Tierra Whack first gained recognition at the age of 15 when she stunned viewers with her slick poetry while rapping for a YouTube channel on a Philadelphia street. The video rapidly drew thousands of views and marked the first of Tierra's many performances for the camera. Years later, director Chris Moukarbel begins documenting her astronomical rise, going behind the scenes of concerts and music videos as she navigates fame and receives exalted praise from stars like Erykah Badu and Billie Eilish. One night, after a particularly tiring set, a seemingly innocuous fan interaction begins a series of increasingly unsettling events that swirl around Tierra and her team — even following them to Dubai. They soon start questioning who is filming whom and whether being seen (or watched) is a desirable and unavoidable part of fame.
Cypher is a visually rich, self-aware, and captivating artistic showcase that opens as many doors of perception as it closes. Weaving together different aesthetics and highlighting the strangeness that surrounds the music industry, Moukarbel's filmmaking convinces the viewer to happily follow him down a warren of rabbit holes. It's a riveting, intricate story, but who is telling it?––Jarod Neece