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Circling the BET Hip-Hop Awards cyphers: Kanye, Common, Pusha T and others prove their mettle

October 13, 2010 | 12:57 pm

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While the BET Hip-Hop Awards cyphers remain far from comprehensive, the program has consistently done an admirable job at collecting a diverse slate of rhymers. This year is no different, with the five sessions featuring a mixture of up-and-comers, underground veterans and mainstream stars tossing out rhymes without the aid of Auto-Tune, editing software or do-overs.

More important, they allow for a quintessential show-and-prove moment. With rap music increasingly given to emphasizing extra-musical values (connection with fans, social networking strategy, swag), the cyphers force rappers to demonstrate that they're capable. Some might lambaste the tradition as anachronistic, but conversely, common sense dictates that people who make good rap music should be good at rapping.

Nearly every cypher has a few moments worth watching, despite the highlights coming from names you might expect: Kanye West, Pusha T, Raekwon, Royce Da 5'9", the Rev Run. But perhaps the dark horse is the palest person in the circle -- Interscope signed Yelawolf, who has spent his 2010 murdering guest appearances, live shows and graciously allowing people to forget the existence of Asher Roth.

With the contemporary style inclined toward lacksadaical, effortless cool, Yelawolf is the rare major label product still attacking beats with a throwback alacrity. Of course, that might have something to do with his psychedelic overalls, which make him look like he stepped out of a Jungle Brothers video.

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-- Jeff Weiss