In recent months, I have been spending a lot of time in the company of my Nephew, Connor. My favourite way to describe him is that he is really great as long as you don’t ask him to do anything more practical than breathing. I do think this is a little unfair, while he has yet to master the ‘turning off the light when leaving a room’ thing, he has mastered the ‘empty the dishwasher instead of piling shit into the sink’ thing. So evidence of progress has been made.
Why have I been spending so much time with him? Well, the quick answer is that I have two things in my house, that he doesn’t have in the house where he’s staying;
the internet and tasty food :)
You see, my nephew is a Battle Rapper and he has turned his love of battle rap into a business venture. The organisation of which requires rather a lot of time on the internet. Social media - so young and hip and so very important. He used to battle for the biggest league in the country, Don’t Flop, but then got annoyed with the lack of respect and payment that followed. Although the league was making money from PPV and ticket sales, the Rappers themselves weren’t seeing much of it, plus sometimes they had to fight to get coach fare out of them. Connor thought this wasn’t the way forward, so decided to start his own league, The UK Battle League (UKBL ). He set about organising the launch event. By the time, he started using my internet, he’d got a venue, organised a card (the battles which would take place on the night) and had a pretty clear marketing strategy to sell tickets. All of this coming from someone, who finds it impossible to move a used knife from the counter into the dishwasher!
So astounded was I that it was possible he could actually organise a piss up in a brewery, I decided to find out more about it.
So, over the past few months, you could say I have had a crash course in Battle Rap.
At first, I had an idea about what it all involved, I mean,
I’ve seen 8 Mile, that’s all you need to know right?
I started by asking all the questions that an old person would ask, why all the swearing? Why the gun talk? But then I started watching my nephew prepare for a battle. Let’s put aside all the organisational dramas which occurred, sabotage attempts, Battlers dropping out by text (!) and hiring staff. I was watching my useless, pointless nephew, grow up right in front of me. He even got his father, my brother, to help out by designing an innovative system where, for the first time, the audience members can rate each round out of ten and the winner would be the Battler with the highest average score over the entire Battle. This in itself was brand new for the circuit as battle are usually judged on audience reaction (clapping/cheering) which is sometimes difficult to tell, especially if it’s close, which leads to much discussion in the forums as to who actually won. Or by judging panel, which may not be completely unbiased depending on who is chosen to be on the panel. The UKBL system gives a definitive answer on who won.
When he was unable to get a rapper who was prepared to battle Tony D (well respected, pretty much UK No 1, before he handed over his crown), he decided to take him on himself. Which meant not only was he trying to organise an event in London from Manchester, he also had to prepare the best battle of his life. He didn’t think he would win, but for the sake of his own league, he had to give a really good showing.
Then he started explaining all the insider stuff. Did you know there were different types of Rappers?
Some work the puns like a stand up, some write punches like a boxer, some have intricate wordplay worthy of a Poet Laureate and some just make it up on the fly. The one thing that all of them have in common is a crazy eloquence - It’s absolutely fascinating.
At the beginning of his prep, Connor spent a lot of time watching TV shows and movies, that’s not preparation, I hear you shout, but in fact it is, he likes to make pop culture references and attack his opponent with them. In this match up, he references Game of Thrones, Westworld, Stranger things, Mr Robot, Sopranos etc. etc.
As the event drew closer, he became more serious, putting in the time, crafting a clever interplay of ideas and words. Coming up with knockout lines, designed to leave the audience laughing and applauding. If you saw him in that week before the launch, you would think he had mental health issues, he was wandering around my house mumbling to himself, getting annoyed, nervously muttering about how it’s not good enough and having a constant, haunted look of worry when, with two days to go, he still didn’t have a third round.
Every time I went upstairs, I’d hear him ranting in the office, but that was just practice.
In his ciggie breaks, he would come down and fill me in on the latest developments. All this time, I thought that Battle Rap was all about the young people, but it turns out that most of the rappers are in their thirties and forties, at least the good ones are :)
Rappers of Connors age are in the minority. When I found this out, and realising that little old me might not be so out of place after all, I started to wonder if I should go down to London for the event.
I found the whole thing fascinating and quite exciting, never did I think at the beginning of 2016, that by December, I would be at a Battle Rap event in Brixton.
But come December 9th - and thanks to one of my wonderful ex-pupils, Lenka, who gave me a bed for the night, there I was, helping out on the door.
The first thing that struck me was how disparate the various people who rolled up were. There seemed to be no definitive demographic, there were people of all ages, from teenagers to people older than me. Men and women, all ethnicities. There were people in suits, punk outfits and the obligatory few in ‘Rap gear’ (hoodies, baseball caps etc.) nothing seemed to connect these people at all – Except a love of Battle Rap.
The second thing that struck me, when the battlers arrived, was that they all seemed genuinely pleased to see each other, they were so friendly and happy, nothing at all like the angry aggression that I was expecting.
Once the Battles started, the friendly smiles were replaced with rapier sharp cutting wit, hurtful one-liners and some pretty near the knuckle lines - or bars as they call them :) and when they were finished, it was a man-hug and back to smiles.
For me though, the highlight of the night was Cojay vs Tony D. I’m not going to talk too much about it as I’ll put the video at the end, but I will say, the tension in the room was palpable. Everyone expected Connor to be annihilated in the first round, but Con came out swinging and stunned the crowd.
It was like a gladiator fight, two men at the top of their game taking the other down with clever lines and funny jokes. Don’t take my word for it, watch for yourself.
Note: Some information you may need to know to really understand it – Soul, Raptor, Shox and Gemini are all rappers, Soul is the current No 1 of Don’t Flop. Tony battles mainly for Don’t Flop. Tony’s surname is Hamlet. A ‘toe bar’, well Tony-Tone-Toe, a line referring to Tony, talking about toes. Not sure if that makes sense...
Anyway, here it is. Judge for yourself.
So if you’ve always wanted to see what this Battle Rap lark is all about, but have been too nervous to actually go, don’t be nervous, buy a ticket and go along. The next event is in February in Shoreditch. I’ll post details when tickets are available or you can like the UKBL on Facebook