Exclusive Interview: Legendary Cyphers

Written By Jessica Golich

A young M.C. steps into the Arena. Photo Courtesy of Ethan Harrison.
A young M.C. steps into the Arena. | Photo Courtesy of Ethan Harrison.

Freestyle rap has embedded grit and drive into the veins of a multicultural variety of some of the most legendary rappers of all time who began their careers lyrically sheddin’ blood, sweat and tears into the streets over real instrumentals and beats. Held in Union Square in New York City every Friday evening from 8:00 P.M. to 12:00 A.M. between the months of May through November, the Legendary Cyphers welcome every and all walks of life with open arms into the inspiriting energy coruscating through the veins of the street group where on-goers dip and dabble into the lyrical wizardry laced and spit with excitement that attracts a nonsectarian mix of individuals intrigued by their words brimming with enlightenment. The exercise in improvisation, freedom and community displays the ferocious skills within each and every soul stepping up to the plate showcasing that you couldn’t come in with dull rhymes or bitten lines. Each and every line is spit from the heart and entirely a work of momentous art. As the imaginary mic gets passed to each MC, every moment to shine is undistributed, applauded and never purposely outshined. Creating a platform for all to be heard comes as child’s play to the Legendary Cyphers; I caught up with the hip-hop artist and Cyphers’ member, Palladium Philoz, to further discuss the mission, intention, and name of the game standing tall against the grain.

Jessica – First and foremost, introduce yourself to our readers. Who are the Legendary Cyphers?

Philoz – This is honestly a difficult question to answer (even though it sounds simple) because on the surface Legendary Cyphers is mainly perceived as just a weekly hip-hop cypher at Union Square but it has grown into so much more than just that. Legendary Cyphers is a hip-hop and cultural institution that does so many [different] things. It allows artists with multiple skill and experience levels to express themselves while cultivating their craft. It brings folks from so many different walks of life to not only experience M.C.’s rapping in a circle, but they are also able to witness community building from the perspective of one of the most relevant artforms of the past thirty years in its most organic nature. Legendary Cyphers is a NYC hip-hop mainstay and a community of its own.

Photo courtesy of Arash Noori.
Photo courtesy of Arash Noori.

Jessica – I recently attended one of your events in the middle of Union Square; I was so intrigued by the diversity in the group. Is that something that has come about naturally or something you seek to deliver?

Philoz – Thanks! We really appreciate that! Honestly, it is a little bit of both. If you mean in the sense of the overall cypher, then that’s pretty natural. The spectators and even the emcees a lot of times are just pedestrians who are just walking minding their business. When [they] see a huge circle and hear the music, they out of natural curiosity come into the cypher just to see what it’s all about. From that alone, on any given night the cypher attracts anywhere from two hundred to eight hundred people. But if you’re speaking in terms of the group of primary emcees that rap in the cypher, then that’s definitely a little bit of both. Hip-hop is such a diverse culture with many different styles, looks, walks of life and interpretations of the craft so that was naturally going to happen, but we definitely make it a mission to make Legendary Cyphers a place where anyone from any walk of life can feel as welcome as humanly possible to display their skill.

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Jessica – What is it about spittin’ in the streets that makes it such a more intimate setting than within a studio?

Philoz – There are a few things that add to the intimacy of the cypher. For one, you’re directly with the people speaking and interacting with everyone [while] all eyes are on you… but with being in the studio you have the option of being alone or with your engineer or both. The main thing that adds intimacy to the cypher is the high level of vulnerability. There are no retakes. There’s no “Let me erase that line and do it over because I didn’t like the way it sounded.” As an emcee, everything is all on the line because you can see everyone and everyone can see you. It’s all in real time.

‘The main thing that adds intimacy to the cypher is the high level of vulnerability.’

Jessica – Tell us about and shout-out the key players that brought The Legendary Cyphers to life?

Philoz – I think that the team and I would agree that one name would come before all of ours when it comes to this question: Daniel “Majesty” Sanchez. He was a hip-hop artist and activist who did so much great work. This was all his vision. Majesty founded Legendary Cyphers in 2013 and for the past three years, he has watered [this seed] that has turned into such a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, Majesty passed away this past October, but he entrusted the following “Resident Emcees” to carry on this movement: Bjorn Majestik, Eli Black, Milky Hustle and myself. We also have two incredibly talented emcees who just so happen to be our “resident emcees in training” and the First Ladies of Legendary Cyphers: Blake The Skorp and Happy Accident. We also have a host of various other talented emcees who come through every week and display their skills for the masses and for the culture.

A group of onlookers gather around the Legendary Cyphers. | Photo Courtesy of Ethan Harrison.
A group of onlookers gather around the Legendary Cyphers. | Photo Courtesy of Ethan Harrison.

Jessica – How do you perceive music affects you and the world around you?

Philoz – Music is literally EVERYTHING! They say that 85% of communication is nonverbal, a large part of that has to be music in one way or another. I can say that on a personal level music has become the basis for most of everything in my life. The other day, I did a chart of every friend that I have and I came to the conclusion that each and every bond came from music whether directly or indirectly. Music, especially hip-hop, is a reflection of the world. Hip-hop was born from socio-economic unrest in the South Bronx in the 1970’s and forty years later it is virtually everywhere. Hip Hop is the reason why a lot of us are here right now. Music is the reason for this interview. I’m truly grateful for it.

Jessica – If you could sit under the table and listen to any two human beings speak to further influence your creativity, who would you choose and why?

Philoz – I’m not sure who the second person would be but I could sit under a table and listen to Majesty talk all day. It wouldn’t even matter who was on the receiving end. I just would want to hear him drop jewels and say that “Everything’s gonna be okay, Philoz” so I could run with it and not only build my creativity, but build Legendary Cyphers exactly how he would’ve want it to be built and carried. I would literally do anything for that… forreal.

Jessica – Last but certainly not least, what do fans of the cypher have to look forward to from all of you in the near future?

Philoz – The fans of Legendary Cyphers can look forward to EVERYTHING! Our season in the park is coming to a close very soon but just know that we have so many great things in the works. During our off-season we mainly work on our educational programming so you’ll see Legendary Cyphers in a classroom near you. Legendary Cyphers was just featured on a BBC documentary about hip-hop culture so folks can check that out and we have an article in National Geographic Magazine that’s coming out soon. We’re also working on some very dope events so that people can still experience Legendary Cyphers even if we’re physically not in the park. Most importantly, we’ll be back in Union Square for the fifth season of Legendary Cyphers next spring on the first Friday of May. We’re all working very hard so it can be one for the ages, just like Majesty would’ve wanted.