Khalil is an up-and-coming member of the freestyle rap battle community in Philadelphia. He also has a secret he’s hiding in Letia Solomon’s The Cypher.
Solomon’s short film opens with Khalil’s (Nigel Cox) decisive victory in an epic rap battle, and he’s one final battle away from being the best. The freestyle battles this year are fierce, and Khalil’s final hurdle is the reigning champion Yung Reap (O’Shay Neal), who is looking for an edge in remaining on top. With the adrenaline of victory coursing through his veins, Khalil heads home for a passionate celebration with Marc (Juan Gil).
“With the adrenaline of victory coursing…Khalil heads home for a passionate celebration…”
It’s not hard to figure out that Khalil’s secret will ultimately be exposed at the worst possible moment. As director Letia Solomon and writer Was Akwuobi dives into the issues of homosexuality within the hip hop community. Their take is a sensitive one as traditionally black masculinity is accepted as both a badge of honor and a weapon in competition in the highly aggressive rap battles.
What Solomon and Akwuobi do so well in The Cypher is to set the stage visually of Khalil’s upcoming battle and his acceptance of himself. They set a specific level of confidence and assuredness in Khalil’s sexual identity that plays out perfectly to the end. Also, Solomon has a keen and deliberate eye on how she wants to tell her story. Her use of color and light is brilliant and sets the tone perfectly during the most important beats of her tail. Akwuobi’s story, particularly the ending, is one of hope and pride.
"…Akwuobi’s story, particularly the ending, is one of hope and pride."