshold. The energy was great between the artists. The were no altercations, but by the end of the night I was compelled to make extra efforts to ensure my guests got home safely.

The next great challenge was the 13 minute length of the final track. Now that we had all the pieces, I had the respective task of putting the pieces together. We were recording up until around 4:00 AM. I was tempted to start mixing the cypher right away. Considering my fatigue, my better judgement prevailed and I went to sleep after the massive recording session. This allowed me to recharge my batteries and mix with a fresh mind.

The mix took me a few days, requiring me to steal a few hours from my schedule here and there. The shear number of participants on the track intimidated me. On top of that, every artist did a fantastic job. This increased my anxiety to get the mix right since I am solely responsibility for the final version. An important aspect of this mix was that I wanted every verse to be different. I could have easily let the beat play straight through, relieving me of most of the creative pressure. In my opinion, when a song has multiple parts that sound unique it brings new life to the song each time you play it. I put breaks in every verse but no two breaks were the same. To make it feel live, I added some record scratches, amping the energy of the track even more. On Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015 I uploaded the final mix to SoundCloud.

Hearing the final mix made it worth every sacrifice that I and the other artists made to create the cypher. I think it was the only song I entertained myself with for a week. It’s a great collaborative track, a symbol that artists can come from different areas and circumstances, then unite and create something incredible.

Follow this link to check out the track

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Nathanial Foreman
Chief Engineer, NatCave Studio

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