By Jessica Isaacs
This week’s art crawl event in downtown Boone is your opportunity to delve into a world of talent and creativity. Take it one step further and join AppCypher — an open invitation to spontaneous, organic freedom of expression — on Friday night.
This assembly of hip-hop artists, rappers, poets and musicians invites you to be part of their collaboration, which will celebrate one year of weekly cypher events in Boone.
If you’ve never been to a cypher before or you’re new to the experience, local performer Chris Shreve relates it to “a drum circle with rapping.”
“It’s pretty loose. There may be one person rapping but six or more involved in the beatboxing,” he said. “It’s energetic and spontaneous.”
Shreve, who also teaches health and biostatistics at ASU, is one of the forerunners behind this revelatory movement. Known as “C. Shreve the Professor,” he performs with the local group Free the Optimus and is one of three people who helped establish the cypher tradition in Boone.
Along with John Harper and Daniel Di Salvo, who perform as the group Pragmaddix, Shreve hosted the first event at ASU last year after a similar movement took off on the campus of N.C. State University in Raleigh.
The term “cypher” may have derived from the concept of “deciphering” culture and the realities of life, but Shreve and the guys from Pragmaddix have their own idea of what it means.
“Cipher can also mean a zero, like the circle that we stand in. It all just melts away and you can’t be fraudulent — you have to be real,” Shreve said. “When you come to cypher, you’re welcome to do prepared poetry and written word, but the real essence is that clear, visual ring of people with an emptiness in the middle.
“You’re just emptying your mind and pulling from that free moment. Beautiful poetry can go really well with a cypher, but it’s the freestyle vibe that takes over. It’s like a band that’s jamming out and losing themselves in the groove.”
Since they started the cypher tradition at ASU, what’s now known as AppCypher, Shreve, Harper and Di Salvo have been anchoring these events every week. Students and other members of the community come together Wednesdays at 10 p.m. by the River Street tunnel to let go of stress and get lost in the art of performance.
“It doesn’t have to be on a campus to be successful, but the college environment really lends itself to the experience,” Shreve said. “Students often have the right mindset and are open to something new. The goal is to be very free and to be open.”
The weekly events often serve as a respite for local artists from the stress that comes with performing and promoting their brands.
“You want to do well and go to the show and kill it, so you’re putting pressure on yourself. But cyphers are none of that — it’s no pressure,” he said. “We’re not here to judge you and look at you. We’re here to help you get better and move the conversation forward.”
Shreve, Harper and Di Salvo have been consistent in hosting weekly cyphers, as well as those during each monthly First Friday Art Crawl in downtown Boone. In celebration of AppCypher’s one-year anniversary, they’re inviting the community to join them at this month’s art crawl cypher on Friday.
Want to give it a shot? They’ll get started around 7:30 p.m. on Friday during the heart of the art crawl near Town Hall on King Street.
“It’s not exclusive to students at all,” Shreve said. “It’s all about being open, so everyone is welcome to come.”
To truly understand the significance of the cypher, Shreve said it’s important to understand the role that hip-hop plays in the community and in the world.
“To be hip to something is to be aware of it, to know what’s going on and know your surroundings. That’s the hip,” Shreve said. “The hop is the action. You’re not just aware of what’s going on around you, you’re taking action to keep it moving forward.”
Deep-seated passion for sharing knowledge yields The Professor’s devotion to the cypher movement. Employing it, he’s free to embrace his identity as both an artist and an educator.
“Teaching is one aspect of it; but when I think of what it means to profess something, I think of Shakespeare — an artist professing their love for somebody,” Shreve said. “It’s deeper than just teaching — it’s speaking from your soul.
“When I’m really in the moment and I decide to freestyle, it’s an ultimate profession of love. I’m communicating the human experience and showing it to the world.”
Shreve said it’s that form of genuine, unchecked self-expression that brings the cypher tradition to life.
“It’s dropping knowledge on people,” Shreve said. “It’s showing them how the world works and the fundamentals of life.”
Catch the collective in downtown Boone on Friday night and visit AppCypher on Facebook to learn more.