Watch a rare cypher featuring pre-fame Kendrick Lamar
(Credit: Batiste Safont)

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Watch a rare cypher featuring pre-fame Kendrick Lamar

Before signing with Top Dawg Entertainment in 2005, Kendrick Lamar was just a kid from LA, looking to impact the music industry. Having Put out self-recorded mixtapes, the rapper spent a long time creating a local buzz in and around his city. Before long, he was known as one of the region’s most skilled lyricists. The emcee’s rise to fame was slow but organic, and aside from his mixtapes, he did various other things to get his name out there. From house parties to opening for more prominent acts, Lamar did it to create that traction.

Much to people’s surprise, the emcee (real name Kendrick Duckworth) put out projects in the early 2000s and put in a lot of work to get where he is today. The rapper appeared to many to be a relatively new act when he first released his 2011 body of work Section.80. However, this could not be further from the truth. 

In 2003, Duckworth independently released his mixtape Y.H.N.I.C. (Hub City Threat Minor Of The Year). Not achieving any critical acclaim concerning the mainstream, two years later, he released Training Day. The latter got him noticed by the LA-based record executive Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith, CEO of TDE. This was when Lamar’s buzz started reaching new heights, especially within the South Los Angeles region. 

However, with a buzz around his name, Lamar (who was recording under the name of K. Dot) had to keep up appearances and reaffirm that he was the best in LA. One of the ways he did this was by partaking in cyphers. The concept of a cypher is a simple one. It is a group freestyle during which the various acts take turns to deliver their verses. They can be performed with or without a beat. However, an impromptu, off-the-cuff cypher usually will not have a backbeat.

Partaking in a cypher is a hip-hop rite of passage. An invitation to deliver your verse with a group of people that individuals want to hear means that (in the first place) you must be good. From Nicki Minaj to A$AP Rocky, many acclaimed artists have done so, and Kendrick was no different. Albeit on a smaller scale, he would do so again when he appeared on the XXL Freshmen list in 2011.

In 2005, Lamar took part in a local cypher in the well-known LA neighbourhood of Watts. It is the hometown of rapper Jay Rock, who was Lamar’s labelmate on TDE and appeared on his 2012 single ‘Money Trees’ from Good Kid m.A.A.D City. Other rappers involved in the collective freestyle inlcude, Dubb and MDK. You can watch the rare footage in the video below.