It all started with a passion for music.

Specifically, freestyle rap or hip-hop is what drove founders Clinton Ricks, junior in English, and David Hamilton, junior in mechanical engineering, to create StudyBreak Cypher — a group that allows for a space to create music and hone their improvisation skills.

Originally called UTK Cypher, the group began with an event where students could come out to Pedestrian Walkway and practice their freestyle skills in a battle royale format.

According to urban dictionary, a cypher is a cyclical rap freestyle where MCs go one after the other or a process of tapping into your subconscious via freestyle or breakdance. StudyBreak replaced UTK in the club name shortly after, to show students how the group was a place to relax and be open with their creativity.

“It’s the best kept secret on campus,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to know someone to know about StudyBreak right now. And we want to grow bigger than that, but it’s a cool space to be in and marinate.”

So how does StudyBreak Cypher work?

Well, each Cypher — which happens on the last Thursday of every month — has generally been on Pedestrian walkway. A core group of six to eight MCs will come out and do an exposé of their skills, while other members will go through the crowd to find attendees who want to participate.

These attendees will fill up the bracket to challenge the MCs and have 30 seconds after being given a word to show their stuff before their opponent responds. After both MCs perform, the winner is decided by audience response.

But MCs aren’t the only part of StudyBreak that are highlighted; there are also producers who put out the beats for the freestylers to rap over, and many campus and local producers are able to fulfill this role.

“(The producer) is like the heartbeat of it,” Hamilton explained. “He keeps the beat pumping.”

Outside of the once a month Cypher, Study Break also has workshops every Tuesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. for those who want to work on their freestyle skills.

“I went to the last Cypher of last semester, and I ended up freestyling and winning two rounds, losing the last one. But I really liked it,” Nainika Sudheendra, junior in supply-chain management, said. “So I started coming to workshops, and it’s just helped me take a greater appreciation for what goes into rap and hip-hop. I’m not scared to do it anymore.”

For each Cypher that has happened since its inception this past fall, the turn out has been close to 100 people, and it’s growing.

“It’s promoting an art form that people don’t really teach in class,” Sudheendra said. “It’s pretty cool and a great space for creativity.”

To learn more about StudyBreak Cypher, visit The next Cypher is today: Thursday, March 31 at 9 p.m. in the courtyard by Haslam Business Building.

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