Where: New York City, New York
Venue: Hammerstein Ballroom
Female to male ratio: 0 to 100, real quick.
Spotted: Busta Rhymes, Kid Capri, Jin.
Corniest moment: When Hollow Da Don walked around Joe Budden and said, "I'm rapping circles around you."
Basically: A million bars eclipsed by a few antics.
I got to the Hammerstein Ballroom for Total Slaughter around the time that Daylyt started to disrobe himself on stage. This was the final round of his battle with T-Rex. Daylyt had performed his first two verses in full Spawn costume and decided that he would rap just a single bar in the final round. I had to look around briefly to confirm that I was in the right place. Surely enough, my hero Jin was crouching just a few feet away from me.
This wasn't just a battle rap event, it was the most highly anticipated battle rap event of the year. Shady Records had put together an event of epic proportions relative to the rap battle world, one that could possibly redefine the battle rap scene and eclipse the success of other battle rap leagues like Ultimate Rap League and King of The Dot. Nostalgia paired with optimism, this was battling's chance to align itself with the rap world of 2014, even if none of the rappers at the event (besides Joe Budden) were "relevant" to rap at large.
On stage, Daylyt had pulled out a prescription bottle, rhymed the word "dedication" with the fact that he was "all out of his medication," and then proceeded to stomp around stage, removing his clothes. The overwhelming booing that ensued was only outnumbered by the word "pause" coming from members of the audience. The win pretty much went to T-Rex by default at that point, as Daylyt was still on the floor in his underwear minutes after the battle was over. Ebro Darden, who was a commentator for the event, when prompted, said "Get the fuck up, man." Then something to the effect of "we didn't come here for this shit." T-Rex went home with the W, but at the end of the day, who are we all going to remember? The guy who took his clothes off. This became the theme of the night: antics were more memorable than lyrics, but that didn't make the experience any less enjoyable.
During the battles, I saw Jin running around, slipping in and out of the shadows, "ooh"-ing and "ah"-ing with the rest of us. I made sure to catch his reaction whenever some wild shit happened. Battle rap is like Shakespeare, wherein you have some dude on a stage reciting a monologue of shit-talk against his opponent.
Battle rap is like Shakespeare, wherein you have some dude on a stage reciting a monologue of shit-talk against his opponent.
Your success is determined by how well you prepared, whether that means you researched the fact that your opponent went to private school, or you came up with enough counterpoints to what you know the other guy is going to say about you. Raps about shooting the other guy with all the different kinds of guns you have generally serves as the filler. The real gems though, emerge when the rapper works in a topical rhyme edgewise that he or she could have only come up with in that moment.
But right now, someone was on stage with broom sweeping away what appeared to be the Spandex detritus left over from Daylyt's costume as we all got ready for what some battle fans considered to be the event of the night. A battle between two legends of the game: Loaded Lux and Murda Mook. Lux wore head to toe Gucci. Mook wore a towel on his head with a pair of shiny Margielas. Lux's introduction video seemed to excite the crowd more than Mook's, plus the Guccis were immaculate. But it's funny how quickly a crowd can turn on you.
As soon as Lux started rapping, it was clear that this wasn't his ideal crowd. The compounded syllable nature of Lux's rhymes seemed to go over the audience's heads. Mook took quick advantage of this by rapping slowly and clearly, then mocking Lux by rapping incomprehensibly. Lux's technical chops and overall swag were undeniable, but the punchlines didn't hit.
Once Mook likened Lux's outfit to "LL Fool J," it was pretty much a wrap.
By the time Mook had removed the towel from his head to reveal his signature doo rag, it was already over for Lux. Mook got the crowd roaring with lines like "That's like getting tricked by a tranny, that's a mandate" and "You're more hippo-critical than a dying hippopotamus." Once Mook likened Lux's outfit to "LL Fool J," it was pretty much a wrap. The final score? Mook: 3. Lux: 0.
Now it was time for the headline act: Joe Budden vs. Hollow Da Don. I was just ready to hear some "Pump It Up" references. In fact, I had theorized beforehand that if Hollow's final verse was just him rapping the lyrics to "Pump It Up" verbatim, ad-libs and all, he would have ended Joe's career then and there. Rounds one and two were a blur of technical difficulties and so-so lines. Hollow's best was probably "Put up that Jagged Edge, nah I got 112 I want Joe-to-see." Budden's best was probably "You put an emoji on a shirt, nigga, that's not gear."
Okay, final round. At this point, it still could have gone either way. Joe may have been winning just off confidence. He announced early on how much money he was making from the event, the fact of which meant that he had already won. What happened next was hilarious.
Eventually, the booing was so thick that Joe threatened to stop rapping altogether if they didn't stop. They didn't, so he did.
First, Hollow wavered with his final verse by committing to discussing the women in Joe's life. The crowd, of course, was having none of it. Then, in the middle of Joe's final verse, a section of the crowd started booing. Every time it happened, Joe would stop rapping, then tell them to stop. Naturally, the only thing that would make a crowd boo more is a performer telling them not to.
Eventually, the booing was so thick that Joe threatened to stop rapping altogether if they didn't stop. They didn't, so he did. He put the mic down, thereby irrevocably ethering himself. Had he instead borrowed Daylyt's technique by removing his Velour sweatsuit and prostrating himself on stage, the situation still may have ended up better for him.
The judges decided Hollow as the victor—even after Hollow claimed the battle was rigged in Joe's favor—and everyone went home. I was delirious from the effect of hearing a million bars. As I exited the building, I heard the sound of Bobby Shmurda's "Hot Nigga" coming from two separate cars going in opposite directions. Suddenly, I remembered that it's 2014.
Alex Russell loves battle rap now. Find him on Twitter @nonmogul.