Outside of the occasional punchline, there's not a whole lot of precedent for the intersection of Rap and comedy. Legendary New York DJ Cipha Sounds is looking to change that with his improv comedy show Take It Personal. The weekly event, which takes place 9:00 PM every Friday at highly respected and influential New York comedy club UCB East, has featured various Hip Hop personalities sharing personal stories as some of the city's top improv talent freestyle full-fledged skits about them on the spot.
Highlights include Sheek Louch recounting the time Missy Elliott oversaw the LOX ghostwriting Sean Combs’ verse on “It’s All About The Benjamins (Remix)” and host Cipha Sounds detailing how the late Big Pun allegedly pulled a gun on him.
“I realized how much improv was like freestyle rhyming,” Cipha Sounds explained, while speaking exclusively with HipHopDX. “I was going to name the show “Off the Top of the Dome,” but it sounded too corny. The guy who invented long-form improv was similar to the Hip Hop story. It’s just a different audience.”
DX spoke to Cipha and Jim Jones about the show’s format, parallels between Hip Hop and comedy, and the anniversaries of a few memorable projects.
Cipha Sounds Compares Hip Hop & Improv Comedy
HipHopDX: Jim, what did you think of your first improv experience?
Jim Jones: Dope! Shouts to Cipha; shouts to all them cats, man. I had a good time…very funny show.
DX: Cipha, how do you think Jim did tonight?
Cipha Sounds: He killed it. I try to get people who I know will do good, have a lot of personalities and great stories, and then they come to life on stage. Every rapper comes in with a frown, and they leave with the biggest fucking smile like they just had a ball. Jim killed it, and I knew he would. It was so perfect he had his cameras here tonight.
DX: With that in mind, Jim do you recall the funniest thing that’s ever happened in the studio?
Jim Jones: Oh, there’s a bunch of funny stuff that happens in the studio. The studio’s usually grounds for comedic action—all types of shit. So much happens every day that it’s all a blur. You have to be there to see it.
DX: Cipha, tonight you mentioned all the parallels you’ve found between Hip Hop and improv comedy. Do you recall the moment when you first put that together?
Cipha Sounds: It wasn’t long before I started this show…say four months ago. I was explaining improv to somebody who was an older Hip Hop artist, using terms like “off-the-top-of-the-dome,” and I realized how much improv was like freestyle rhyming. I was going to name the show “Off the Top of the Dome,” but it sounded too corny. The guy who invented long-form improv was similar to the Hip Hop story. It’s just a different audience.
DX: Would you say it’s also similar to deejaying in terms of playing to a crowd?
Cipha Sounds: I just had this talk with someone yesterday! A lot of DJs today just slam records. When I was coming up, I would listen to all the lyrics and try to connect a line or verse of a song to another song. Improv is all about connections, so something at the top of the show or the bottom of the show could come together and make sense. I used to listen for parts of records that connected. Biggie’s “Unbelievable” begins with, “B-I-G-G-I-E / aka Biggie,” right? And the beginning of “Kick in the Door” would go, “Biggie!” Or, ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” would begin with, “Oh baby I like it Raw,” and that would go into [M.O.P.’s] “How about some hardcore / Yeah we like it raw.” You see? So then, I realized yesterday, I used to sit in the basement for hours to try to find those connections to play in the club. It came...full...Cipha. Boom.
Jim Jones Recalls The “Horse & Carriage” Video Shoot From 1998
DX: You’ve been taking improv classes for two years now. Have you ever made a Hip Hop reference you were surprised someone got?
Cipha Sounds: Not really, and that’s the whole point of me starting this show. A lot of my Hip Hop references were going over people’s heads, so I had to start this show for people to get my stupid Rick Ross or Jay Z jokes.
DX: Speaking of shows, let’s get back to you, Jim. Now that you’re a certified reality show star, what do you find to be the biggest misconception about reality television?
Jim Jones: The biggest misconception used to be that it was the wrong thing to do and for people who were washed up in other careers to try to reinvent themselves in other careers. Well, yeah, every year I try to reinvent myself, and I’ve reinvented myself so much that every person’s trying to do reality TV right now. Reality TV accounts for over 60% of all television, so I got to be doing something right out here.
DX: Eventually, when the Jim Jones biopic goes down, who would you like to play you?
Jim Jones: When my biopic goes down? Oh, I don’t know man. Whoever it is, I hope that he’s just as charismatic as I am.
DX: Well, this month also marks the 15-year anniversary of the “Horse & Carriage” video shoot. Do you recall much from the making of that video?
Jim Jones: Yeah, God bless Big Pun. That was a dope ass video, and we had a great time. We were in L.A. with Pun, Charli Baltimore, me, Cam and all of Pun’s people. We had a great time. I got to actually rap in a Rap cypher with Big Pun that day. That’s when people actually took their craft to another level, when they were actually spitting 16s at one another and when it was a competitive fun thing to do. You had to have 16 bars on deck, and I was blessed to be able to do that with one of the greats—Big Pun.
Cipha Sounds Hopes For RZA & Childish Gambino Improv Appearances
DX: Speaking of anniversaries, August 24 marks the 10-year anniversary of your debut album On My Way to Church. Do you have anything special planned?
Jim Jones: Get the fuck out of here! That’s crazy, blood. Hell no, I don’t know that, blood. I don’t be counting that shit. That’s crazy, and we’re gonna have some fun. Ten years in the making, and that’s just 10 years of my solo career; that’s not 10 years of everything I’ve done as a total in this game. I’ve made this a career for myself, and that’s not an easy thing to do.
DX: Tonight you had an adverse reaction to hearing the crowd chant along with “We Fly High” as you entered on stage tonight. Is it difficult hearing your signature song today?
Jim Jones: Not difficult. It’s one of the songs that I love to hate, but it has put me in a different space in terms of my music and my notoriety. So I always gotta give credit to “Ballin’” as being one of my biggest records to this day.
DX: Let’s end things on this note. Cipha, who is the dream artist you would like to have?
Cipha Sounds: There’s two people: RZA and Childish Gambino. RZA was the first person I ever spoke to about this show. I had him confirmed for the first one, but then he got called to a movie and couldn’t do it. But I have to get RZA in here. RZA is Hip Hop and all the UCB audience knows Wu-Tang. The early Wu-Tang albums were kind of sloppy in how they were put together, so I feel like they improv-ed the album like, “Jump in here.”
And Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino is from UCB. I saw him last week, and he said I was making his dream come true, like, “You’re doing what I wanted to do and didn’t know how to.” We’re trying to work on something now, but he gave me the biggest hug, and that made me feel amazing. He’s funny as shit.