In an interview with VladTV, Loaded Lux was asked to name his top five rap battles of all time. Lux thought for a minute while carefully gathering his thoughts and said that Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee are definitely in his top 5 because that battle changed Battle Rap from who could rock the party into who was the better rapper. Thirty years ago in the spring of 1983, Charlie Ahearn released the movie Wild Style. Filmed in the summer of 1980, it is classified as the first Hip-Hop film. In Wild Style there is a scene at a club in the South Bronx called Club Dixie, where breakers from the Rock Steady Crew, party patrons, and MCs congregate in a smoke-filled sweatbox dimly lit by red lights. The nostalgic ambiance is reminiscent of a Jamel Shabazz photo from his book Back In The Days, a collection of photographs that pay homage to 1980’s New York City street fashion. Among Club Dixie’s street conscious couture of bucket hats, furry Kangols, Cazal’s, track suits, Pumas and 501s, the Fantastic Freaks faced off with the Cold Crush Brothers and Busy Bee faced off with Rodney Cee, in a battle to see who can rock the party. With verses laden with tag lines to get partygoers hyped like “Everybody, somebody, say hoooo!” it’s undeniable that early battles were truly performance driven. But in the winter of 1981 at Harlem World, that would all change when Kool Moe Dee stepped up to the mic and challenged the more popular Busy Bee, Moe Dee unleashed a barrage of personal attacks at Busy in flawless poetic form. After that battle, gone were the days of MCs battling without devising clever wordplay to attack one another lyrically. According to Lux, this turning point was the premise that started what we know today as Battle Rap. Comparatively, today Battle Rap is at a turning point. A new breed of MCs who are all about bars vs an elite class of MCs who rely heavily on the legacy of their names and who have also conformed their craft to fit the business module of commercial Battle Rap.
Summer Madness 3’s unofficial theme is aptly entitled Bars Over Names. Smack released a vlog that expressed his disappointment of the quality of top-tier battles that haven’t been living up to the hype surrounding them. The URL machine has a reputation of delivering some of the best battles in Battle Rap and in order to continue in this tradition Smack made the bold move of making SM3 an event that focuses solely on the quality of battles and not the big names that sell out venues. Smack is addressing a growing narrative in the Battle Rap community that is becoming hard to ignore. That narrative was best illustrated in a vlog Big Kannon made, where the usually vlog-shy MC, is atypically transparent about his frustrations of the commercialization of Battle Rap, and how money and a growing fan base has effected the way MCs approach their craft. To Kannon, Battle Rap is becoming diluted and watered down because of its growth as a major industry. Math Hoffa, a Battle Rap veteran, responded to Kannon’s vlog offering an opposing view that brought to light Kannon’s naiveté regarding how Battle Rap functions as it relates to marketing and branding yourself as a battle rapper in this era of change. When big money comes into the picture the business will always dictate how the art is approached, and not the other way around. As the old adage goes, if it don’t make dollars it don’t make sense. If anything, Kannon’s honesty in his vlog forces MCs and fans to choose where they stand on this issue.
I commend Smack and the URL staff for putting their reputations on the line in order to bring fans great match-ups but the lineup and the buildup to SM3 is less than exciting. Let’s dissect this.
1. Smack initially stated in a vlog that he is trying something new and releasing the trailers for SM3 up until the date of the event, which is uncommon for the URL. Instead, the very same night that he made that announcement, he released the entire SM3 card via Instagram, which came across as a hasty decision to re-gain the trust of skeptical fans about their uncertainties of the battles scheduled to be on the card. If the URL is pushing the theme Bars Over Names, an event that is not filled with big names, then the promotion of this has to generate excitement in order for fans to buy into the theme.
2. I have to be honest and say that I’m not sure how SM3 will turn out. The matches seem mismatched and randomly thrown together: Arsonal vs K-Shine, JC vs JJDD. This may be due, in large measure, to the fact that a lot of battles that fans wanted to see like, Aye Verb vs Swave Sevah and B-Magic vs Conceited, may never happen because of top-tier MCs ducking battles. Not to mention, Loaded Lux and Murda Mook’s asking rate was a combined $70,000, a rate that URL isn’t willing to pay, according to one of Norbes’ tweets. For these reasons, this may be partly why the card reads the way it does.
3. There has also surprisingly been very little promotion. Smack stated that he designed it this way so that streets wouldn’t be inundated with fans trying to get into the venue. The last time this happened was at Armageddon, and the Community Board along with the police precinct in that neighborhood had the venue cancel Armageddon the day of the event. This is clearly not the URL’s fault but now it has become the URL’s problem. Figuring out ways to market an event like Summer Madness (arguably the biggest event in Hip-Hop today) without drawing large crowds, is a large task in itself. I think that the card and the trailers should have been released earlier. I’m quite sure some of the newer MCs on this card are under a lot of pressure to live up to fan’s expectations and a seemingly unfocused marketing strategy that fails to gain fan’s interest in these battles, creates a dark cloud of doubt over the success of this event.
4. Then there is the sudden and unexplained $25 ticket increase from $75 to $100. Why is this? Especially, since there are no VIP tickets being sold (with the exception of early bird tickets) and the card isn’t filled with marquee talent. If by chance SM3 turns out to be a classic, the URL staff has either got luck of the Irish or they are actually innovative, precocious businessmen that people have underestimated.
As unpredictable as this card is, this may be the most important Summer Madness to date, with regard to what it means for the future of Battle Rap. There is still opportunity for classic material and if this lineup succeeds in accomplishing this I believe that it will usher in a new standard of battling for MCs to achieve. As quickly as performance became the key component to garner views and win battles it can easily become not as important on September 8th if the MCs on this card can make the impact. Like that cold winter’s night in 1981 at Harlem World when Kool Moe Dee’s performance ushered in a new era of how battles were done, the MCs on the SM3 card are in a position to do the exact same thing.
Written by: Eddie Bailey of The Savoy Media Group
Twitter @BttleRapHistory & @SavoyMediaGroup