What's A Rap Battle Anyway?

What's A Rap Battle Anyway?
"Verbal Warfare' Freestyle Rap Battle at Subterranean - 07/06/18

subt-crowd-pic-1For years I've been a fan of rap and hip hop music. While I'm not as well versed in either genre as some of my peers, I feel as though I know enough to have been interested in seeing a rap battle way before now. But the truth is, I really wasn't. I just didn't expect to be all that interested in watching people talk to each other in rhymes. In my mind, that's all a rap battle is.

But then, due in part, to meeting some really cool people over the past few months, on Friday, July 6th, 2018, I found myself attending my very first rap battle ever, at this place called Subterranean in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.

I had been there once before for an open mic (which they host EVERY Tuesday night, I'll tell you more about that later), but that wasn't a battle, it was mostly all local artists who were working on their craft or just wanting to expose their lyrical talents to the world.

So, with little knowledge of what to expect, too much adderall in my system, and arriving about 2 hours after it started, there I was. For whatever reason, I felt very out of place. I'm the only rap battle virgin here! But, the feeling quickly subsided when I saw a friend, that just happened to be standing outside right in front of the place when I walked up. Luckily, my friend quickly dragged me through the door and to a table right in front. Honestly, if it hadn't been for that, I probably would gone back to my car and back home.

Afterwards, I so glad I went. The vibe inside Subterranean is very eclectic. It's energetic but laid-back somehow. It's dark, but you can still see everything. The best part was, this place has a smokey atmosphere, despite the fact that all Chicago bars are non-smoking and have been for years. You can't smoke in this place, but being a smoker myself, the smokey room type feeling and appearance was very familiar and comfortable for me.

And even though I had arrived very late, I got there just before the last opening act, BeatrixKiddo and Jai The Artist were finishing up with the last performance before the rap battle began. They were interesting, they had a groovy kind of feel going. After they left the stage, the DJ took over for a bit while the battle performers were gearing up.

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After about 10 minutes or so of music, the events' host, the guy in the photo above, known in the hip hop world as "Shadow Master MC" takes the stage (you can buy that sweatshirt in the pic on RageOn.Com, click here if wanna sang one). He explains the rules and gets things started. His suggestion to the participants as preparation for "battle", "I'd  suggest you go to the bar and have a shot before things get started".

The crowd is full, but not too tight, it was perfect! They seemed completely ready, waiting patiently. The DJ plays more music, apparently crowd favorites, as I seemed to be the only person there who didn't know the words. As I watched the crowd moving in unison to the ebb and flow of the songs, I noticed how many of them had camera's. Not cellphones, actual camera's.

subt-crowd-pic-8Side Note: You would think that this would have been an indication to me that I should taken some pics to post with this article, but it wasn't. I sat there, the whole entire time, without taking one picture! Can you believe that shit?! Who does that?! All the pictures seen in this article are from various Subterranean / 606 events, seeing as I took no pictures.

But back to the battle.....

The host takes the stage again, he schools the crowd on the importance of the DJ in music, while the 1st two rappers who will start the battle follow closely. He explains how the battle will go, 16/16/8/8/8/8 -  They get 1 set of 16 bars to start, then 2 sets of 8 bars each.

And then, with a quick toss of a coin, the battle begins!

1st round, 1st battle:

A girl, whose name I can't remember, (I know, I'm the worst blogger, right?) is up against a guy, local artist/photographer, Mike Booth, a battle regular. It's obvious that he's battled before. The girl however didn't seem to have nearly as much battle experience, but she wasn't intimidated at all. Maybe a little hesitant at first, but she looked her opponent square in the eyes the whole time.

I was impressed! Good for her not letting him scare her, not that he was trying to intimidate her, but I was happy to see that she felt confident just the same.

But in the end, she lost the battle. She seemed cool with it though. After the winner was determined by the crowd's vote, the DJ started to play music so that the next 2 opponents could get ready for the next round. After the vote, as soon as the music started, she stepped right off the stage and started to dance like it was nothing.

In the second round, local rapper "Legit" wins by default, as his opponent, "Rex God" (I think that's the right name) was a no-show.

In the third round, Legit battles KC (another girl). She starts off a little slow, but shesubt-crowd-pic-4 gets into her own type of groove and wins the battle.

Round I - Final Battle -

Now, the winner from the 1st round battles the the winner from the 3rd round.

Mike Booth battles KC. He let's her go first. She looks a little nervous. Could be because she watched him win the very 1st round against the first chick. She lost, but she held her own. Mike Booth wins the first round.

From what I can gather, the thing is to insult your opponent in the wittiest way you can think of and make it rhyme, just as I expected. But it was a lot more interesting than I had given it credit for. I never thought of what it might feel like from the performer's perspective. To stand in front of a crowd, put on the spot like that and then be judged no less. And the fact that they did this by choice makes it even more interesting to me. I wasn't sure if that meant that they're all certain of their abilities, or if they wanted to know if they're any good or not. Maybe they're just a bunch of adrenaline junkies?

Round after round people took the stage in hopes of showing off how talented they are. Honestly, I give them all credit for having the guts to do it in the first place, but not all of them were rap battle worthy. Not for lack of trying or practice, but this is the sort of thing that takes a collection of different types of skills that are combined in a certain way. You could have a great voice, but without the words, the voice doesn't matter all that much. Not in terms of being a rapper anyway. Or, you could have the words, but without the ability to deliver them in a way that grabs the attention of the audience, that won't amount to much either. You have to have talent, style (your own) and skill to be any good at all.subt-crowd-pic-6

I won't list the names of every person who performed that night, but there were a few who I thought showed some potential talent and others that really were talented. If someone where to ask me who they were, I'd say, “KC”, “Puffs”, “Lone Mantis”, “EYE” and “SoLo”.

Some of the battles were a little heated, but the vibe was very easy and friendly for the most part. During one battle one of the rappers losses her thought and starts to stutter a little. She losing her footing, so to speak and the crowd could see it. She gets to the point where she was ready to apologizes to the crowd and is ready to throw in the towel, but the crowd assures her that it's okay and encourages her to continue, and she did. She didn't win that battle, but my hope is that she was proud of herself for not taking the easy way out and just giving up. And, I really appreciated the encouragement from the audience.

Finally, it's the last battle. Mike Booth vs. SoLo. Same rules, 16/16/8/8/8/8. The audience votes, but they seem to be equal. The host asks the audience to vote a second time, and it was still equal. A third vote, still can't determine a winner. The host, Shadow Master, decides to have a second “final” round. And it took 3 rounds of voting from the crowd before Mike Booth is announced as the winner.

The battle turned out to way more fun than I expected and this place is really cool. The crowd is very diverse in age, ethnicity and every way a place could be diversified. Subterranean has events at least 3-4 times a week and there always seems to be artists at different levels of fame, past and present who find themselves there.

In the past couple of weeks, Slum Village, Smif and Wessun, Guilty Simpson, and the Microphone MisFitz have performed there. And open mic nights are like a religion to them.sub-t-crew

Sub-T /606 Crew

If you should find yourself in, around or about in Chicago and you like rap/ hip hop and great entertainment, I'd suggest you do as the host said to the rappers in the battle, and “Stop at the bar and have a shot”

You can find out more about them on Facebook and their website

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