Published on February 11th, 2014 | by BU News0
Hip-hop club delivers beats at weekly cypher
BU: Guillermo Antonini can pinpoint the exact moment he fell in love with hip-hop. His aunt had taken a 12-year-old Antonini to a Kanye West concert at the American Airlines Arena in Miami during the artist’s famed College Dropout Tour. It blew his mind.
“I don’t want to leave,” Antonini, a 2013 graduate of the School of Hospitality Administration, remembers thinking that night. “I don’t care if I need to go to the bathroom. This is where I want to be.”
Antonini’s made good on that youthful wish. He has immersed himself in the hip-hop scene. While at BU he has not only launched a music website from his freshman dorm, but he also became the moving force behind the student club Boston University Hip-Hop. In addition, Antonini promoted rising hip-hop artists in the area through events like 12for12 Boston Cypher at the Green Street Jungle.
And he managed to do it all while earning enough credits to graduate in just six semesters.
Born in Venezuela and raised in Miami, Antonini moved to Boston hoping to find a vibrant hip-hop home here. Both his parents had attended college in Boston and often talked about the city’s diversity and lively cultural scene. But when he arrived in 2011, Antonini encountered a different reality. “It was tough that first six months,” he says. “I only knew the campus, and the campus wasn’t that diverse.”
Instead of complaining, Antonini got to work. He had a light academic load, thanks to a number of AP credits, and spent much of his time seeking out hip-hop everywhere. He attended concerts, started his blog, and later launched a Facebook group for hip-hop fans, which grew from 25 to 225 members in less than two years.
Then he decided to move his diverse community of online friends to an offline space where they could discuss their “love for hip-hop as not only a musical genre, but as a culture relevant to our students”—an idea that morphed into BU Hip-Hop’s mission.
Wednesday night cyphers
Club members were afraid meetings might be irrelevant, because, as Antonini says, “we can all sit down and have a discussion about who’s a better rapper, but we’re just going to have that same discussion every single week, every single year of our lives at BU.”
That’s when they came up with cyphers, two-hour meetings each Wednesday on the George Sherman Union Plaza, where hip-hop fans could gather to rap stream-of-consciousness to smooth beats.
An iPhone connected to a boom box system in the Plaza regularly pulls a handful of students in a circle.
The beat of Dido’s “Thank You” breaks the silence first. Collectively, the amateur rappers’ heads bob with the beat, smiles on their faces as they catch the flow—one after another takes turns weaving words into the music. Each cypher has its own cadence, its own urgency, and the man with the mic pours his soul into quickly crafted phrases that often, miraculously, rhymed.
‘We let it flow’
At the weekly cyphers, everyone participates, regardless of skill level. No topic is off limits. And no one leaves unhappy. (Few women attend the cyphers, which Antonini and others hope to change.)
“We let it flow,” says Antonini, a.k.a. Yogi. “The only rule is, don’t rap too much. It’s really just freedom of expression. There’s no reason why we have to put any caps on it.”
For Antonini and his friends, cyphering is a mental workout, an emotional boost, and a means to create family within a sea of students. Antonini says that members have told him they appreciate the club “because I walk around campus and see faces I never would have known.”
It’s that opportunity to create a sense of community that jazzes Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, a huge hip-hop fan and club supporter. Elmore invited Antonini to rap in his entry in the Shorty Awards competition, an honor given to social media standouts.
For some people, Elmore says, the club “might be the first time they’ve heard their voice, the first time they’ve been able to understand that they can make music.” He hopes the experience gives students a deeper appreciation for writing, poetry, and music in general.
via Leslie Friday/BU Today | Images by Vernon Doucette/BU Photography