“CIPHA, DON’T GET GASSED!” You can hear the almost prophetic catch phrase coined by Hot 97’s own DJ Funk Flex screaming at you through the web. The drop was always a reminder to Cipha Sounds (né Luis Diaz) that although you’re good, don’t let it get to your head. Many folks probably felt that the 17-year vet of New York’s legendary Hot 97 radio station had indeed gotten to the point of being “gassed,” when he announced he’d be leaving the station in 2014. But gas escapes and might even blow up if you bring it around enough heat.
Fast-forward to November 2015 and we find that one of the city’s best turntablists has grown into one of comedy’s rising stars and the host of his very own series. The improv specialist sat down with watchLOUD to discuss his new venture, what exactly his plan entails, and of course, the on time tour DJ for Lil’ Kim shared some epic hip-hop memories.
WatchLOUD: Tell us about your show “No Small Talk.”
Cipha Sounds: “No Small Talk” is a comedy series I’m doing on Tidal. I’m trying to do two things with it: 1. I’m trying to get exposure for comedians that I think are super funny. And I’m talking performing comedians, not Instagram stars. My goal in life is to create comedy superstars. And 2, I wanted it to feel like you’re in a real comedy club. When they do comedy for TV it’s really polished and almost like you’re on a set. I wanted it to feel like a regular night at a comedy club. You’ll see waitresses walking around and all that.
WL: What is it about developing young comics that drives you?
CS: I dunno. I’ve always been like that. That’s why I wanted to be an A&R. I don’t rap a thing, but I love music, so I was always trying to find talent. The only difference here is that I actually do comedy, but I know there are a lot of funny people that don’t have the Hip-Hop hustle that I have. I come from watching Diddy, Jay, Cash Money and so many others hustle their way through the industry. And with comedy it’s the same steps that it’s been for the last 50 years! You’ve gotta work the clubs for 10-15 years, then try to get on Letterman or Leno back in the day; now it’s Conan, Seth Myers or the Jimmy Fallon Show. From your late night spot, you’ll get on the road bookings and you’ll hit the road for mad years and hopefully Comedy Central will pick up an hour special. After that, it’s hopefully you’ll get an audition to do a sitcom, and then you’ve gotta hope it’s successful like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ or ‘Seinfeld.’ We know the successful shows, but there are plenty of pilots that are not successful. And if the show isn’t successful, now you’ve gotta go back to the clubs – it’s f****in ridiculous! There are so many other ways of getting exposure nowadays. These comedians are going about it the same ol’ way, so I’m trying to invent a new way. I don’t know what it is yet, but getting Jay Z to say yes to doing a comedy series on Tidal was a big win for me, ya’ know?!
WL: Why Tidal? What inspired you to go this route with it?
CS: I’ve been looking for different ways to get my show ideas off the ground. They wanted me to find comedy content for Tidal, so I said let’s do something original and shoot it like a real TV show. So we did it a little like Def Jam.
We shot it in the Comedy Cellar, which is the same spot they used in the movie Top Five. In “No Small Talk,” we’ve got a green room element to it, where we’ve got other comedians that may not even appear on the show, but we’ve got them in the back talkin’ sh*t with each other and all that, but it’s funny as hell. So I wanted to show different elements of performing comedy.
WL: Ok, so I’ve got a scenario for you. Let’s say you have the option to either headline the biggest concert in the history of the world with nothing but the top A-list performers in music, or headline your own comedy concert film, which would you choose?
CS: I’d want a comedy show similar to Kings of Comedy. So if I’m playing the Steve Harvey role as the host, which three comedians right now would I want up there with me? Well, my goal would be to mix the comedy worlds up a bit, because comedy’s pretty segregated – there’s your black comedy rooms, your white comedy rooms, etc…I’d want to mix it. So I’d want a black, white and a Latino. I’d want [Dave] Chapelle, Louis C.K. and the funny thing is I’d pick this guy named Mark Viera, who’s not famous at all. But I think he’s one of the funniest guys in America and would crush something like that. He’s been on tour with Gabriel Iglesias as the opener, and he’s probably one of the funniest Puerto Rican’s I’ve ever met in my life. He’s a guy that I’ve seen do a 10-minute spot on my show, but that’s not enough. I’ve seen him do 40-minutes on just about jokes on his wife. He’s the guy that’s a nobody when he hits the stage, and when he’s done, everyone’s a fan. But that’s the problem with comedy – you’re building fans by 25, 50, 100 people at a time, which is why it takes so long.
WL: And what about Chapelle and Louis CK? What made you pick those guys?
CS: If I could’ve picked anyone, I would’ve picked Patrice O’neal, but since he’s passed away, these are the people I chose. I’d go with Chapelle over anyone because he’s the guy who gave me my first shot in the comedy world. I used to deejay his show and he would always tell me how funny I was, so he’s kinda like how Funk Flex was in my music career. And as I mentioned, I wanna blend the worlds of music and comedy, and if you’re familiar with Chapelle, he used to wanna talk more about music than he did comedy. He’d be the perfect person. He’s got such a rhythm to how he tells jokes. It’s almost like a song the way he tells them. Louis C.K. is kinda like that guy that doesn’t give a f**k and I love that about him! He broke all of the rules in comedy. He’s kinda one of the people on the forefront of shooting your own special and putting it up on your website and having people buy it. He sold his special for $5 and a million people downloaded it. He changed the game! And he just doesn’t give a f**k! He’ll say the n-word in some of his jokes and he doesn’t fear the reaction. Damn, you’re making me really wanna do this show! [Laughs].
WL: At this point, which career – comedy or deejaying – has been more fulfilling to you?
CS: The reason why I like comedy so much is because it’s new. It’s like a new chick! The new chick in the beginning is always great…it’s gonna be stressful at some point, but in the beginning it’s always great! And with comedy I get to be the star, whereas with music, I’m usually deejaying behind the scenes of the bigger star. Like, I could be killing it in a club, but I’m playing other people’s music. So I’m killing the performance aspect of it, but I’m not contributing to the art. I’m playing Jay Z, Kanye, Travis Scott and Migos — who I love deejaying their songs by the way — but it’s their music. So ultimately I’m a conduit for their success. Now if I’m doing a 10-minute spot of comedy in an empty room, it’s me. It’s my jokes and I’m the one telling them. So it’s a little more fulfilling in that aspect, but not much more because I do like both.
WL: You actually called your performance at the Tidal 10/20 show one of the biggest moments in your career. What was it about that, which made it so impactful?
CS: That’s kinda like what I was saying. Nine outta 10 times, I’m performing in the background for an artist, but this one time I was the star. I got blessed by the gods! Now I’ve done something similar, you know? I’ve performed at Summer Jam, which is a lot bigger because it’s a stadium full of people, but a lot of people DJ at Summer Jam. And being that the event is put on by a radio station, they want you to be partying from the second you walk in. What made that night special was the fact that no one had partied yet. There were so many acts, that everyone was only performing like one or two songs and then the next act would come on. So you couldn’t really get into a T.I. set because he only did one joint, you know? And then you had Two-Milly come out with Justine Sky, but he only did a minute of “Milly Rock” so by the time you catch the groove and start to Milly Rock in the audience, she went back to her R&B song and the set was over. There were also a couple rock groups, so if you’re not into rock like that, it’s not as enjoyable outside of the spectacle of a live performance. So if you were in that venue, you could see that the people were ready to party and it hadn’t happened yet. So when I got on, I just went hamburger! I give myself a lot of credit for what I did, but the crowd was just in that sweet spot. And I’ve known Jay for years and he’s never given me a compliment like he did that night. It was like an ongoing compliment, “N***a you killed it! Like, you went crazy up there, that sh*t was so ill” and I’m standing there like, “yeah, yeah, yeah, tell me more!” [Laughs].
WL: With you being in music for so long, especially being around Bad Boy and Lil’ Kim, what are some of the funniest tour moments that you remember?
CS: Oh, the Lil’ Kim days were just a constant flow of comedy. First of all, I’m an underground DJ that works at Fat Beats record shop, which is all vinyl, underground records. And then on the weekends, they used to make fun of me at Fat Beats. ‘Oh, so now you’re gonna go put on your fur coat and have some champagne?’ So I’m like Triple-Five Soul, camo pants, back pack and vinyl, deejaying for Lil’ Kim who was all about designer brands, getting money and poppin’ bottles and all that, so I was just so outta place! [Laughs]. And this is back in the day when we deejayed with real vinyl, so the instrumental version wouldn’t have the hook in it. So I’d have to scratch into the version with the hook and then scratch back into the instrumental. And we’d be playing one of those little club run shows and the stage would be all wobbly and jumpy and the needles would be jumping. I remember one time Lil Cease and the rest of Junior Mafia was like, ‘Yo DJ, you’re f***in up!’ and it sounds like I’m just some local DJ that they found off the street and not like I’m part of their crew. And they’re screaming, ‘Yo DJ, you’re f***in up” and I’m like [in my head], “Yo, rock wit me, I’m with youuu!” But of course, they’re embarrassed, so they’re like, ‘YO crowd, say f**k the DJ!’ so of course that happens. Then we leave and I’m like, “Yo, what was all that about?” and they’re like, oh we were just f**kin around. They treated me bad, yo! [Laughs]
WL: Have you ever witnessed any crazy battles or cyphers while being on tour?
CS: I was in London with Mos Def and [Talib] Kweli one time at a festival, long before festivals were even a thing. In fact, it was Carnival, which is equivalent to the West Indian Day Parade out here. And I see Mos and Kweli battling some London rappers. They were deadly. Like, Mos was freestyling off the top of his head. It was amazing! They were good, but Mos and Kweli destroyed those guys!
WL: Ok, so at this point in your career, what would you say is your overall goal?
CS: I don’t really have an end goal, but I just wanna turn this comedy thing – and a couple other shows I’m pitching – into something special. Alicia Keys is a partner in my Improv show that I’m pitching as a TV show. I’m pitching another show and working with another rapper, but I can’t say too much about that. I get my own show, I wanna act on shows, and I wanna develop shows for other comedians that I love. On top of all that, I wanna become a more famous DJ. So no matter where I am on the road, I can always go deejay afterwards. I already do the things I love doing, it’s just about becoming more successful with it. And eventually, I want my fame to put me in a position to be able to help people. I’m very big in mental health, because therapy helped me a lot. I’m really into mental health issues in the hood, so that’s the next barrier I wanna break and I wanna use comedy as a way to do that. I just think people fight a lot of issues such as homelessness, drug addiction, alcoholism, and I see a lot of these things stem from mental health issues and the way you were raised as a kid. You can always quit drinking, but the problem is always there. I wanna get to the root of it.
WL: Very Dope! So is there anything else you wanna let the people know about?
CS: So the first episode of ‘No Small Talk’ was free. You can check that on Tidal.com or on YouTube. There are five episodes in total. The next four you’ve gotta be a Tidal member. Holla at me, I got bootlegs; three more free subscription cards! And what’s funny is, I’ve started using Tidal since doing this show and I actually like it. I’ve become a Tidal salesman and I didn’t think I would be. But, they air every Tuesday, so please support that!