Ten Years A Cypher - 10 Questions with LoveReigns and Monsta - Co-Creators of The Cypher Open Mic Poetry & Soul
Merriam-Webster defines a Cypher (or, more formally, Cipher) as a method of transforming a text in order to conceal its meaning; a message in code; or a combination of symbolic letters. Hip Hop or Lyrical Culture defines a Cypher in much more colloquial and relevant terms as anything cyclical. For example: if you're freestyling, you rap in a cypher, which defines both the order in which you take your turn - one after the other - as well as the physical arrangement in which you stand - typically in a circle, each participant facing inward, sharing their talent until it's time to pass the mic.
The Cypher Open Mic Poetry & Soul has, over the last ten years, found a way to define itself and has become synonymous with all things positive, uplifting, and progressive about an open mic. Held every Thursday at De Real Ting Cafe in Downtown Jacksonville and stewarded by Artists LoveReigns and Monsta, The Cypher (for short) has become an integral part of the fabric of the Duval Art scene. Many poets, lyricists, artists, and musicians - local and national - have graced its stage. Artists and art appreciators alike gather habitually and faithfully to be inspired, uplifted, and encouraged to "release the innershit". In many ways it can be considered a sort of rite of passage. There aren't many seasoned artists in Jacksonville that haven't, at the very least, heard of The Cypher or attended the weekly event at some point. However, if this is your first time hearing of The Cypher, circle up and don't forget to respect the mic - this is a part of Duval history and you're about to get a lesson.
Introduce yourselves to our readers! We want to know more about the creative minds behind Jacksonville's longest standing spoken word and open mic institution.
I'm Taryn Wharwood A.K.A. LoveReigns - Poet, advocate, curator of dopeness, mentor, entrepreneur and author (sooner than you think). I have been performing and hosting in Jacksonville, for about 12 years. In my day life I am a Sales Trainer for a marketing company. I work full time, grind full time, and love full time!
I'm Mike Robinson AKA DJ Monsta (or just Monsta) - Poet, DJ, Host, and Entrepreneur. Hailing from Duval County, Jacksonville, FL (by way of Spring Valley, NY). Black on Black Rhyme Jax Artist I've made a name for myself as both a DJ and a poet, co-hosting as house DJ for two of Jacksonville’s most prominent open mic events The Cypher Open Mic Poetry & Soul and Artis(Tree) Live Downtown for the past 10 years. Bringing great energy, humor, and spot on song selection to the atmosphere epitomizing each moment and memory, I'm nothing less than a “Monsta” on the tables and on the mic. One thing's for sure - you always want your party to have a beast for a DJ spinning tunes, and when it comes to spinning tunes this particular DJ happens be a “Monsta”.
Where, when, how, and why did you decide to start the Cypher? Tell us the origin story...
Taryn: About 10 years ago, my mentor Tonya Smart, had an open mic called WeSpeak Poetry that she facilitated along with Mr. Al Pete and Matthew “Cuban” Hernandez. She took me under her wings and introduced me to the poetry scene. After a while, she decided that she no longer wanted to produce the show and said that she wanted me to take it over along with Cuban and Al, we just had to change the name. Which we did, changing it to The Cypher Open Mic Poetry & Soul. Along the way, Monsta, The IGive, ill Clinton, Ebony Payne, Seven Soul Jones, Moses West and others joined the movement. The rest, as they say, is history.
How has the Cypher changed and evolved since it started ten years ago?
Taryn: I think really the only thing that has changed is the venue (7 times over) and minor additions here and there as far as the show content. We started doing the shows 1st, 3rd and 5th Thursday’s. We were meeting with the owners of De Real Ting a few times on off Thursday’s and people would show up. So we decided to give the weekly thing a shot and here we are a little over a year later doing the show weekly. Other than that, I am proud to say that we have always kept that home grown family and accepting atmosphere.
What is your mission or purpose?
Taryn: Our mission is to provide an open atmosphere for all artists of all genres and experience levels to vibe, have a good time, be inspired and inspire, meet new people and ultimately leave each show feeling better than they did when they walked in.
How do you feel the Cypher and collectives like it impact the life and culture of the Jacksonville community?
Taryn: Institutions such as The Cypher are absolutely necessary for the culture of Jacksonville. Not only is it a staple, like others, it has become a part of the thread of the Jacksonville Arts Community. When people visit or want to visit not just Jacksonville but Florida, and they look up or ask about open mics, The Cypher is one of the first mentioned in the State. That makes us proud.
There seems to be a general consensus that the arts environment is changing in Jacksonville. How do you view the evolution of the arts since the Cypher began a decade ago?
Taryn: First, I have to say honestly that there wouldn’t be a Cypher without Nokturnal Escape and Soul Release and ultimately WeSpeak Poetry. So shows like that paved the way for all of us. There used to be a time where it was virtually impossible to find a stage to perform or just to go and have a good time listening to local and national artists perform on one stage. Now it happens on the regular and I only see it getting bigger and better from here.
What are some of the challenges you've faced in growing and developing the brand?
Taryn: Our biggest challenge has been growing our team and seeking funding to make the show bigger than it is. We have done this work thus far all out of pocket and its been hard to ease off of the reins a little to allow some assistance. Now we are in the process of building and branding The Cypher as a powerful force in Jacksonville and beyond.
Mike: A couple years back LoveReigns decided to leave Jacksonville and the Cypher and Create Artis(Tree) Live, basically becoming a sister show of the Cypher. Maybe 2-3 years later Cuban Moved to California and wanted to shut the show down, I said no give me the reins and I’ll keep it going. it was hard by myself doing everything that a team of people used to do so I asked Moses West, Ebony Payne and SevenSoul Jones to assist in hosting so I can focus on the back end and music, it worked out for a while but confused the crowd so when LoveReigns came back to Jax I asked her to come back and be the main host for the show so things would stay consistent and we have been rocking ever since as “Partners in Rhyme”
Open mics and poetry nights are by no means scarce in Jacksonville, but the Cypher has endued the test of time and grows stronger every year. What have you done differently from other collectives to make the brand stand out and sustain for all these years?
Taryn: We have definitely had our challenges but I think what sets us apart is the family oriented atmosphere we have created. We provide an experience for our ever growing family and we involve them in the shows as much as possible. That’s not to say that other shows don’t, I just think The Cypher has become more of a melting pot for artists and genres.
Mike: We remain consistent I can’t remember the last time I took a Thursday off, I’m not even sure I have.
Where do you see the Cypher in the future? Are there plans to expand within the market?
Taryn: This year we are focusing on truly branding the show and growing our team. We are also incorporating a quarterly showcase sponsored by Obscura Lux Photography awarding cash prizes to the winners. Ultimately our goal is to create a non-profit that will fund a scholarships not only for arts focused graduating high school seniors but also for up and coming artists to help with releasing material and projects.
Mike: I see the Cypher hopefully one day being shown to the world in the form of National Television, kind of like Def Poetry Jam. That way our energy can spread like wild fire throughout the world and hopefully inspire more talented individuals to do what they love.
What have you learned about yourselves through the development of the Cypher and your work? How do you define success in what you do?
Taryn: I have learned that I am more resilient and courageous than I realized. I’ve also learned through trial and error, how to be a leader and truly step up to oversee The Cypher. I’ve also learned that I’m a pretty good host - lol. Seriously though, when I first started, I never wanted to be in the spotlight. I never wanted to speak or host anything. I just wanted to fade in the back. Somehow I was thrust into the hosting spotlight and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Success to me is hearing people say thank you for your words or thank you for giving me the opportunity to perform. There’s nothing more satisfying than that for me and that is why I believe that I am successful in most things that I do. It’s never just about me.
Mike: I’ve learned that if you provide good entertainment and an outlet to creatively vent your emotions then you will always be supported by people who care. I’ve learned I can put something together like a full show at the Cypher and walk away proud even if I don’t make anything off the show, it’s not about the money it’s about providing a platform for people to express themselves. Success to me is seeing the smiles on their faces and people enjoying themselves
We'd like to thank Taryn and Mike for their participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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