Subterranean’s ‘Cleva Cyphers’ shows bring local and Columbia hip-hop artists together

By Cesar Toscano, Copy Editor

In the basement space of Subterranean, a music venue located in the Wicker Park neighborhood, DJ Kin Solo commands the floor, stringing hits and beats together for the audience as artists work to prepare their sets before “Cleva Cyphers” starts.

Held once every month, the most recent on Tuesday, June 20, Columbia students and fans passionate about hip-hop attend Cleva Cyphers, a showcase for local hip-hop and R&B artists. It is an off-shoot of “606,” the longest-running open mic in Chicago.

CJ Young, a performer also known as “Young(In),” described Cleva Cyphers as “a spot where we’re highlighting any and all artists, primarily hip-hop, but we love R&B too.”

While platforming Columbia artists is important, he emphasized that the show has a broad scope. “We will find as many Columbia students as we find, but we want to highlight the artists from across the entire city, or wherever we can find them,” Young said.

Reverb, the founder and host of Cleva Cyphers, said Cleva Cyphers was a result of a Columbia class called “Hip-hop History,” which is taught by Amina Norman-Hawkins, one of the founding faculty members of both Columbia’s Hip-Hop Studies minor and annual “ManiFresh” event. ManiFresh was introduced in May 2022 as an additional event on the day of Manifest, an event where Columbia students perform their work at the end of each school year.

A week before the debut of ManiFresh, the head of 606, Shadow Master MC, visited the class as a guest where they saw Reverb’s and others’ practice shows in preparation for the event. The shows were so impressive that Reverb said he was asked to make a college night for 606.

“He put me in the position to host, to go up there, get up a show, and get some artists,” Reverb said. “I knew it was bigger than me.”

This month’s event saw a few dozen attendees and had a six-set line-up, featuring artists from the Columbia and Chicago community: Young(In), Mike DFG & Boyneski, Ken Bernard, Dialect Tre, Reverb and Carlito. They were introduced by co-hosts Reverb and CJ Young. Beginning a duo-freestyle, each performer joined in to create one group performance.

The first artists to start the show were Mychal McIntyre and Katelyn Boynes, both sophomore music business majors, with stage names Mike DFG & Boyneski, respectively. The hip-hop duo and couple said they’ve been performing together ever since meeting their first year at Columbia.

As Columbia students, Boynes and McIntyre agreed that Cleva Cyphers had a positive mark on both their academic and personal life.

“It’s a way for us to get away from the academic stress, so when we back into our assignments or tasks, we’re more focused,” Boynes said. “It’s an outlet for us to express ourselves and to get out all that angsty energy.”

Along with the smaller and more intimate venue, the community is friendly and supportive, McIntyre said.

“It always feels like family in a way, everyone is close-knit and everyone knows each other. It feels even better, especially when you come with new music or somebody says a dope line, and everyone is reacting,” Mcintyre said. “It’s a way better feeling of support, knowing everyone is vouching and rooting for you.”