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Artist Of The Week - d_Cyphernauts
Monday, August 20, 2007

A lot of MCs claim to be spreading knowledge, but for Nemesis Alpha (right) and Othello (center) of d_Cyphernauts the concept has a much deeper meaning. The duo are full time teachers. After meeting in 2000 when they found themselves teaching at the same school they instantly bonded over their love of Hip-Hop. Over the years Nemesis Alpha and Othello have not only recorded a plethora of music together, but they’ve also made it a point to provide stages for aspiring artists via their Enter The Cypher series of shows. Despite the duo now living in different states, Nemesis being in Waterbury, CT and Othello in Nyack, NY, the two still come together regularly to show what the combination of education and Hip-Hop can do if fused together properly. This week I’m sitting down with both of them to find out more about their music, their cause, and how kids really react to the images they’re seeing in mainstream Hip-Hop.

Adam Bernard: Let’s start by talking about your music. What are d_Cyphernauts providing for listeners that isn’t out there already?
Nemesis Alpha: Balance. Hip-Hop used to have a balance before it exploded. You could turn on the radio and hear De La Soul one minute, and Kool G Rap the next. No matter what you liked you got a good serving of everything. Now it’s all an assembly line of these knock-off rappers with no talent. If they have talent they are blinded by money and ignorance. Our movement, if you want to call what we have that, is about empowering our audience to fight for that balance by giving them pure Hip-Hop without all the polish and shine. We want to take them forward by going back.
Othello: Our music is also activist music, so when we have the opportunity to speak out on issues that we think are important, it’s our obligation to do that. Over the past four to five years we’ve really been involved in the anti-war movement. I lost my father in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th, so it really bothers me that the Bush administration used the events of that day as an excuse to attack Iraq. Young people are joining the military because they’ve been sold the idea that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror and joining the military is a patriotic thing to do because we are fighting the people that attacked us on September 11th. That’s just not true and it’s a very personal thing for me because they are using the tragedy of my father’s death to justify their aggression. We’ve been lucky to work with the Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group of veterans that have fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan and now oppose the war and are speaking out about it. Veterans of the Iraq war have come up to me and told me how much they were touched by our song “Got Your War” and how we really captured what they were feeling and what they went through. That’s a really powerful thing to be able to touch people like that. We will continue to perform at events that mobilize people against injustice. That’s what we’re about.

Adam Bernard: In addition to being MCs you’re both also educators. How have your positions as teachers affected both your lyrical content and your opinions on what the kids are listening to and how it affects them?
Othello: Kids develop a sense of identity by following what they see in front of them. Right now kids that identify with Hip-Hop are being bombarded with images of a gangsta lifestyle which is rewarded by sex and money. Put that together with the videos that they see that follow the old formula of half naked girls, easy money, expensive cars, gangsta grills, etc. and they have no concept of reality. There is no emphasis on education, family, responsibility, and a complete emphasis on instant gratification. These kids are being lied to. As a teacher, I see the effects everyday; kids not valuing their education, kids coming to class high, kids getting shot or locked up over stupid shit. I’m never gonna say that it’s the music that’s the cause for all that stuff, but the stuff that gets radio play and video play these days, with very rare exceptions, provides no balance. There’s no Chuck D or KRS-ONE saying, “hey, wait a minute, learn about your history, take responsibility for your actions and hold people responsible for theirs.” I guess that’s where we come in.
Nemesis Alpha: We try not to make music that is senselessly offensive. I admit some of what I say in my lyrics is not squeaky clean, but I am only profane for effect. I never curse for lack of something better to say, I curse to project anger and frustration at the issues I am addressing in my verses. As a teacher I have learned so much about how society shapes the minds of its young. I try everyday to help my students to be free thinkers who understand the significance of every choice they make in their lives. I want them to have a sense of duty and responsibility to those who came before them and sacrificed for them to be “free.” If you have a gift you never earned yourself you do not value it, you are therefore more willing to give it away. I guess I want my music to teach in that same vein. I want to get my audience and my students out of the darkness of Plato’s allegorical den.

Adam Bernard: How separate do you keep your job as a teacher from your job as an MC? Do you ever let the kids in on the fact that you’re performers?
Othello: Nemesis is usually battling kids in the lunchroom by the second day of school! We both teach English, and I teach media studies and creative writing so our lives as emcees are pretty relevant to what we teach. I try to bring my creative process into the classroom when it applies.
Nemesis Alpha: All of my students know I rap. I would never hide what I am proud of. The teacher and the emcee are one. If you teach lies and fantasies you are a false teacher. That is sinful in my opinion. But if you truly make music for the betterment of those listening then you are always on the moral high ground. Sincerity is the key, integrity the result. Your music does not always have to be g-rated, but it should always be made honestly and with an eye towards its consequences.

Adam Bernard: You have an ongoing event called Enter The Cypher. How does it differ from other Hip-Hop events?
Othello: The idea behind Enter The Cypher was really to create a place where all kinds of Hip-Hop artists would have the opportunity to showcase their skills and where if you signed up for the open mic you could actually do two songs and it wouldn’t matter if you were kicking real grimy hood hop or backpack rap or alternative rap, you would get your chance to do your thing. It was also important to create an environment that was safe. No drama pops off at Enter the Cypher. That’s important, because if club owners see that Hip-Hop can happen and their spot isn’t getting torn up and they get to witness the artistry of the performers they’re gonna book more Hip-Hop. So the movement, ultimately, is to open the door for live Hip-Hop to flourish and for grassroots artists to have a chance to perform to audiences besides their crew and a gang of other MCs waiting impatiently to get on stage for their five minute set.

Adam Bernard: What else do you feel needs to be done in order to get music such as yours to potential listeners’ ears?
Nemesis Alpha: People like you, in the media, are the only hope for our movement to grow. Our music will not be heard by the masses unless you tell them that we are out here doing this for them. They trust you guys and your opinions. You really make or break our popular impact. No matter what happens we will keep making this music because we love it and want to share this love for it. Making some money would not hurt, but it is not our prime focus. Our music is ready and waiting. We will rock any venue, any time. We just need their support.

For more of d_Cyphernauts check out myspace.com/dcyphernauts, & sonicbids.com/d_cyphernauts. You can also read their thoughts and opinions at theafa.blogspot.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:51 AM  
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