Eminem’s Total Slaughter battle rap event, scheduled to take place Saturday, July 12, in New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, could change the course of professional battle rap.
The event may have never gotten underway, however, without Mike Herard, a Shady Records A&R, who saw passion for battle rap while touring through Europe with Eminem, Slaughterhouse, and Alchemist last November. Herard recalls a particular dinner conversation between the aforementioned artists that struck him. “The whole time they were there, like three hours, all they talked about was fucking battle rapping,” Herard said. “They were quoting guys’ rhymes like they knew them by heart, which was shocking to me.”
Inspired by this, Herard pitched the idea. “Why aren’t we doing this?” he said. “I think we should create, like, a battle league.” Plans and ideas flourished. Electus, the production company that partners with Shady Films, was brought on, along with WatchLOUD. Eminem, Rosenberg, and Slaughterhouse picked contestants for Road To Total Slaughter, a battle rap based reality TV show on Fuse that serves as an appetizer for the July 12 event. Battle stars Dizaster, Math Hoffa, T-Rex, Cortez, Big T, Daylyt, Marv Won, Aye Verb, and Arsonal were selected, artists who’ve developed loyal fan bases in the battle community. These factors, along with Eminem’s involvement, help make Total Slaughter the most anticipated battle event of the year.
Eminem’s Own Road To Total Slaughter
This won’t be the first time Eminem impacts the battle scene, of course. “[Eminem] came up in the local scene of Detroit, competing,” Shady Records and Goliath Artists’ Paul Rosenberg says. “I was around that, too, both as a fan and as somebody who was trying to find talent and discover artists. We carried that sort of passion for battle rapping through breaking Eminem as an artist, and used it to get the attention of record labels by getting him involved in various battles that were happening…[in] the ‘90s.”
“It gets to the point where n****s don’t even want to make songs. You got people now that don’t care about music. [They think] ‘I can get rich off battle rap.'” - Murda Mook
Em was also responsible for a major shift in battle rap with 2002’s 8 Mile, a film loosely based on his life. But, in recent years, battles have evolved beyond the freestyle-on-a-beat era showcased in the film to written a cappella verses tailored for predetermined opponents. Despite these changes, Eminem’s remained in tune with battle culture. He’s tried to reconnect with his battle roots before, but Rosenberg says this is different. “We did a couple of things…to help expose the culture,” Rosenberg explains, citing the Showtime series The Next Episode and EmSee via Red Bull. “Both of those were cool, but it was never really something that we could grab a hold of, completely own and do it exactly how we wanted to do it…This is the first time that we’re able to take our passion, take that mission to expose the culture, and create something that is our singular vision.”
Changing the Perception of Battle Rap
Eminem’s involvement with this event may have been enough to create tremendous buzz within the battle community, but there’s more to Total Slaughter. The biggest draw of the night is likely Joe Budden’s battle against Hollow Da Don—a leader of the modern battle scene. The battle may not have been booked if it wasn’t for Hollow’s vision, Herard says. Hollow was initially asked to join the Road To Total Slaughtercast, but he had his sights on another target. When meeting Herard, Hollow asked about Budden. “He kept on saying, ‘What’s up with that bitch ass nigga Budden, though?’” Herard says.
At the time, Herard and Rosenberg didn't believe Budden would entertain a battle. Budden laughed at the idea, too. Once Road To Total Slaughter began taping, Hollow stopped by the house and sparked an argument with Budden. “He sees Joe and it just starts,” Herard says. “And, Joe’s no pussy, right? So Joe starts it back with him. They start arguing back-and-forth. One thing leads to another and Joe takes a picture for Instagram. That lights up. Somebody made an offer for them to battle in Vegas. And Joe comes and he tells us, ‘I’m thinking about doing this.’ So we’re like, ‘Yo, you can’t do that anywhere else. You have to do that here.’”
The match was booked. “I think Hollow must have watched The Secret a whole bunch of times, B,” Herard says. “Because that dude came in here and walked out and got Joe to battle him. I don’t know how he did that."
What This Could Mean For Battle Rappers
The Hollow-Budden battle may not have happened in the past, as music making MCs downplayed battle rappers’ careers. Calicoe referenced a popular stereotype about battlers during his storied bout with Loaded Lux, saying, “Labels think battle rappers can’t make songs.” Murda Mook, a veteran of the battle rap scene who has battled Jae Millz and Serius Jonesin the past and set to take on Lux at Total Slaughter, says he experienced this stigma firsthand. “I used to go to labels to try to get a deal,” he says. “They would [give me] a hard time like, ‘It’s hard to shake the battle rap thing.’ But they would watch all the battles I had…That’s what made me realize this could be something.”
“If these guys find that they’re great battlers and that’s how they can make a living, hopefully we’re gonna be that destination for them, and that place to build a career out of it.” - Paul Rosenberg
Others have seen a spark in the culture, as well. Puff Daddy, Drake, Raekwon, Jadakiss, Method Man, and Ab-Soul have co-hosted battles for two of today’s top battle leagues, Ultimate Rap League (URL) and King of The Dot (KOTD). Drake took that a step further, sponsoring a KOTD event last year. Ab-Soul, who’s said he was inspired by Budden, took his involvement further by battling Daylyt on his new album, These Days… Where past MC who lived off record sales and touring would scoff at the idea of a battle, Ab-Soul and Budden show Total Slaughter could change the way battle rappers are perceived by their more commercial peers. It could also impact the way battlers view their own careers, as many no longer do it with an aspiration to break into the industry.
“It gets to the point where niggas don’t even want to make songs,” Mook says. “You got people now that don’t care about music. [They think] ‘I can get rich off battle rap.'”
Rosenberg says that’s where Total Slaughter comes in. “If these guys find that they’re great battlers and that’s how they can make a living, hopefully we’re gonna be that destination for them, and that place to build a career out of it,” he explains.
What To Expect From Total Slaughter
Beyond Eminem’s involvement and Joe Budden’s Hollow Da Don battle, there’s more to expect from Total Slaughter, including Loaded Lux’s rematch against Murda Mook, a battle that Rosenberg compares to Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather. Still, Mook says the Total Slaughter battlers are also facing other challengers at the event.
“Even though we’re battling our opponents, we’re all battling each other,” Mook says. Even though Joe Budden is battling Hollow, I’m still battling Joe Budden. Hollow is still battling me. We want to outdo the other person. We want people to leave talking about what we did. We always want to be the best.”
"Even though Joe Budden is battling Hollow, I’m still battling Joe Budden. Hollow is still battling me. We want to outdo the other person. We want people to leave talking about what we did. We always want to be the best.” - Murda Mook
As a result, Mook says fans can anticipate greatness. “This is going to be the best you’ve seen in a long while, maybe ever,” he says. “I’m anticipating these will be the best bars said ever.”
Beyond this, Total Slaughter is also a sign of things to come for battle rap, Rosenberg says. While praising other battle leagues, Rosenberg explains Total Slaughter’s vision is to change the game despite criticism of Shady bringing a corporate component to battle rap.
“Our goal is to turn it into something that it’s not,” Rosenberg says. “We don’t think it’s as organized as it could be. We don’t think the end product is as well-produced as it could be, and we don’t think that it has the exposure that it could have. If those three things make it something that people view as corporatized, then I guess so be it. But I don’t see it as necessarily a bad thing.”
Herard echoes this sentiment. “We win, other leagues win,” he says. “More eyeballs on this thing. These guys get more money from battles. That’s the goal.”
While that’s Total Slaughter’s goal, some still wonder how big battle rap can get. “That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Rosenberg says. The question might be answered by Total Slaughter.
Angel T.V. is a writer that appreciates hip-hop in many forms, including battle rap. He's interested in seeing how Total Slaughter can impact the culture.