When you think of Houston hip hop you usually don’t associate it with experimental hip hop, and Cypher the Avatar is a great example of how the scene is evolving out of the shadows of traditional street music. This Houston-based, alternative / indie artist aims to leave a great enlightening feeling with his fans, and has seemed to do that with his latest release, “Suicide Watch.” We asked Cypher a few questions about his latest work, including “Suicide Watch,” as well as his latest music videos and who influenced his latest mixtape.
ET: Could you tell us a bit about your background? What led you to begin writing and creating music? What is the significance behind your stage name? You’ve described your brand of hip-hop as experimental; what does that mean to you?
Cypher the Avatar: My background on music is a bit shady and patchy as I didn’t really start “legitimately” listening to music until a year ago when I started becoming serious about my music, so most of my library is the new school of hip-hop. Before it was just whatever my dad was listening to, usually Temptations or the sort. I have been writing, recording and making beats since 2005 on and off for fun, but it wasn’t until I realized that I’m simply another spec of dust in the grand scheme of life that I decided to participate professionally so I can hopefully leave a presence once I pass away, it has nothing to do with money.
My stage name comes from me not understanding the mystery of life as I feel it’s one big encrypted message and an Avatar simply being a vessel to get things done, a few have mistaken my name as a spin on the movie, Avatar, or cartoon, The Last Airbender. To which I say, no it isn’t lol I also hope that my stage name portrays me as an individual in the industry as well as my music.
I have been classified as an indie/alternative hip-hop artist and grouped with the likes of Chance the Rapper, Kid Cudi and even SZA due to my production and choice of beats. I simply just make music that I believe to be experimental because of the sounds being used alongside my lyricism.
ET: What can you tell us about the music scene of Houston, Texas? What is it like living in Houston?
C: The music scene currently in Houston seems to be pretty redundant in the sense that we are stuck on one type of sound, I’m guilty of having the same sound at times, due to being raised around it and just loving the vibe it gives off. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely embrace the Houston music, it just isn’t my scene honestly. The city is full of aspiring rappers, singers and producers. It’s also full of hot weather…so much hot weather…and traffic, not even including traffic from the Houston Texans game (don’t mind the record we are still the best ever). But overall Houston is a pretty cool place to live.
ET: What can you tell us about the project you just released last month (“Suicide Watch”)? How does this mixtape differ from or expand on your previous offering ‘Neverknowsbest’? Could you shed some light on a few of your favorites from each mixtape?
C: My second album, Suicide Watch, project just released 9/30/14 and I was aiming for a more enlightening yet entertaining experience, something for you to sit and ponder with, but still able to enjoy while listening. 17 tracks of mesmerizing beats and home hitting lyrics. I definitely focused more on my wordplay and giving it that full of content feeling. Some of my favorite tracks include Awkward Mood, Suicide Watch, I’ll Help You Understand, So Long Mr. Rebel and the track I produced, Television Babies. The album differs from my first album, NeverKnowsBest easily because then I still wasn’t sure of the direction I wanted to take. NKB was more of my “feet on the ground”. I was still learning, and still am, how to deliver properly as well as mixing it myself. I, and the others who have left feedback enjoyed the outcome of this Houston artist. Definite favorites on the album of mine are Soul Look Fresh and Tropius, oh and Hello Goodbye. Especially the latter as it was the track that I started experimenting with the way I deliver my lyrics and managed to get some major thoughts off in an enjoyable little interlude track.
ET: What has it been like collaborating with so many artists and producers on each of your releases? Who have been some of your favorites to work with? If you could collaborate with any three industry legends, who would you choose?
C: I really enjoyed working with the featured artists and producers on both albums as well as my singles and upcoming projects this and next year. Although a tad frustrating at times when asking an artist to feature. Since I handle my own mixing, it becomes a hassle at times to mix multiple artists to the way I want them to sound. Some don’t give me the option of mixing their vocals so they send the send with the vocals already on it lol. It’s all love though as I appreciate everyone so far for the help they have given me. Notably producer Thee G.O.D.S., we met in college and we recently linked back up on music stuff, pretty cool person and supports my efforts 100%. Always important to have a good friend who has your back. He produced my So Long Mr. Rebel record on my Suicide Watch album. You know, if I could work with 3 industry artist it would probably be Kid Cudi, Snoop Dogg and/or Eminem. I think a collaborative effort between either one of them would be amazing.
ET: What is your favorite social networking platform? Why?
C: I normally didn’t post on social media sites, but Instagram has quickly become my favorite over the past few months. Posting pretty regularly on there now, its full of unreleased and work in progress material as well as the random selfie here and there. I think I’ve done a decent job of letting you in on my life through Instagram so follow me and enjoy my offerings lol.
ET: What inspired the music video for your song ‘Why You Mad At Me’? What about the video for ‘Awkward Mood’? What was it like working with Derrick Thomas Jr on this video?
C: Inspirations from my Why You Mad at Me was mainly derived from a thought of wanting something abstract yet simple and that was the result. Not to distract you from the lyrics, but to compliment them. Awkward Mood was handled by Hidden in the Leaves, he does some pretty amazing visuals. I told him I wanted a warm feeling to accompany the amazing vibe of the song and he came through perfectly. He also handled my Karma visual which can also be seen on YouTube, love the visual work from this guy.
ET: What does a typical writing session look like for Cypher the Avatar? Are you constantly coming up with new lyrical ideas throughout your day?
C: A typical writing session for me includes no writing normally. Usually I hear a beat I like and start recording within 30 seconds. Most of my lyrics are thought of on the spot with writing happening mainly when I hear a beat and don’t have access to my studio. Songs like No Sleep from my Suicide Watch album and Militant Noise from NKB were thought of on spot the moment I heard the beat. That’s definitely my preferred method. I’m constantly thinking of how I can portray my emotions into lyrics all day everyday. It becomes a problem when I think of something really cool and forget it, so I now use my phone for those spur of the moment lyrics, but out of the songs I’ve made so far, I probably have about 5 or so written on pen and paper.
ET: Who are your biggest musical influences? Why do these artists or producers in particular inspire you?
C: My biggest influences to date include Ab-Soul because of the way he attacks subject matters of religion and government and still makes great music. Kid Cudi because of his solo dolo vibe with the music he creates and the way he has grown as an artist from the first single I’ve heard, Day N Night (which i disliked at first). Then there’s still all the other artist and bands. It’s hard to say honestly, music itself is an influence to me. I do give a nod to artist like Mac Miller, he is able to make what he wants, when he wants, how he wants and still be a very enjoyable artist if I may say so. That’s what I would like to do one day, one day soon hopefully.
ET: You’ve had outstanding feedback regarding your music on music community sites such as Dat Piff and Soundcloud; how have the views and messages of your fans validated what you are doing in music?
C: I take all feedback and comments in, I enjoy hearing anything someone as to say. Hearing that I made a great song or that I made someone feel better about something feels amazing, although getting negative feedback does make me think a few things over. Ultimately I have to understand that everyone is entitled and has an opinion. Just because 1 person likes a new song, it doesn’t mean I will “blow up” or vice versa. I just have to remember to keep making music, keep doing what makes me happy and what I’m passionate about. I think I’m gathering quite a collective of diverse fans, but they all seem like very chill yet responsive to my music. I love them for it and I won’t lie, of course it helps me with the creation process because I know they will enjoy the experience of a new Cypher the Avatar song no matter how off the wall it sounds. Me and my fans are about being yourself it seems. I can dig it if they can lol
ET: What do the remaining months of 2014 hold in store for Cypher the Avatar? Do you have any upcoming performances scheduled?
C: Even though 2014 is coming to a close in a few months I made quite a few major moves this year although most are behind the scenes and not in plain view. I’m planning to release (S)Even by the end of the year, an EP I recently started working on and man so far it’s sounding so amazing I want to release it now lol. There’s also about 5 albums worth of material that are completed so more singles soon hopefully and maybe another EP or album if the timing is right. Im currently in the process of booking shows for next year, but you will for sure see or hear about me performing a few shows locally this year.