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Louis Cypher on Notts Hip Hop, Mental Health, and His Second Solo EP

6 June 19 words: Bridie Squires

Nottingham hip hop staple Louis Cypher is set to launch his second solo EP, Cypher Sore Eyes, at The Maze this Friday. We sat down with the rapper in the Fox & Grapes to get a potted history of his music career, and to find out more on the new release…

photo: Julian Zizko

A familiar face at local gigs, a regular at The soon-to-be-closed Maze, and a legend on the Nottingham hip hop scene, Louis Cypher has been a member of Liverpool’s Punning Clan, Nottingham's 1st Blood Fam, freestyle outfit Hey Zeus, and OGC. After releasing his first solo EP – Twisted Teachings – in 2007, he’s launching his second at The Maze this Friday.

Cypher Sore Eyes is made up of tracks written three years ago; after writing and recording on and off, Louis had a mental health dip and has been sitting quietly on the material. Earlier this year, with a nudge from 1st Blood's Pete Chilvers, the rapper decided to get it sorted and put the finishing touches to his collaboration-heavy music.

“There are stems missing from certain tracks,” says Louis. “To me, it’ll never be perfect, but that’s just the nature of creativity I guess. I didn’t want to let it go to waste. Pete said: ‘It either sits on your hard drive and nobody ever hears it, or you accept those things.’ So I did.” 

When Louis got backing from London hip-hop label Boom Bap Professionals, and got involved with Will Robinson's I'm Not From Brooklyn project, he was able to actualize the EP as a physical release.

When I ask how he got into hip hop in the first place, Louis says it all started on the back of the bus, on the way to Haywood School. “Me and my mates were listening to these lads rapping over Biggie instrumentals. They were bob. When we started going to my mum’s house – getting high, sticking on some Funkdoobiest and Cypress Hill – a few of us started rapping to take the piss and I was like ‘We’re actually quite good at this.’”

photo: Julian Zizko

Fast forward a few years, and Louis was making music with his mate Dirty Joe, who’d set up a production studio off Forest Road: “It was in a shitty little bedsit, but we had a mic, a PC and some zip disks. It became something I was passionate about, a cathartic outlet.” Not long after, Louis was going with Joe to The Boys Club in Hyson Green – the studio ran by Courtney Rose. It was there he met other rappers like Birdie Mac and J Gold, and got involved with a band for the first time alongside Dirty Joe.

“In my head it feels only yesterday,” says Louis. “It was around the time Mistajam was going down there when he was still Minty in Crossroads. Me, Dirty Joe, Aztek and Dialogic formed a crew called Cliquit Flows and recorded a load of music together.”

Around that time, in 2005, Louis was a regular at Check Bar – the venue that became Ride, and eventually Calluna – where there was a weekly hip hop open mic ran by Tom Squigley from Oh My Gosh Records. “We used to have proper cyphers,” says Louis. “A DJ and eight MCs passing the mic. It used to get wild though. I remember Birdie Mac getting his front tooth punched out and all kinds of craziness going down, but it was a wicked time.”

It was here Louis met Pete Chilvers and the beginnings of 1st Blood were formed: “Pete's really good at getting people on board, and he's got a really strong, singular vision,” says Louis. “He just wants to make music. And if you're a good rapper or instrumentalist, he wants to get you involved.”

photo: Julian Zizko

Eventually, Louis went to study Popular Music in Liverpool and met Benny Diction, Tony Skank, 2wo-Toes, and Ro Jista. There, Punning Clan was born.

“I moved to Liverpool when I was 23 and lived in halls to get the student experience,” says Louis. “Obviously I hated it. I was like ‘I’m not hanging around with these wastemen, I’ll just go to some hip hop nights on my own.’” Soon enough, Louis and his new crew were putting on events in the city themselves. In recent years, the rapper has hosted Writer’s Bloc in Nottingham – nights dedicated to hip hop that’ve seen the likes of Chester P, Mystro, and a plethora of local acts grace the stage.

But what about the Notts hip hop scene today? I wonder if thinks things have changed for better or worse in the city’s nightlife.

“Hip hop is always changing,” says Louis. “Youthoracle did his thing with a bit more of a grime influence and battle rap angle. Can't Stop Won't Stop and Ste Allen have been putting big work in since day dot. As a promoter I wonder why similar-sized cities are getting big hip-hop acts when Nottingham doesn't. I think it’s because venues like The Maze are closing down. We’re losing the independent spots. There's not enough space, a lot of competition, and it’s risky business financially as a promoter.

“But the Nottingham hip hop scene is great. We've got Cappo and Scorzayzee who are some of the best rappers in the UK. And Juga-Naut is absolutely smashing it. Big shouts to Parisa who runs Acoustickle too, for bringing through some of the younger hip hop and r'n'b artists.”

photo: Julian Zizko

Cypher Sore Eyes’ fourth tune, Father’s Departure – featuring Ty Healy – was inspired by Louis’ stint working at SEND Project, where he helped young people who’d been excluded from school to gain arts awards. On the track, Louis berates the school system’s clinical approach to learning, and talks about writing and rapping as a catharsis.

The lyrics may have been written a few years back, but Louis has reflected on them and maintains their integrity: “There were a few more tracks that could have been included, like Drunken Slumber, but that doesn't really reflect who I am now,” says Louis. “I still back the lyrics on all the tracks that’ve remained on it.

“There’s a subtle theme surrounding my own mental health. I'm not rapping about trying to be something I'm not. I'm rapping about my actual experience.”

Was it difficult to revisit those times? “There was a point when I couldn't even listen to my own music," he says. "But the actual finishing process has been a massive boost to my mental health. Although it's been stressful, it's been good stress, and has stopped me from going into the depths of existential dread. Being creative and productive is what gives my life meaning.”

At Friday’s EP launch, a massive chunk of Louis’ hip hop family are coming through to support the release: world DJ champion and ex-member of Hey Zeus, Mr Switch, will be down, Benny Diction, Ty Healy, Dirty Joe as one half of Elder Wastemen, and loads more of the extended crew.

Putting together the final touches on this EP has inspired Louis Cypher to keep it going, and he’s already got ideas for another release: “It's a natural progression. I want to ride the wave of creativity,” he says.

“Without wanting to give too much away, I want to release an EP based on stories we’re told in society, how they create meaning for us as individuals, and how we choose what we believe in. It's a crazy place out there. The only real control we have is in creating our own happiness, and creating our own meaning in the world.”

Louis Cyphers’ Cypher Sore Eyes EP Launch takes place at The Maze, Friday 7 June, 7.30pm. Tickets are £7.70. Find out more about the event on Facebook.

Get tickets through Gigantic here.

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