For nearly 20 years, BET aired a show called “Rap City.”
From 1989 to 2008, the program showcased the best of what hip-hop had to offer, including prominent space weekly for emcees to test their mettle in the art of freestyling. Years removed from the show’s cancellation, an upstart group of local hip-hop lifers is trying to revive the spirit of “Rap City” for a new online show, "Cypher in the Cellar."
If the crew behind CitC is the Lancaster hip-hop equivalent of the Avengers, think of Charlie Buckets as a sort of Nick Fury, wrangling together the disparate elements of the team. Buckets - aka Eric Herr – was inspired by the feel of “Rap City” and decided to pull together friends and figures in Lancaster hip-hop to create something for the culture. Buckets first called upon a junior high school friend, Larry Bently, to help find a home base for the show. Bently, who serves as executive producer, provided the initial namesake “Cellar” in the form of his hybrid man cave/home studio, complete with a freestyle booth.
“That’s about where our budget was at first,” Buckets says with a laugh.
Since the start of the second season in February, "Cypher in the Cellar" has kicked its production value up tenfold, moving to a much nicer basement. Now located in the downstairs banquet room of Namaste Restaurant in a makeshift area dubbed “Bently’s,” the crew has much more room to stretch out. Namaste owner Sudershan Adhikari knew next to nothing about hip-hop when he agreed to let the group shoot there, but has since gained a new appreciation.
The current hosts of the program, brothers Demar “Dotz” Wright and Lloyd “Buddy” Calhoun, have combined decades in the rap game. Wright, who started with the show as a guest before being bumped up to host, was one part of the mid ‘90s local hip-hop institution Da Foundayshun, which scored a regional hit in 1998 with “Chill Wit Da Feedback.” Calhoun learned from his brother and eventually founded Social Life Promotions, which books events in town, notably the upcoming R&B Only Summer Jam at American Legion Post 34 on Saturday, June 29.
Rounding out the squad is associate producer Corey Oatman, videographer Noel Isern and, perhaps most notably, Buckets' cousin, 17-year-old Donegal High School junior David Weems, who serves as director and editor on the show.
“It’s really good experience, and I enjoy doing it,” says Weems. “It’s all about doing something bigger than ourselves for the culture of Lancaster.”
“He’s the next Scorsese,” says Buckets proudly. “He’s a smart kid and I’m glad that he’s family.”
Since the move to Namaste, the show has inched closer to the current goal, which the group says is “getting a budget from Revolt,” the music channel founded by Diddy. No guest defined this trajectory better than when “Freeway” Rick Ross, the drug dealer turned motivational speaker and namesake of the rapper of the same name appeared on the show to promote his recently released book, “Ridin’ with Rick: The 21 Keys of Success.” In previous episodes, the CitC crew highlighted the book on-camera, which caught the eye of Ross’ manager.
Aside from the show, the group is also looking to build on momentum with a weekly showcase at Bently’s, the Sunday Cypher. Its through this venture that Cypher in the Cellar showcases the four central pillars of hip-hop – rapping, DJing, graffiti and breakdancing.
“There’s no judging when it comes to spitting or singing or doing spoken word, it’s more than music,” Calhoun explains. “Last week, we had two breakdancers come in, and that was the first time I had seen it in action.”
In accordance with Launch Music Conference, which the group will be working at, there will be a special version of the Sunday Cypher at 6 p.m. at the Lancaster Moose Lodge on Sunday, April 28.
“We got all this energy in the room, it’s like, how can we put that towards something positive?” says Isern, who also goes by Electro K.T. the Vigilante. “We want to show the kids that it can be done legally and righteously.”
“Ultimately, we live in Central PA. Whether it’s York, Lancaster, Harrisburg, it’s all a big market,” adds Calhoun. “If you want to have a voice, if you want to get your music out there, coming on CitC will definitely help that.”