Since February of 2012, Soul Food Cypher has held court every second and fourth Sunday of the month at WonderRoot. The bimonthly hip-hop gathering provides a nurturing environment for Atlanta MCs and lyricists to hone their abilities.
It's a freestyle cypher where participants engage in an on-the-spot musical conversation. But SFC is also a philanthropic organization. Founded by Alexander "Cost" Acosta, Mark "Markmont" Montgomery, Wahid "DJ Source One" Khoshravan, Eric "Zano" Ludgood, and Majorca "DJ Acrojam" Murphy, who recently left the organization, SFC's mission is to change the public's perceptions of rap by highlighting its creative aspects.
"The power of speech is so important, and we're utilizing the skills of the MC," Acosta says. "Many minority communities have experienced generations of educational, economic, and social barriers. Through the power of speech we're trying to turn that around. Rap music is so often seen in a negative light, but if we can change the perception of rappers, we can change the community as a whole."
At Soul Food Cypher, no battling goes on per se, but competition plays a key role. Rappers improvise lyrics during the open cypher, and incorporate assigned words into a freestyle rhyme in another word play. In the debate segment, each side freestyles an opposing view on a specific topic.
There's also homework. Past writing exercises have included questions such as, "Why should you be president?" and an assignment to write a 16-bar verse from the opposite sex's perspective. The results can end up being controversial, but there's no tolerance for the racial or sexual slurs that so often mar modern hip-hop.
"We want people to be as respectful as possible while expressing themselves in creative ways," Zano says. "We want it to be open to everybody who's coming regardless of whether they're participating, or just watching."