Battle Rap rejuvenating Toronto’s urban culture

BY CARLINGTON SAMUELS

BrizzleExplicit rocking the mic. (Photo by @dttheartist)

There is no denying it. Rap music is one of the most influential genres in the entertainment industry today. A genre that puts emphasis on the power of words and stories is here to stay and has transformed hip-hop into a “swagged out” culture.

Battle rap, like so many urban art forms, originated in New York City and comprises two emcees looking to expose the weaknesses and insecurities of their opponent through their wittiness and their uncanny ability to make things up on the spot or “off top.”

Many picture Eminem’s semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile where two people are freestyling lyrics back and forth on a stage to a beat. While the movie depicts what happens with an exaggerated dramatic twist, some similarities still remain from the 2002 blockbuster film.

“Most people think 8 Mile when they hear battle rap, I don’t know why,” said Toronto underground rapper JMatthews. “The culture is so much more than that. It’s an amazing form of rap as a whole, no beat, no pen and paper, just two emcees going at each other and I’m excited that it’s getting more popular here.”

Last weekend, Toronto hosted its own battle rap event in celebration of Weezy’s birthday. The event boasted a full card from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and wasn’t anything
short of spectacular. Fans were expectedly  excited and the demand for the show was evident as the event sold out.

Main Event (Photos by Carlington Samuels/Sheridan Sun)

Over the past few years the art of rap battling has gained popularity among underground and mainstream rap fans in Toronto. Toronto now has its own battle rap leagues – KingofTheDot and BeastMode being the most popular – which were formed here and though neither leagues are as popular as New York’s Ultimate Rap League or California’s GrindTime, the call for demand can only see the popularity rising with its focus on lyrical importance and delivery.

“When you look as rap as a whole and the direction it’s gone in, in terms of melodies and just the overall dumbing down of lyrics, I think that’s why battle rap is growing. People aren’t here for the mumble rapping all the time. They want to hear some lyricism and they get that in abundance when watching battle rap,” said Jordan Manswell, a local hip hop producer.

Ground zero

Manswell’s point resonates with fans as well. “The culture is one reason I come here, there’s such a difference between being in the building and watching on Youtube. The feeling is indescribable. The other reason I come here is for the lyricism that you don’t get so often in rap anymore,” said Toney James, a battle rap fan in attendance at a past battle rap event.

KingOfTheDot caters to a wide variety of growing fans. Since they joined YouTube in 2008, they have quickly gained more than half a million total subscribers and approximately 170 million total views. Their momentum testifies to the growing audience to the art here in Toronto.

Maybe over the next few years the art form will progress even further into mainstream integration among rap fans. Until then, you can enjoy rap battles online on their respective league’s YouTube pages.

About Carlington Samuels 4 Articles
Just a writer that's too black, too vocal and too flagrant.

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