TRIBECA 2023 Movie Review | Tierra Whack Is Still As Cool As Ever in CYPHER

One should go into Chris Moukarbel’s Cypher as blindly as possible, so I will be brief. That being said, it’s too interesting of a film to not write something about. Tierra Whack is such a fascinating and creative individual. Therefore, it’s no surprise that a documentary depicting her rise and subsequent career in music takes every left turn imaginable. Yet, despite their eclectic nature, the decisions that she has made thus far do not seem to be driven by the desire for attention. Rather, they feel like the genuine choices of an identity almost lost to the age of streaming: an actual artist!

That’s not to put down other creatives in the musical space, but there’s a fascinating dichotomy between rappers putting out 30-song albums to pump up their streaming numbers versus Whack’s album rollouts. The absolutely incredible “Whack World”, for example, is a 15 minute album with 15 songs. At one minute a piece, it feels like Whack is deliberately hoping to clash against the algorithms of streaming. Still, even so, Whack quickly ascended in the world of hip-hop, receiving co-signs from Remy Ma, getting compared to the visionary Missy Elliott, even getting picked by Jay-Z to perform at his Made In America music festival. As Whack points out in the documentary, all of her dreams keep coming true. After admitting to being obsessed with Jay-Z music videos as a child, I’m sure seeing Jay-Z at her show felt oddly prescient.

[Minor spoilers ahead in this paragraph. Those worried can skip to the end!] Just as the word cypher has two distinct meanings, the title of this documentary becomes a double entendre in and of itself. While it may not be the sturdiest base to formulate a whole film around, it makes for an interesting observation. Even though some of the details in Cypher may be fabricated, Moukarbel’s film certainly doesn’t stretch its imagination too far into the realm of implausibility. In this digital age, where everybody has a camera and a world of knowledge (and misinformation) at their fingertips, reality for some may be starting to shatter. So while the specific situation depicted is completely fabricated, the notion of odd, and downright scary, fan interactions, is a tale as old as time itself. But, the fact that these voices now have the ability to be amplified via YouTube, Instagram live, and more, is a troubling phenomenon.

All in all, at 80 minutes, Moukarbel’s Cypher is a brisk watch that fans of Whack will surely enjoy. It will remind you of how great her music is, and how quickly her ascension actually occurred. By capitalizing on an audience that’s starved for originality, and making the most of bold decisions which factor in more than what a streaming platform dictates acceptable, her artistry and ability to see outside the box are on full display here.

Cypher celebrated its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. Tickets for screenings and more information on the film can be found right here.