Freestyle rap often takes the form of a “battle,” but Atlanta community organizer Alex “Cost One” Acosta prefers to think of it as a space for equal sharing of ideas. One term for collaborative freestyle rap is “cypher,” another word for “circle.” Acosta’s Soul Food Cypher invites anyone with a message to join and participate in the free expression of rap cyphers. Acosta also owns RAPPORT, an agency connecting communities with the art of the cypher. He joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about his intimate connection to rap and cyphers, with a philosophy of healing, education, and inclusive expression.
How Acosta decided to create cypher experiences with intention:
“In 2011 I began mentoring at the Whitefoord Intel Computer Clubhouse…. It was a neighborhood in transition,” said Acosta. “I began working with kids… The real way I was able to connect with them was through our shared appreciation and love for hip-hop culture. In this center, they had a studio, and the kids would record music. But the true magic happened right outside of the studio, where the kids would get together and start to cypher.”
“It reminded me of the ability to use freestyle to heal as well because these kids were going through some real things. They were dealing with abandonment issues. They were dealing with violence… but in their rhymes, they would address it, but then they would also address solutions or what they felt were solutions to the issues,” said Acosta. “I thought, why not create a safe and nurturing environment in which the art form could be elevated, in which the art form could continue? So I decided to write a proposal to a community art center called Wonderroot.”
Freestyle rap as a healing force:
“We don’t need any more battles, we don’t. To say ‘I’m better you, because of this, this, and that,’ we’re not in a space where we need this. And yes, I do believe that there is friendly competition. But the type of battles that lead to deaths, that lead to intergenerational conflicts, that is not what we’re supporting. What we want to be able to do is use our music for healing. We want to be able to use our words to uplift one another,” said Acosta.
“One of my favorite exercises, or segments that we do in the cypher, is ‘nice bars.’ And with ‘nice bars,’ we actually reverse battle rap. So we have two MCs come together and those MCs, instead of tearing each other down, they look at one another and they say complimentary things to one another. They talk about how great each other are; they talk about their style. But then maybe some things that the crowd doesn’t know. Maybe someone loaned someone money, or maybe somebody did something that they didn’t know.”
Spreading the energy of Atlanta’s Soul Food Cypher nationally through RAPPORT:
“RAPPORT is a production company that preserves and elevates freestyle rap and lyricism, and we do this through performances and also multimedia projects and the mission of RAPPORT is, ‘Rap different,” said Acosta. “Soul Food Cypher has had the opportunity to do amazing things throughout the country. But even at that, Soul Food Cypher at its best is a destination. It’s a place in which MC’s see the beacon, and they can come to. I like to imagine Soul Food Cypher as the Blue Note of Atlanta hip-hop.”
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to take the Soul Food Cypher other places as well… As I activate and elevate freestyle rap and lyricism, I do this under RAPPORT,” said Acosta. “‘Rap’ is a ‘port’ that connects people, and rappers are brilliant problem-solvers; they not only connect words and ideas in rhyme but also move people to action. So ‘rap’ is a ‘port’ that connects problems to solutions.”
More information on Soul Food Cypher and Alex Acosta’s other projects is available at https://www.soulfoodcypher.com/.