Four Years of Cypher League: Where We’re From and Where We’re Going

very time Cypher League reaches a milestone, we let our readers know. It’s been 4 years since Cypher League’s launch in 2012, and, as such, the time comes again to let our audience know what’s good. For our readers new and old, in conjunction with the refreshening of our website, here’s what four years of Cypher League has looked like, and what our plans are going forward. Right off the bat, though, I on behalf of everyone at Cypher League want to thank all those who have devoured our content and rocked out at our events. Without y’all, the community, there would no point to any of this.

When myself and five friends–Devaughn Holliday, Tetsu Hiro, Jack Platts, Preston West, and Dylan Brennan–started our first WordPress blog, we weren’t yet out of high school. Now we’re older, and much has changed in our lives and in the world surrounding them. Our dedication to the culture, however, remains the same.

In our late 2012 incipiency, the “blogosphere” was overly saturated with too much of the same music and too little substance. It was, and remains, a competition to keep up with the perpetual stream of new music by trending artists. Cypher League’s vision, in the very beginning, wasn’t so far outside that narrow lens. Quickly, though, we decided to widen our aperture, aiming to distance ourselves from the bedroom “tastemakers” that are all to common in this arena, and become more involved, on-the-ground cultural participants.

In the last four years, our accomplishments have been diverse. For two years, Cypher League operated out of The Dojo, a converted parking garage duplex in Bed-Stuy that served as a residence, incubator and live event space for emerging New York artists. The founding principle behind The Dojo was that cultural movements demand collaboration, and that collaboration demands proximity. It was there that we first brought together some of the most talented artists that New York has to offer.

That era, however, came to an abrupt end when the murder of our then-landlord became front page news in the New York Post. ‘Who Didn’t Want Him Dead?’ the headline read, before it was retracted and changed in later editions of paper.

Given the unfortunate circumstances that had shuttered our artist haven, we decided to go out with a bang, hosting the Dojo Doomsday Party before leaving the space in the Summer of 2014. We marched forward into the Dojo post-apocalypse later that Summer, however, organizing our first Brooklyn Renaissance Festival in East New York.  The big homie Tee-Smif hooked us up with a vacant lot on Sutter Ave, and we spent the Summer cutting down brush and laying mulch for the festival. The whole neighborhood came out. We returned last Summer to the same spot, this time powering the entire festival with solar power and bringing out Talib Kweli as our headliner. For our third BRF this August, we are moving from East New York to The Well in Williamsburg.

A couple months before the second BRF, Cypher League released our first print magazine, Cypher Magazine. 52-color pages featuring cover story Mick Jenkins. A year later, we are preparing the release of our second print magazine, this time featuring Destiny Frasqueri on the cover.

And then there’s Dojo Records. In the last year, Devaughn Holliday and Preston West worked to land a distribution deal for the five-artist roster. I.O.D.RothsteinConnor DonovanNicholas Hunt, and Maero now have distribution deals under Dojo Records with Sony RED (US/Europe), OneRPM (South America), and Luminant Entertainment (South Korea). In the next year, each artist will be releasing their debut Dojo projects. Last month, I.O.D. released “‘Round Here,” the first single from his forthcoming Brownsvillain tape.

With our second print magazine, the third Brooklyn Renaissance Festival, and all of the music that’s coming out under Dojo Records, this last half of 2016 is shaping up to our strongest push yet. These last few years, Cypher League has been a passion project for the team, something we worked on while not consumed in going to school or working. With the much needed refurbishment of cypherleague.com, we are now taking Cypher League to the next level. We intend to stick around for awhile, so keep an eye on us because we’re only going to get bigger and better.

Break Rules, Empower Artists, Live Creatively.

Alex Oka