Cypher League make a print magazine

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Rhymefest (El Che) in these NYC streets with the debut issue. Photo by Demidism.

It’s important to make things tangible. In the face of the perpetual self-erasure of the content stream, Cypher League is making some of their work tangible by putting out a print magazine. The magazine was inspired by a quote from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”

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Cypher League is a Brooklyn-based culture-making community that focuses primarily on running a digital magazine, putting on events, and acting as an incubator for musicians and writers. The print issue is a formidable full-size 52-page magazine full of gorgeous photos and in-depth features about people who live the CL lifestyle, which, according to the site includes values such as “be inspired to create your own reality,” “act on your dreams and not on the expectations of others,” and “never lose touch with the essence of your humanity.” The debut issue includes a cover story on Mick Jenkins, an interview with activist & artist Synead Nichols on organizing Millions March NYC, and an op-ed by Advaeta bassist Amanda about how “all-female is not a genre.” Other features include interviews with Gabriel Garzón-Montano and Broad City’s music supervisor and a photo feature about urban exploration.

The first issue is limited to 200 copies that go for $15 each. More details, including how to order a copy, can be found here. We caught up with Editor-In-Chief Ben Toren to chat about making the issue.

Why did you decide to do a print issue?

Cypherleague.com has always been inspired by print format, and our website is designed as a digital publication rather than a blog. Personally, it’s been a dream of mine to curate a magazine and after 2 years running Cypher League it seemed like the logical choice to go print. I believe CL’s writers, like editors Ivie and Preston West and writers Andre Gee and Angel Fraden and photographer Stuart McAlpine, craft content that deserves more than a purely digital existence because the flow of information in this day and age is so rapid that it’s on to the next thing within minutes. I’m adverse to the digital and I hate social media (though acknowledge its necessity in marketing) so I desired something real, something that hallows both the writers and photographers who contributed to its creation (shout creative director Milan Moffatt for making it visually beautiful) as well as the people who are profiled. The theme of Cypher Mag is inspired by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Cypher Mag portrays the creators of our generation who are taking the initiative to sculpt their own realities by creating something from nothing.

When did you start working on this? What was the process of putting it together like? Was it all regular Cypher League contributors or did you reach out to other people for this as well?

We started working on it in March. The process was difficult, I’m not going to lie, from organizing all the contributions, editing them, and then composing the magazine made the project of much larger scale than either myself or creative director Milan Moffatt expected. Everyone who contributed to the magazine has contributed to the website, the notable exception being Lili Peper, who is a photographer for Interview Magazine and a friend of mine since high school.

What are some of the challenges of doing a print issue as opposed to an online one? What are some of the best parts? Did you learn anything significant during the process?

It is far more challenging to put together a print magazine than a website. Every detail in a magazine matters — changing one word in the text could throw off the composition of potentially the Entire magazine. Then every single photo has to be very high resolution, otherwise it looks shitty. Lots of little details that matter so much. I’ve learned so much through the process. Tackling the project again I would go about it in a completely different way. I’m glad we were, in the end, able to pull it all together. I’m also proud to say it was completely DIY—just like the people we interviewed in the magazine.

Is this a one-off or are you going to try and do more?

Considering how challenging it was putting it together and how much I learned through process, there’s no way I couldn’t follow up with a second issue that will be even better than this one is. We’ve only been around for a couple years, but we have a solid squad who are dedicated to our progression.

Eventually, I’m looking to publish more than just magazines but zines, comics, and—who knows—a book. Our motivation for what we do with Cypher League and as an extension the magazine is a dissatisfaction with the status quo and contemporary culture. Our mantra is “Culture is Yours to Create.” We define Cypher in many different ways, but in this context, most importantly, is as an open discourse.

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