Cypher 120 is a Monday night ritual
Cypher 120, an open mic held every Monday night at The Yeti
It’s another Monday night at The Yeti and Cypher 120 is about to go down. The back patio is lit with lights strung overhead, the Day-Glo colors of the graffiti on the fences and walls popping under them. The picnic tables fill with an eclectic mix of people who are laughing, hugging, and getting into their first few drinks of the night.
Some, like the Tulsa-based rapper, KG, came early enough to help set up, and to get his name on the list for a chance at six minutes on the mic. He makes it out to Cypher every week.
“It’s therapy, it’s become a ritual,” he says. “I look forward to seeing the same people every week…this is the house. The crib.”
Others roll in later, waiting for the night to ripen a bit before joining, but by 11 p.m. the place is electric with energy, a mixture of cigarette smoke, the tangy-sweet smell of a black-and-mild, and the earthy scent of incense drifting through the air. Written Quincey, host and founder of Cypher 120, takes the stage, and the crowd tunes in, ready for the poets, musicians, vocalists and emcees to transport them.
Quincey, a Tulsa transplant and a poet, began Cypher to fill a personal need. He had been doing open mics and poetry nights at various restaurants and clubs around town, but noticed that they “weren’t set up to receive the art,” and he and his fellow poets often found themselves performing for inattentive or even openly hostile audiences.
Hoping to change this, he conceived of a weekly event that would combine live music with poetry, and also provide emcees, vocalists and musicians a place to hone their craft in front of open and receptive audiences. Through luck and a bit of fortuitousness, he found musicians who were not only talented, but willing to play for free, and the first Cypher was born.
Throughout the years, Cypher has had many homes, but its move to The Yeti three years ago felt right from the first night. With its spacious indoor room, large patio and top-notch sound system, The Yeti offered Quincey what he had been searching for—a venue that would provide a “vibe consistent with the integrity of art” and a place where he could put his personal values of love, humility, and belief in art as a social salve and unifier to work.
It is this integrity and set of values that has defined the energy of Cypher, and the artists respond to Quincey’s mission by leaving it all on the stage, week after week, for the sake of the craft and the community they have created together.
The house band, known as The Contraband, is made up of a revolving group of local musicians, but its core is comprised of Johnny Mullenax on guitar, DG Rozell on trumpet, Marcus James on the kit, Allen Brown on bass and DJ AB covering DJ duty. The musical virtuosity of this group alone is worth the $5 cover charge. And then there are the people, so beautiful and happy to be there, clearly relishing their Monday night ritual.
Quincey tells newcomers that they “are part of the family now, you can’t get out” and encourages everyone to “meet three new people and hug them.”
“Everyone is welcome at Cypher 120,” says Kenesha Daniels, one of the Cypher originals, “no matter your race, class, size, belief, taste, etc. You are family as soon as you walk through that door, ya know, the way it’s supposed to be.”
And it’s the way it is.
A whole spectrum of performers take the stage, some new to their craft, others working on a professional level, but each paid their due respect by the crowd, with Quincey’s encouragement in his role as MC.
Branjae Jackson, of Count Tutu and Branjae and the Filthy Animals, has been going to Cypher for years, and has watched its evolution.
“I’ve witnessed the shyest of them all develop and move to the forefront … I’ve observed my own creativity, flow, off-the-dome creative streak explode like a shooting star. I always feel better. I leave my fears on the platform Monday nights.”
This is a space filled with people who care for one another, who respect one another, who show up for one another. It has come to be so much more than another open mic or poetry slam.
“Cypher is like a lunchroom,” KG tells me over the sound of The Contraband, “Everyone gets the chance to eat. It gives us food for thought.”