Hip Hop Commentary

Are Backpackers Really Conscious?
by Dove

The 2nd Annual Brainstorm Battle went down last week over the course of a grueling two-day competition and three-day performance schedule. Eyedea and Abilities, Atmosphere, One Man Army of the Subterraneous crew, DJ Topspin, Kutfather, and Kylea of Jasiri Media Group rotated shifts hosting, performing and helping judge the competition throughout the weekend, and 64 emcees were narrowed down to one winner in the battle.

I must first give a huge shot to Samuel Chesneau and Marc Matsui of the Student Hip Hop Organization of Washington (S.H.O.W.) and their crew for a well-organized and professional presentation of the event. They set a fine example of how an event of this caliber should be run. However, the battle itself was not without its shortcomings.

The sixteen emcees who made it to the finals were: Gabriel Teodros (Seattle, WA), Surge Spitable (Ft. Lauderdale, FL), Physics (Albequerque, NM), Geologic (Bremerton, WA), K-Chromozone (College Park, MD), MC Lucky One (Portland, OR), Kaotic (Kent, WA), Khalil Crisis (Brainstorm Battle 2001 Champion - Seattle, WA), L Dubble (Seattle, WA), Vitamin D (Seattle, WA), Presence (Chicago, IL), Squared Wonda (Seattle, WA), iCON The Mic King (Washington, DC), H-Bomb (Seattle, WA), Asun (Seattle, WA), and Seez Mics (College Park, MD). The field narrowed down to the final four: Presence vs. Surge and iCON vs. H-Bomb, which led to the final battle between Presence vs. iCON. Chicago's redheaded rhymesayer Presence took home the trophy in the end, but not without controversy.

Throughout the competition it was quite disturbing to hear incessant references to homosexuals mixed with blatant racial slurs in the one-on-one battles. In the first round some of the freewheeling freestylers were even grabbing at articles of clothing, hats and glasses on the other contestants. The references to sucking of genitalia have always been prevalent in rhyming, but things were taken to new lows with contestants turning their booties in the direction of the other contestants, professing that the other man would be their bitch, professing how 'gay' the other rappers were - it became a sort of homoerotic poetry session. I don't know of anyone there who was homosexual, but I flipped the script in my mind - what if they were talking about women in this same way? I couldn't believe my ears, and I was both embarrassed and bothered by the way some of these cats came across.

I won't get into the heavy details, but suffice to say that there were a number of people who were extremely offended by the streams of unconsciousness that were offered by these supposed members of the Hip Hop community. Ironically, these same backpack-bearing battlers are amongst those who berate the likes of Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mobb Deep, Fabolous, P-Diddy, and Cash Money for their portrayal of women, materialism, and alcohol consumption in their rhymes. The same cats who feel that Jay-Z is too commercial and superficial. The same fan base who argue that underground rappers are somehow more 'real' because of their uplifting and positive messages. These are the same cats that had no problem using terms like 'chink', 'faggot' and 'bitch' throughout the course of the 30-60 second freestyles. Some of the African American emcees were not innocent in their use of homosexual references and 'whiteboy' commentary either - yet how can you stay above board when people are hitting below the belt? Although not all the participants used this strategy, the prevalence of it was overwhelming. Something that struck me was a quote from Blaze Battle champion Eyedea, a 20-year-old from the Midwest - "That's just how MC battles are". I was baffled after hearing several people excuse the behavior of the emcees with their passive attitudes. "Sure it's wrong," some of them said, "but what can you do?"

Some of the judges, participants and onlookers dismissed the use of words that would normally get a person beat down on the streets, but other people were outraged that the contestants felt it was okay to use demoralizing and dehumanizing remarks in their freestyles in the first place. Kevin Powell and the Hip Hop Speaks organization recently sent out an invitation to emcees to join up in their "Da Cypha MC Battle" in New York. Just when I thought maybe people were being too accepting of the ugliness in these battles, it was eye opening to read the following text from the Hip Hop Speaks invitation: "UNNECESSARY CURSING, BLATANT DISRESPECT TOWARDS WOMEN, and the EXCESSIVE use of the N word may lead to disqualification. DA CYPHA MC BATTLE is about CONTENT, FLOW, and MIC SKILLS (VERBAL CREATIVITY)." The fact that anyone has to put their foot down like this speaks volumes about the current state of the mindset of today's Hip Hop wannabe emcees.

My question is: Since when did emcee battles become emasculating verbal cockfights instead of skillful competitions? Whatever happened to lyrical creativity? Where do we draw the line with the hate, especially when the people who profess the hardest to be 'real' in the culture are profaning it? What happened to Hip Hop? Accepting attitudes about situations like this make me think that maybe those who would like to see the culture self-destruct are

getting their wish.

Feel free to hit me with your feedback.

*Editor's note* Interesting enough, I recieved this email about the Seattle emcee battle from Geo where similar concerns were raised...

peace family

this past weekend, i participated in the 2nd Annual Brainstorm Emcee Battle. call it what you want: the spirit of art and competition or a big macho egofest. out of 64 emcees, i made it to the top 8. the finals were held on saturday.

i've never been so excited for and ashamed of hip-hop in my life. on the back of racist stereotypes and a crowd and judges (to his credit, Eyedea was the only judge who spoke out against it) feeding into it and loving it, this dude Presence from chicago won. i wanted to get audio or video of saturday's finals so i could transcript what i couldn't believe i was actually hearing. but i don't know when i'll get a hold of it, so i've decided to post what i heard from memory, flawed and all.

against LDubble, a Chinese American emcee, Presence pulled the following:
-"the only thing missing from your outfit is a camera"
-"cook me some mongolian beef"
-"you can't hold the mic right, let me get you some chopsticks"
-"you're a chink with a little dick"
-"your chances are slimmer than your eyes"

there's MORE, if you can believe it. i can't remember. and all within the span of 30 seconds.

against Surge, a Puerto Rican American emcee who Presence mistakenly thought was Filipino, I heard:

-"go back to the Philippines"
-three lookalike references: "you look like a Filipino ___________"

yes, there are no (written) rules regarding what you can or can't say onstage. but i've seen people get booed off stage for anti-black and anti-women remarks. Presence's lines did not surprise me. what deeply bothered me was the nearly 1,000 people who cheered on this overt racism,

using hip-hop and the color-blind utopian all-about-the-skills-not-the-color mentality to justify it.

i can go on, but i'll stop here. whoever wants to discuss this, i'm open.



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