The Culture of Battle Rap
Battle rap is similar to a sport. It takes a unique individual to participate, it takes hours upon hours of preparation, and there is an undeniable aura of competitiveness that surrounds it. Everybody is competing, everybody wants to be the best, track record is key, and reputations are earned not given. If battle rap is a sport, then King Of The Dot is a league boasting some of the best talent available. King Of The Dot, based out of Toronto, is one of the world’s leading battle rap leagues. It offers everything from the hardcore gangsters who constantly reference their artillery to the comedic wise-guys who bring out props and gags to emphasize their lyrics, and there’s even the geeky, backpack-carrying dorks who you’d never suspect can actually rhyme. One thing they all share is the innate ability to humiliate their opponent through difficult rhyme schemes revolving around witty wordplay and cleverly orchestrated punchlines.
For those unfamiliar with battle rap, there are some guidelines you’ll need to understand. While different leagues have their own set of rules, KOTD functions as follows; opponents face off head to head, usually one versus one (although there have been tag team matches in the past). Opponents have ample time (often several weeks) to prepare for their challengers, where they can do some investigating and dig up dirt. Nothing is off-limits. It depends on the individual, but some battlers have been known to bring up extremely personal issues. Battles are usually pre-written for the most part, but bonus points are given if a battler can come up with some on the spot, especially if they are in rebuttal to what the other person just said. Usually a battle will go for three rounds, with each person getting an allotted time (anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes) each round. Contrary to the popular perception, there is usually no music playing in the background. This is done a cappella and at the performer’s own pace. KOTD is one of many battle rap leagues that have surfaced across the globe within the past decade.
The face of KOTD is a tall, humble yet confident man by the name of Organik (you aren’t part of the battle rap culture until you have a super cool nickname, by the way). A battler himself, Organik managed to take this pastime that he had a passion for and turn it into something more organized. Rather than just battle at the local park for pedestrians to see, Organik had the vision to distribute this product to the masses. The man behind the business goes by the name of Avi. He doesn’t gravitate towards the limelight quite like Organik does, as he chooses to stay more behind the scenes, but he’s equally as important to the success of the operation. Other vital individuals such as Gully TK, Lush One, and a slew of other awesomely-named dudes are the ones who help make KOTD what it is; an actual business. With consistent international events, Pay-Per-View events, merchandise, and sponsorship opportunities, it’s come a long way from just two dudes insulting one another in a vacant parking lot. Since joining YouTube in August of 2008, the KOTD channel has over 150,000 subscribers with over 50 million total views.
This past weekend, I was graciously invited to World Domination 4, King Of The Dot’s yearly rap battle expo in Toronto (event card above). If football has the Superbowl and wrestling has Wrestlemania, then battle rap has World Domination. This year’s two-day event boasted 17 different battles, featuring 34 performers from 7 different countries, and culminating in a main event title match (the reigning champion gets to don the KOTD chain). Also, this year, WD4 was being sponsored by Drake’s OVO brand, a major co-sign and pat on the back for KOTD from one of rap’s biggest names. Drake was supposed to be in attendance to co-host the event, but unfortunately had to be in Brooklyn to perform at the MTV VMA’s.
Before the event even began on Friday evening, I was able to attend a press conference for the media on Thursday. There, some of the higher profile matches were discussed, the competitors were given a chance to speak their minds, and audience members were able to ask their favorite battlers some questions. In all, it had the feel of an actual boxing press conference, where opponents must weigh-in and take promotional photos. It was interesting to see which battlers had actual bad blood between them and which ones were simply putting on a show for the audience. With the exception of a few, most of these guys are actually friends. They may talk trash about one another when they’re on stage, but that’s only because it’s the nature of the game. You do or say anything you can in order to win the battle. Off the stage, and behind closed doors, it was interesting to see the camaraderie and respect that these guys actually have for one another. Two guys can be yelling in each others faces on stage on minute, and then the next they are backstage complimenting one another on which insults were the best. Of course, like in any competitive field, there are the ones who just plain don’t like each other as well.
The actual event took place on Friday and Saturday, and The Opera House on Queen Street in Toronto was packed both nights. The crowd featured a lot of low-brimmed hats, gold teeth, baggy jeans, and mean-looking faces. Not to be too stereotypical, but it didn’t seem like the most pleasant of crowds. That is, until the battles got underway. Early on, one of the battlers made a joke referencing Nick Carter (of the Backstreet Boys) and everyone erupted in laughter and applause. Moments later, his opponent referenced the show Dexter’s Laboratory and the crowd loved it. I even heard someone use a Game Of Thrones reference when humiliating his opponent. It was quite strange to see these mean-mugging thugs giggling and laughing at all these pop culture references. At one point, I even shouted out “it’s funny because we all get it!”, which was met by a slew of dirty looks.
Soon, I realized; this isn’t about who’s the most dangerous or who’s the most gangster. After all, these are grown men getting together to essentially say poems that they wrote for each other. It isn’t even about who’s the most popular or who has the most fans or views on YouTube. This is about a group of incredibly creative and gifted people displaying their wit and their skill. It’s about a passion for entertaining an audience. It’s about the thrill of competition. The same way that Kobe and LeBron will tear each others hearts out on the court but be buddies off it, is how these battlers act inside and outside of the ring. It may seem crude to some, but it truly is one of the few remaining real forms of art. Competitors are judged solely on their content, a notion that has been washed away in mainstream rap music. In a genre where a catchy hook, a cool image and a bunch of radio play are the most important things, it’s refreshing to see a medium where the best truly is the best and content is all that matters. As KOTD continues to grow and expand, as does battle rap as a whole. Leagues are consistently popping up across the globe as more and more people are getting hooked on the culture. I hope I’m invited back for World Domination 5 to see how much bigger it becomes.
Probably best known for stuffing his face on YouTube, Tyler also knows how to write while he chews. His favorite things include basketball, football, rap music, cheeseburgers, and bacon cheeseburgers. Follow him on practically all social medias @tlemco.
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