Curiosity, intrigue, confusion and shock: these are the characteristics of one UTSA student’s video — a cypher to be more specific. The “more specific” is important. Usually, a cypher can be defined as the product of rappers cyclically rhyming or freestyling to a beat. But this video is different.
While the video does include rhymes of four student rappers, its cinematic mastery and symbolic storyline offer more. It isn’t a music video, though, there is no central soang. It is raw emotion, lyrics overlaying a cycled beat.
Jordan Mkwanazi, a senior communication major at UTSA, is the creator of these raw emotions and original concepts.
“It’s (the cypher) not about racists or racism,” he says. “But us as African Americans and trying to voice our opinions.”
Mkwanazi, an aspiring film producer, is an active member of UTSA’s Black Lives Matter student organization. His video came to him subconsciously.
“I had a dream about the whole concept of the cypher,” he says. “And most of my friends — the rappers in the video — rap. So, I decided to put both together to collaborate my dream with their passion.”
Mkwanazi’s dream manifested within two to three months. Although the time is standard for the production of a regular music video, shooting the video took only a couple of days. Getting there was the hard part.
“Let me tell you about the process of making this video,” Mkwanazi laughed. “It took two to three months because, once I had the concept down, I took it to people I knew — my family in particular.”
The lengthy editing period is no surprise considering the video’s storyline. The video begins with a black man desperately running down a dirt road. The scene then flashes back to earlier in that day when four black men — Lawd Geniu$ (Quevin Cams), Sterl LeMoor (Sterling Green), Lowe (Henrique Lowe) and Dot O (Wole Ogunleye) — bound with rope and duct tape in an abandoned house. One man breaks free, then releases the others. From there, the four begin to rap.
With lyrics ranging from “At ease my brothers / we need to change this / using music like the slaves did to make a language” and “no guilty / no innocent / of the ghetto instrument,” the rapping critiques society and the treatment of blacks in America.
“In the video we had a rapper that was peaceful, another militant, another hopeless, and another optimistic. So we have different views on how society is.”
After a few minutes, the rapping stops abruptly. The beat is replaced with the loud sound of a heartbeat thumping in the background as the rappers confusingly look to the back of the house where a hooded figure opens the door. A white man approaches them, gun in hand, and aims.
On the screen black silence. One, two, three shots are fired.
Three rappers now lay dead on the ground; one escapes down a dirt road. While there is a flash of hope as the man runs franticly, he never makes his destination.
Another shot is fired and another man lies dead on the ground.
The camera slowly pans from the shooter’s hands that hold a pointed gun stopping at hisface. He has a determined look in his eyes facing straight ahead. He glances at the camera, smiles and looks back the location of the shooting.
While the beginning of the video is somber and moving: the last 15 seconds are unnerving and jaw-dropping aspects of the cypher. The viewer is left a bit dazed as the screen fades to black and #BlackLivesMatter appears in red before the credits begin to roll.
“I knew it may be kind of controversial or that people would think I’m racist,” Mkwanazi says addressing the shocking smile from the film.
“My sister especially warned me, ‘You might start a riot with that smile at the end. That smile is very…That smile is not cool,’” Mkwanazi says. “But that’s what I wanted to portray. It’s very subliminal.”
Every aspect of the video has a sub-layer.
In a sort of “behind the scenes” video, the rappers explain their views on not only the cypher, but also in society. “I thought it would be a great way to kind of throw some issues that are going on in our society at the youth in a more vivid way,” LeMoor says. Dot O explains how he hopes people relate to his words and the cypher’s message. And Lawd Geniu$ points out how the beginning lyrics in his verse have a sense of hopelessness. Despite that, he finds the cypher hopeful, “If it can only touch one person, then that helps.”
With over 1300 YouTube views, the project exceeded Mkwanazi’s expectations. “Honestly, my goal was for 500 or 600 views and to touch those people who saw it in some way,” he says with a shrug.
#BlackLivesMatter flourished over social media platforms, news outlets and daily conversations — most notably in the summer of 2015. According to Forbes, though, interest has declined.
In September, Forbes reported that Google searches for ‘Black Lives’/’ Lives Matter’ had dramatically decreased. Mkwanazi attributes this decline to the controversial catchall #AllLivesMatter.
Mkwanazi offers his theory, “Maybe you support breast cancer awareness — maybe you, someone in your family, or a friend had it. And because it relates to you, you go to the walks…. But then someone that supports bone cancer awareness says, ‘well, all cancer awareness matters.’
Support for one movement over another, Mkwanazi says, is closely linked to which one a person relates to the most. “That’s (what) Black Lives Matter (is.) We know all lives matter, of course. It (Black Lives Matter) is a subtopic we’re passionate about because it relates to us (African Americans).”
While Mkwanazi appreciates the positive reception to the cypher, ultimately he hopes it will have a long-term impact, raising long-term awareness to racism, stereotyping and police brutality that American blacks face in modern American society.
“BLM is not a trending topic.”Mkwanazi says. “Black lives always matter.”