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Catching Up With CyHi

One of the most prolific hip-hop writers of this generation has a story to tell, so listen up.

by Adriel Smiley

Following a year when it seemed that hip-hop’s reign as the most popular genre ended, 2024 has already been somewhat of a renaissance. The biggest stars are at war, and all eyes are on the culture, as a handful of diss tracks soar to the top of the charts. Georgia rapper CyHi the Prynce is no stranger to chart success either, penning some of the most memorable rap songs of the past decade for some of the biggest acts on the planet —Travis Scott’s diamond-certified hit “Sicko Mode” and Ye’s “Ultralight Beam,” which is 2x platinum, to name a couple. Even if you haven’t heard his voice, you’ve definitely heard his words.

Undeterred by his successful career as a co-writer, he still has a lot left to say. CyHi is an abstract writer, the kind beloved by hip-hop purists. Although the greater part of hip-hop today is written from the first-person point of view, he looks at things differently, taking the art form beyond its usual conventions.

“I’m a very conceptual artist, so I write the stories before I pick the music,” he says. “I think of about 16-20 things that are influential to Mr. EGOT” – the latest persona that he’s been embodying in his work – “then I think of scenarios that go with that character, then I start looking for beats.” 

He was originally a poet in his early teens, and a classmate who noticed his talent as a writer coached him on writing rhymes. Once he turned those ballads into bars, he was hooked, spending any free moment he had writing raps until that was all he did. 

“Anything my class was talking about, I would write a rap about it,” he says. “That’s kind of where that drive really came from at a young age. By the time I was 16, I was living and sleeping in the studio and I wasn’t going to school.”

After learning the fundamentals, he developed his trade secrets and shared a more effortless way to remember lyrics. “I’ll tell you a little secret: I wrote it like Bible verses,” he says. “I would write to the middle of the page and then I would come back to the left.”

His self-confidence is unwavering, and he is not reticent about giving the game away. It still stems from a career path that led him to be noticed by one of the most famously confident artists around: as one of the early signees to Ye’s label, GOOD Music, his lyrical dexterity and adaptable tone made him a clear standout. He had memorable verses on what many consider Ye’s magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as well as his label compilation GOOD Music Presents: Cruel Summer, both important albums of that era. 

The two have remained close, and Ye’s voice is one that he values artistically, one of the most important voices other than his own. With a list of collaborators that will make any hipop fan drool, it is no surprise that he casually name-drops a couple of Atlanta legends, 2 Chainz & Killer Mike, when asked about who has heard any of his upcoming album. Like he’s always done, however, even this dynamic duo had to be satisfied with a whiff of the project, rather than a full taste. 

“When I come (to) work with other artists, I like it to be about them and not about me,” he says. “I think Ye is actually the only person I’ve played it for. He’s all you need to play it for in all actuality.”

Religious themes are sprinkled all over No Dope on Sundays, including the title that refers to the unwritten rule that encouraging everyone to respect the Lord’s Day. His new album, The Story of Mr. EGOT, realizes a different path. 

“I’ve never been totally rewarded or given my just due.” 

The EGOT is an illustrious honour, reserved for the world’s best artists across multiple disciplines. It is a designation given to people who have won all four of the major American performing art awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony. Only 19 people have ever achieved this feat, the latest being Elton John. His Dodger Stadium special won for Outstanding Variety Special (Live) at the Emmys in 2023, completing his set and joining legends like Audrey Hepburn, Mel Brooks, Viola Davis and Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

In late 1984, actor Philip Michael Thomas coined the phrase during his time on Miami Vice. He had his sights on winning all four awards within 5 years. Spoiler alert – he never achieved it and subsequently spent much of his career being overlooked. CyHi sees a lot of similarities between himself and Thomas.

“We have a similar life on flipped coins,” he says. “He was in the film industry, and he’s never been rewarded or given his just due, and I feel like that in the music industry. I’ve never been totally rewarded or given my just due.” 

As a writer, his reputation precedes him. After speaking with him about the upcoming The Story of Mr. EGOT, referring to him as just a writer feels limited. Like Ye, he is embracing a cinematic approach. He highlights the 2018 Coen Brothers film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, an anthology film that tells a series of intertwined stories, as one of his inspirations. 

His storytelling emphasis is on The Story of EGOT. The love and appreciation for art and film bleed into the music and are prevalent in the visuals.

CyHi’s love and appreciation for film and art of all kinds bleed into the music but is most prevalent in the visuals. The video for “Mr. Put That Shit On” is a dead giveaway. CyHi dons a curly-haired wig throughout, transitioning between portraying a human scarecrow who ends the video burning on to a cross and a star on the red carpet who slaps a podcast host resembling Joe Budden. This is a nod to his disagreement with the rapper-turned-media personality and the infamous altercation between Budden & the Migos at the 2017 BET Hip-Hop Awards.

An EGOT is a rarified air, so naming the project after it comes with expectations. His latest work is representative of his growth as an artist. In the past he fought to make a name for himself as the top lyricist, but now a great body of work takes precedence. 

“I’m more about making musicals and emotion pictures,” he says, continuing as he breaks down the sequencing of his upcoming project. “I have an Emmy section, A Grammy section, an Oscar and a Tony. So the Emmy [section], it almost feels you’re flicking through the TV. Grammys is this grand sound of everything that you like in music. Oscars is very storytell-ish, suspenseful, cinematic and [for the Tonys], theatre is very boastful, very confident, more like spoken word, like monologues.”

The release of this album is a journey for CyHi, going from underrated to under-appreciated to highly anticipated. The Story of Mr. EGOT proves to be one worth telling.