Get Cryphy turns five
So what the hell is Cryphy and how does one "get" it? In short, Cryphy (pronounced cry-fee) is hip hop's answer to turducken, the Thanksgiving chicken-duck-turkey supermeat — a sonic dish assembled here in Minnesota: Start with freshly picked Flyness, stuff it inside Hyperactivity, then jam them both into the finest, de-boned Cranked Up. The dish is best served accompanied by several of your favorite cocktails.
In order to Get Cryphy, one must be inside First Avenue's Record Room the first Friday of each calendar month, except when the party expands to the mainroom for the annual anniversary parties. This Friday marks five years of Get Cryphy's residency at the downtown Minneapolis venue, and it's an accomplishment. Somehow, in the middle of the conscious, fiercely indie rap scene of the Twin Cities, DJs Plain Ole Bill, Jimmy 2 Times, Last Word, and Fundo have sustained a dance party built out of club bangers. To quote Brother Ali, they're making Midwesterners "smile, dance, and have fun to music they thought they hated." It's party rockin' without a whiff of LMFAO.
Their playlist is largely inspired by regional scenes far from the Midwest, both culturally and geographically, that developed in the late '90s and early aughts. Rappers like E-40 and Mac Dre ruled Oakland's East Bay Hyphy scene with tracks laced with handclaps, fast tempos, and witty hooks. Down South, Lil Jon and Three 6 Mafia popularized Crunk stylings — fingers snapping, call-and-response wordplay, and tons of bass. Meanwhile, forward-thinking acts like Outkast and producers like Timbaland and Pharrell were sneaking this stuff into the mainstream, with Snoop Dogg's 2004 hit "Drop It Like It's Hot" as a prime example.
"What makes [Get Cryphy] unique? They've done an incredible job of keeping up with new music and incorporating it into their night," says Mike 2600, who has designed the DJs' Nintendo-inspired flyers since the second-ever Get Cryphy night in 2008. "Their fans really trust them to let them get creative and do what they love. Plus they're just good dudes, funny as fuck, and enjoy excellent pizza and steaks."
"I've always thought of it like a really intense game of Capture the Flag," says 29-year-old Bill Hebl, a.k.a. Plain Ole Bill. "Like, 'Your turn to run, dude! You ready? You're gonna run that way, and I'm gonna run that way. Cool? Cool.'"
It's the first Friday of 2013, and the night is off to a slow start in the Record Room. The upstairs venue at First Avenue has an official capacity of 150 but ins-and-outs push it close to twice that on Cryphy nights. At 10:20 p.m., there's no line at the bar, and no shortage of open floor in the triangular dance space. A few girls with ripped skinny jeans and their hair in dreads angle their bodies near the far wall across from the DJ booth. Over the course of four hours, the four DJs spin between 200 and 250 songs.
"People are shufflin' in for that first hour, so we'll play whatever we want," Bill says. "We'll play eight Scarface songs that we really love. And there might be a kid there that's like, 'Hell yeah, they played eight Scarface songs!'"
In teams of two, constantly swapping out, the guys start integrating more and more caffeine-paced party bangers. Visually, they're four scruff-faced, playboy scratch nerds — stylish, but sans thuggish bling. Bill is distinguished by his longer mane of hair and height, Fundo is also tall and has tattoos out to his fingers, dark-haired Jimmy 2 Times has eyes that are constantly spiked with intensity, and goateed Last Word alternates between a pilot's calmness behind the decks and a towel-waver on the sidelines.
While Police Academy plays on the large screen next to them, each Cryphy team member keeps his surgical tools sharp — Technics turntables, MIDI controllers to trigger samples, and MacBook Pros running Serato DJ software. There's a goal to shift the beats per minute (BPM) up and down from the 60s into the 100s as the night goes on, with only the choicest hooks, exclamations, and beats blended into a frenetic surge.
A girl with a Janelle Monae-style pompadour, a couple of thrift-shop dandies, and a guy twirling glowsticks arrive separately, and the room starts filling up. "If you ain't drunk, get drunk!" shouts one of the Cryphy hosts. By 11:25 p.m., dank smoke hangs in the darkening room. Hippie kids in baggy, drooping hats start twitching as the Big Boi-Yelawolf collaboration "You Ain't No DJ" roars through the speakers, and the song-to-song transitions come faster. Was that "Brand New Guy" by A$AP Rocky back-to-back with Ludacris's expressive "My Chick Bad"? Almost on cue, several couples are necking in the crowd, and the Record Room really starts reeking of weed. It's 11:45 and the night's sold out.
A kid in a baseball cap is asking around for rolling papers, and about 10 minutes later, another guy is on the hunt for Zig Zags. He's 20 and has a leather biker jacket on. While he's more of a rocker, he says he's here with his friends, and adds that this is a great place to meet girls.
"They keep coming back," says 32-year-old Jimmy 2 Times, birth name Dan Marcoulis. "Like that one 17-year-old kid who snuck into the very first Get Cryphy. He's 22 now."
At around midnight, Mystikal tells the room to "Shake Ya Ass," then Luda implores they "Stand Up." T.I. asks everyone to "Bring Em Out," while Huey gives instructions to "Pop Lock and Drop It." In each case, the people follow suit, and howl when DMX and Jay-Z classics run up against the recent Tyga hit "Rack City."
"Sometimes people will come up and ask us to play something more popular, and I say, 'Just wait.'" says Last Word, a.k.a. Drew Erickson, also 32. "We know how to build a night. No requests — except really good ones."
Another build to ecstasy unfurls at 12:30 a.m., which signals all-out grinding. Layers are flying off, and drinks are in rotation, with DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win," Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle," Soulja Boy's "Get My Swag On," Petey Pablo's "Raise Up," and Meek Mill's "House Party" rapid-firing.
Downstairs and outside, a woman in a silver top and no coat laments that "No one here can buy me a drink! They're all 18." A trio of girls in sparkling gowns, one wearing a tiara, approach the door men. "Can't we get in? It's my birthday." After a few follow-up questions judging her dedication, he pulls open the door, and they head upstairs to experience the final minutes of mayhem.
"First, it's a dope group," says Prof, who has employed Fundo as his tour DJ for the past five years and has guested on Get Cryphy's mixes and performances. "Four of the top 10 DJs in the state, and they perform like a supergroup every month? That's a good start. Second, people don't want to go to Club Aqua to dance because it's too pretentious. If I ever do want to go out and listen to some music and meet somebody, go home with a girl, that's the spot."
The foundation for Get Cryphy formed at the now-shuttered downtown club Foundation, where Bill and Jimmy hosted a Saturday-night event called Party & Bull$h!t — a name copped from the Notorious B.I.G.'s debut single. Both guys came from turntablist backgrounds, having first crossed paths at the DMC World DJ Championships regional competition in 2001 at the old Quest nightclub.
"I was 17, I had to get snuck into that thing," Bill says with a grin, and the room erupts in protest. He's parked on a couch next to Jimmy in the living room of the one-story house Last Word and Fundo share in the Standish neighborhood of south Minneapolis.
All four guys enjoy heavy pours of Jameson and coffee, relating like brothers, finishing each other's sentences. Over the past decade, they've grown to know each other's strengths.
"Jimmy is one of the funkiest DJs I've ever heard," Bill says. "I've always admired Jimmy's cuts, probably more than anybody. I love cutting with Jimmy because we have almost polar opposite styles. It makes me hate mine, because I'm a robot or whatever, and this dude's just like flowing in the river, he's going tubing and I'm sitting there sewing."
As Bill and Jimmy's hunger for party rocking grew, Foundation's tolerance for it waned — to the point where it was declared a crunk-free zone in late 2007. First Avenue had an opening on first Fridays, and in February 2008, the pair began what is now a five-year run in the Record Room — called the VIP Room at the time. The first half-year was a struggle, and the guys recall shooing a lot of people away who expected a more varied night.
"People are scared to know who their favorite rappers' favorite rappers are," Bill says.
Both 30-year-old Fundo (shortened from Fundamentalist, real name Chris Young) and Last Word were regular Cryphy guests, but they solidified themselves as permanent members of the crew by understanding the aesthetic.
"It got to be where Drew and I were there and we would notice when people were going a little too left wing or right wing with it," Fundo says. The left wing is too weird and experimental, and the right wing is classic club music that lacks the personality they crave. "You haven't been watching the crowd," he continues. "You came to the club with the idea of playing this and only this and not being like, 'People are not dancing.'"
And Fundo performs. A self-professed clown, he's Lou Costello to Prof's Bud Abbott, a personality he honed while DJing for Kanser, Toki Wright, and Desdamona, among others. The rest of the guys in the room agree they've all picked up on his stage presence and are mindful not to stand around, but to dance with their people.
"We all wanna do that anyway, but Fundo puts it out there," Bill says. "It's who he is."
As for Last Word, he's easily the most soft-spoken of the bunch, but is often the key to finding consensus. He's credited with upping the organization within the group, having an ear for digging up obscure hits for their sets, and bringing the sonic sensibilities of a seasoned producer.
"You have that left and right brain, and the left brain has this little piece of a left brain on top," Fundo says. "Drew has an extra part of his brain."
The added personnel proved essential as New York native Jimmy 2 Times spent a year DJing up and down the East Coast, and Plain Ole Bill became P.O.S.'s touring DJ following the Never Better record. (The rapper confirms, "Bill's the guy who took my live act to another level.") When Brother Ali was between DJs recently, he also hired Bill, his old roommate in south Minneapolis in the early '00s.
"Bill as a DJ, in my mind, is the best all-around DJ we've ever had in our scene within hip hop," Ali says, and references Bill's four-year stint working at the Rhymesayers store Fifth Element, which parlayed mentoring experiences with Rhymesayers' Kevin Beacham, Eyedea collaborator DJ Abilities, and Atmosphere beatmaker Ant. "He would just sit in his room and mix records and scratch records literally all day. He's an insomniac. If I came in the house at midnight, he'd be in his room scratching. He literally did nothing else. He came out of the room once a day to eat a frozen pizza, and that was it."
All four Cryphy DJs understand the importance of diversifying their portfolios, and building strong relationships with other DJs and artists. Atmosphere frequently take them on the road, and Zombie Pub Crawl has enlisted Get Cryphy's services (and were grateful to have them fill time when DMX arrived mad late last year). Each of the crew's anniversary parties has boasted a wealth of special guests, including seasoned vets like Prof and Brother Ali, but also younger faces like the Tribe and Big Cats, and Tomorrow Genius.
Over the years, Cryphy members have launched and supported parties with other dance-related themes like Triple Double, Bomp!, and Hands High. It kept their names on events calendars by the week without diluting the central brand's monthly appeal.
"They promote well, do business smart, they actually talk things out, they hone in on their craft before every show, and they rehearse," says MaLLy, who co-hosted the four-year anniversary party, and has worked with Last Word since 2011. "They handle it like professionals, man. People want to work with them. They bring variety to the game. They're huge on the analogy of you gotta crawl before you walk, and you gotta walk before you jump, you gotta jump before you can leap, and you gotta leap before you can fly. Nothing's overnight. They work hard."
The Get Cryphy guys are people-pleasers by nature, but for the past couple of years they've taken it to the next level with anniversary mixes available for free download (soundcloud.com/getcryphy).
Each second is dripping in production excellence, and the mixes showcase the guys' scratching abilities, song selection, and sense of humor. Expect movie clips from Spaceballs ("Coming up, Pongo's review of Rocky Five ... Thousand!"), the bell-ringing of a Super Mario Brothers' extra life, and exclusive guest slots from pals like St. Paul Slim, Truthbetold, Prof, Ander Other, and MaLLy. And just like their live-action counterparts, here's a grip of songs you love as well as the ones you will love six months from now.
"There's definitely not any [local radio] stations who are trying to say, 'Let's check out this new dude from Oakland who's really dope,'" Jimmy says. "So we kinda feel like a responsibility almost to bring new rap to the forefront in the TC, and be like, 'Check out this shit from the Bay, check out this shit from the South, check out this New York shit that you're not into.'"
Because there's a "track listing" for the five-year mix, which was a seven-hour task for the four guys, it's possible to figure out, for example, that the 30 seconds of "Martin have a dream!" vocals from Dr. Dre protege Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle" is layered over the symphonic intro to Clipse workhorse Pusha T's "In This Ho (Lambo)" for an entirely different feel.
"The Kendrick phenomenon is so dope to all of us," Bill says, comparing the acclaimed young rapper to the sluggish club anthems of Chicago rapper Chief Keef. "[Good kid, m.A.A.d city] is great because he's rapping over club bangers some of the time, and also simple loops that sound like 1997 indie rap. He's super lyrical, but people understand him. His voice is ill, he can sing, it's great. I want more Kendrick. It's always ill to hear somebody over a club banger say some cool stuff."
On January 27, 2012, Get Cryphy set a new milestone by rocking for a sold-out audience of nearly 10,000 at the acoustically pristine Red Rocks Amphitheatre west of Denver. Billed as Winter on the Rocks, it was the first winter show at the venue, and featured Atmosphere, Common, and Grieves & Budo. It was well below freezing, and a whole lot was going wrong before the doors even opened.
After Common's exceptionally long soundcheck, the guys only got about 10 minutes to warm up before the doors opened. Coats furnished by a snowboard company heated the crew a little, but their equipment was getting frostbite.
"Like the turntables, we actually kept the platters running the entire time so they wouldn't slow down," Jimmy recalls, adding that the mixers froze and they had to leave heat packs on them.
Maybe it was the mountain air or the adrenaline, but the guys found the setbacks extremely relaxing in a weird way. Because it was so cold, it was really easy to say, "Everybody stand up and get loose," Bill recalls. A routine incorporating Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Ni**as in Paris" was planned. When properly integrated into Cryphy's playbook, it's as wild as a tiger eating a shark, but it almost didn't happen at all.
"I had to do a little trick on the computer and throw [DJ program] Serato into internal because it started getting all sluggish," Jimmy says. "Luckily I was able to pull it off, and when that hit that place exploded. I can't remember feeling more satisfied from DJing Cryphy up 'til that point. I felt like the biggest boss in the universe."
The set was apparently a major hit with one couple in the audience.
"My homie who went there told me, 'Yeah, you guys went up there, you were killin' it, and I saw two people fucking at the Red Rocks,'" Fundo says. "I said, 'Well, that's the plan!'"
The Red Bull Crashed Ice afterparty hosted by Lil Jon at Myth on January 26, located 15 miles east of Minneapolis in Maplewood, shows Get Cryphy is in full hustle mode. At 8 p.m., the guys gather in their dressing room in the venue's nondescript back caverns. A couple of bottles of Jameson sit on the coffee table, and the guys — plus MaLLy and red-bearded Dave Stai, who has been a point of contact and social media hookup for them since the Foundation days — have pulled up seats around it. The whiskey is disappearing in a hurry.
Jimmy heads downstairs to begin the set at a little before 9. Bill's ruminating on how great it would be to do their sets with eight turntables. Luniz's "I Got 5 on It" rumbles from the sound system below, and Kanye West and Paul Wall's "Drive Slow" follows. This set is only 80 minutes, so the blends are lightning-quick from the start.
After another shot of Jameson, everyone heads down to join Jimmy backstage. They're pushing each other to lock the set in tight — even if there are only 100 early arrivers on the fringes of the massive club.
In a few sudden motions, Jimmy packs up and jets for Honey in northeast Minneapolis, where he and Bill close the night hosting a packed pop-oriented night called the Recipe. Fundo and Last Word drop Tyga and Rick Ross's "187," which rides the sample popularized in Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's first single, "Deep Cover," but quickly it's on to Kanye West's star party on "Monster." Bill hops up at about 9:55 p.m. and swings into 2 Chainz's "I'm Different."
Watching Bill work alone at the controls is jaw-dropping. With nimble wrists, he completes a complicated transition into Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," then dramatically slows Big Boi's "Shutterbugg" to a crawl. Cigar smoke wafts through, and the dance floor features about five drunk young ladies having their way with a chubby security guard. Just as the room starts to fill, a bearded stagehand tells the remaining Cryphy crew to pack up.
It's a five-minute tear-down. Four turntables and two mixers are stowed, the cables are tied, the needles are packed, the tone arms are taped down, and the DJ table is collapsed.
Then, Last Word's jumping in a car with MaLLy to make a breakneck drive for a show in Mankato. (They make it just in time.) Now, it's just Dave Stai and Fundo in the dressing room. They're sticking until the end of the night to hand out flyers for the Cryphy five-year party. Fundo's already thinking about the Prof tour that he'll launch in a few days, and is already looking forward to flying back to spin with his best friends in the Mainroom to celebrate their anniversary.
"You make a choice when you do what we do rather than doing gigs where you can make as much money as you possibly can dream," Last Word says. "The choice is: Do I wanna be able to do what I want to do and throw those shows? Any of us could be out hustling on a regular basis and tryin' to get every gig we want at every club in town. And at this point there's a very good possibility that, off of the name we have, we could probably do that. But is that what we want to do?"
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