In 2012, OurStage partnered with ESPN to find an emerging artist with just the right track for their Friday Night Fights. Over the course of several rounds (judging, not fighting), Brooklyn’s Ciph Boogie emerged as the consensus favorite, and was featured as the “Main Event” champ on the network. He released a great EP called Sometime In New York City Vol. 1, as well as some singles, but the release of Vol. 2 was delayed. We talked to Ciph about that release and what he’s been up to creatively, as well as the current state of the music business, and where he sees his place in it.
Hey Ciph, thanks for letting us catch up with you. It’s been a few years since you were picked as the OurStage/ESPN Main Event champ, and had your music featured on the sports network’s Friday Night Fights. How was that experience for you, in retrospect?
In retrospect, it was a great experience. A lot of the times, when I look back at it, I still can’t believe that it happened. But it felt really, really good; my uncle called me up and told me he saw me on TV and everything. It felt like my work was finally being appreciated. Prior to having my music featured on ESPN, I had been releasing music for a few years already, so when this opportunity was presented and I actually won, for me it was the universe aligning, a great validation. But also, as great as this moment was, I didn’t want it to be my only defining moment as an artist − like I didn’t want this to be my Al Bundy “four touchdowns in one game” moment [laughs]. So I was very happy when other opportunities for my music to be presented on a national level came along. Like the Red Bull commercial, also in 2012, and my song “Let’s Work” being used by the Boston Celtics back in 2015.
Since then, you’ve dropped some one-off freestyles, along with an acclaimed EP, Sometime In New York City, Vol. 1. Then in 2016, we got a single from what was intended to be that EP’s sequel, but which so far has gone unreleased. All independent artists can relate to unexpected delays in completing and releasing new projects, of course. Can you tell us what’s been going on with you and with that release in particular, over the last couple of years?
A few factors were involved. One of them, and I’m being totally honest here, I was experiencing perfectionist paralysis. I wanted to put together the best project possible, and I was literally driving myself borderline insane. It came from a good place, because I believe in always putting your best foot forward. But for me it was like, “If one ad-lib is off then the whole song is trash.” I was really getting in my own way. Even with the 2016 single “Hatlow,” I went through a couple of re-do’s on that one because I would constantly pick it apart, and find something else I didn’t like, sound wise, so that’s why I began to do the one-off freestyles, as an apology of sorts to my supporters who were waiting for Vol. 2 to drop. Another factor was that the sound of music changed dramatically since the release of Sometime in New York City Vol 1. So I wanted to make sure that, (A) the music was enjoyable for the current musical landscape and, (B)
that I was true to myself as an artist. It was all about finding that proper balance.
For better or worse, it seems that your next release may come out in the midst of more obviously troubling times, socially, racially, and politically. Does the music you’re working on now reflect or speak to this particular moment? Have you changed your goals for what you want Vol. 2 to communicate or accomplish? Is the music different than it would have been had you released it in 2016, or are you still aiming to just get a backlog of material out before moving on creatively?
Some of the material I’ve been working on as of late is reflective of the times. Songs like “Clarity,” that’s my medicine in the candy song. I like the way that I arranged the song, how it flows − you have to listen to it to understand what I mean by that. “Say Yeah” touches on race a bit, and “Jet Plane” speaks to having peace. The goals haven’t really changed much for Vol 2.; I just had to do some retooling, specifically to make sure that I spoke to the times. One of the things I felt that I didn’t do much with Vol 1. was speak to the times. But overall Vol 2. still has the same intent, which is a deeper look into Ciph Boogie the person. I’m not really trying to get a backlog of material off, well at least not under the Sometime in New York City title. That title, Sometime in New York City Vol 2., is very important to my supporters, and very important to me. For the songs that I recorded a few years ago and don’t fit for Vol 2., I am heavily considering putting together like a Nas Lost Tapes kind of project, that showcases a lot of my earlier material, a lot of the songs throughout my career that are my personal favorites, and some of the stuff I was recording during the SINYC Vol 2. sessions. My intent is for it to serve as a crash course for those who are just coming across my music and need an introduction.
With the traditional music business in the state it’s in, basically a big question mark, what kind of a path forward do you see for yourself, or for any independent rap or hip-hop artist?
I believe the path forward for an independent hip-hop artist can be smooth, if the artist plans properly from a business aspect. The truth is, nobody is going to help you until you create something of value. Having talent alone isn’t going to help you as an indie artist in these times. As an independent artist, you have to start looking at yourself as a small business, because practically that’s what you are. Make sure your credit is straight, so you can take out business loans, and get favorable loan rates. Invest ad dollars into promoting your releases − it can be Facebook Ads, taking out an ad in a magazine, whatever. Throw your own shows, tell YOUR story.
As for my path forward, I’m straight, even though I’ve been “quiet” on the public side, and as far as full releases go. I’ve been very active behind the scenes, business-wise. I’ve always approached the music business, as you should: with a business mindset. The business part begins for me after the creative work is completed. But I’ve been solidifying a lot of business relationships, so that when Sometime in New York City Vol 2. finally drops, it has the greatest chance to be successful.