Hip Hop was fresh it was raw, it was almost innocent. Rapper’s Delight was a song filled with gullible lines. Hip Hop was there to give people an outlet for thoughts, experiences and it gave an opportunity for masses to be creative in a way they’ve never been. In its early stages, lacking its present popularity, Hip Hop had to develop without its present financial backing. Instead of sampling overused beats, recording a track, digitally mastering the combo while doubling the voice track, the early Hip Hop superstars took it to the streets. Battling was how so many of the now well-known names got their respect, how they established their very identity. From Slick Rick and LL Cool J to Cannibus and Eminem to Jin and Seriouz Jones, battling had not only influenced Hip Hop, it has defined it.
So it’s no wonder that AllHipHop reserved an event to celebrate just that activity during its celebration week in 2006. With Ludacriss and a slew of other celebrities present at the show it promised to be a true entertainment experience.
Before the spectacle began, most of the Hip Hop icons offered their time to be photographed and to answer some questions on their lives, future and past visions and for some – their aspirations. Ras Kass shared with the author of this write-up that he is an ‘honest artist’. “My lyrics change with different situations. I deal with political and social aspects most of the time. Sometimes I’m just having fun.” His new mixtape, Eat or Die, is out and he is feeling as energized and full of forward movement as ever. Fatman Scoop is so heavily affiliated with Hot 97 that most questions dealt with his involvement on the radio and Changes with Serius satellite gaining greater and greater popularity by the minute. Still he’s not worried. “There is enough for all of us out there.” In the mean time 97 is responding to such competition with its HD radio and streaming internet. Scoop himself promises to do internet and other things to show change. On his future plans he responds with “I’ll be with 97 till they get rid of me.” He put special emphasis on the getting rid part. News worthy? Is there trouble in the house?
The event may have not resembled The Shelter from 8 Mile, but it was certainly thought through and rather meticulously constructed. Fatman Scoop was hosting the battles with Shani Kuture helping out. Both of the guys are part of the massive capital of Hot 97. Scoop’s doing his thing and producing on the side and Shani is the man with a bit of a different focus. He hosts Reggae Sundays and is a Hip Hop/Reggae man himself with repeated performances of his own all over the city. There were 4 judges with varied yet unarguable reputation in the Hip Hop world. Gathered from different parts of the country, they were: Ras Kass, Craig G., Sticky Fingaz and the infamous SWAY.
3 Rounds in all with a rather elaborate plan were on the plate for those stepping up to the mike to accept the rhyme play game.
Round one consisted of picking 3 words by the hosts and challengers having to use them. Seemingly an almost ordinary mission for verse capable contestants, it raised questions all throughout, with some not saying them at all and some exercising them to the extend they saw fit.
Round two brought all back to the days when battling was the only way to earn the stripes in the hood. Old school was to receive its props in the house through the elaborate verses dropped.
Round three was only defined by Scoop as the go hard round.
All throughout the battle time Luda was hiding in the DJ booth. The crowd was only rarely reminded of his very presence as Fatman Scoop spoke of Luda’s 5th album coming out. There were no mentions of the overall impact Ludacriss has had on the industry and the Southern Rap in general. In the time when T.I., Juvenile and Young Jeezy sell more than any East coast or West coast artist, the very fact that Luda was in the house seemed to warrant some more attention. All Scoop had to say was “At this time an artist putting out 5 albums is an impressive fact.” Chamillionare stopped by as well but didn’t earn more than “Cham’s in the house” from the show host. With everyone raving of his entrepreneurial and musical genius, he got almost no love at the event.
Round 1 winners brought the most unexpected results. The first one was a small blind white kid. Going by the name of Blind Fury (remember that 80s Hollywood flick?) his voice was a tad more on the softer side but his skills were too obvious to ignore. He needed help getting on and off stage and wasn’t looking at his challengers directly. Regardless, his overall delivery and control of the stage was shockingly impressive. Then there was a small built girl named Jaz. Droping hood-like insults in her piece, she won primarily due to other guy’s less than courteous act. When this confident Latin guy stepped to her during his act and put a hand on her shoulder, Fatman Scoop immediately stoped the battle and warned him to be polite since “You don’t know who she’s here with. Her man might not like that…” Jaz nodded in approval and yelled out “I’m here with him”, pointing at rather large fellow by the stage. Although that battle went on regardless, the crowd and the judges were almost unanimous in their decision. After a slew of quite weak performances, another winner, Verse, brought a real act to the table. Creating various images and commanding his words with a light and precise touch he impressed all with his real rapping skills.
So it was no wonder that after Round 2 there were only two standing: Blind Fury and Verse. Although judges questioned Verse’s old school references in that round, his opponent brought even less of a game with him and Verse continued on. Somewhere at that point one of the judges took the mike and without holding back whatsoever said “This is the sorriest display of battling skills I have ever seen in my life.”
The pressure was on and Round 3 was announced. It consisted of 3 steps. First was a regular one with Blind Fury and Verse just battling each other like two kids on the block. Unexpectedly and almost shockingly Verse choked on that and got booed by the audience. He clearly had a friend in Scoop as he encouraged him on even after Verse stopped, admitting his defeat. Second went Acapella. Blind Fury seemed to have relaxed a bit after Verse’s previous mistake and failed to excel as in every round before. Third and final was a back and forth battle with rappers switching from one to another as Scoop pointed his finger (I wonder how Blind Fury saw that…). once again Verse had failed to prevail and the Blind Fury‘s crew was all smiles as they waited for the final verdict. Suddenly Fatman Scoop added a fourth step. Just regular battle style it gave Verse a chance to recover somewhat.
Now everyone knows and respects Fatman Scoop. There isn’t a question in anyone’s mind that he is an excellent and competent host for this type of an event. Stil, there was no rational explanation for his actions. The moment Blind Fury stepped on stage Scoop warned him not to cry when he losses. Someone from the DJ booth reminded of Blind Fury’s past MTV battles and Scoop backed off and gently slapped the little white kid on his shoulder. Perhaps Fatman Scoop was simply playing Future for Verse. Afterall in 8 Mile Rabbit would have not emerged victorious if not for Future‘s support. However this situation deserves a further look into it. Everywhere, from sports to singing, a little blind kid with these accomplishments would have earned some extra credit. Managing to overcome his handicap and other factors and enter the least likely world of Hip Hop (besides being blind he is also white and small built) clearly seems to deserve the extra credit. Not in Hip Hop. At least not in the Hip Hop world of Fatman Scoop. Every time Blind Fury got on stage, Scoop kept on insisting that he would cut him no slack due to his condition and that this was no Special Olympics. Instead of encouragement the kid received a cold shoulder. Perhaps Scoop was just in a bad mood? But wait! No one else got that treatment. Perhaps except the white kid who put his hand on the shoulder of a small black girl while battling her earlier in the night. The question seems to pose itself. Is there a gentler side of Hip Hop? Rhetoric questions need no answers…
Still in somewhat of a disbelief from the final results, this writer approached SWAY after the show. He wasn’t hosting the event, he was one of the judges and he is well known for his precise and accurate assessments. Why did Verse win? “We felt that Verse was stronger on Acappella.” What about the part where he choked? “True, but otherwise Verse dominated.” Then in an interview about the overall state of Hip Hop SWAY took a more commercial angle. “Rap companies simplify growth,” he said. Then he spoke of the power and influence of Hip Hop: “Hip Hop is everywhere. It’s in different races, different crowds, different cultures…” addressing the overall complaint consistent among the upcoming rappers he said: “Don’t be greedy and don’t think that someone owe you shit.” Well said, SWAY. Honest straightforward and directly answering my previous rhetoric question.
The whole event was packed with respected names, lots of energy, bravado and hopes. Entertaining to everyone this was a primal display of what is happening on the scene. What’s next for Hip Hop? No one knows. One thing remains true thou: MCs will battle and walk away victorious or defeated but never satisfied!