BY JOE CATANIA
Battle rap has always been a huge element in the hip-hop community, and now it is slowly becoming a larger part of the Canadian culture, especially in Ontario.
Toronto is the host of a number of rap battle leagues – most note worthy being King Of The Dot, also referred to as KOTD. Established in 2008, KOTD has grown significantly and has developed branches across Canada (Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver) and even in California known as KOTD Fresh Coast.
The league has support from many mainstream hip-hop artists as well as celebrities. From actors and athletes to musicians, KOTD has been able to generate significant buzz to attract people from all over the world. Long-time fan and Toronto-raised rapper Drake has also sponsored a few major events for the league and has stated many times his willingness to partake in a battle if all terms are appropriate. Also noteworthy, Toronto politician Norm Kelly made his way into a KOTD rap battle a few years ago.
Long-time KOTD battler, Alvaro De Los Santos who raps under the alias “Aftershock” believes the support is crucial.
“Battle rap relies on the support of from its fans and sponsors for it to grow, so having hip hop figures and a city official’s support the league really means a lot. It’s also a matter of local pride. KOTD is a Toronto born and bred organization, Drake and Norm giving their seals of approval really means the world.”
Though KOTD is the most popular and successful, as it attracts hundreds of people to its shows and livestreams its events through pay-per-view online, it is just one of the many battle leagues that are based out of Ontario.
Other leagues include; Beastmode Battles, Bangout Battles, Fivefold Battle Grounds, Garden City Battles and GotBars, UGK, Capital Rap Battles and Ground Zero battles (KOTD affiliate).
Here’s a look at where each Ontario league is.
Though the other Ontario-based leagues aren’t at the same level as KOTD, they are perfect for those who are just getting into the hip-hop scene as battlers. They could be considered battle rap’s “minor leagues”, a place for emcees to perfect their craft before getting the opportunity to hit the mainstage. Battle rap has become so popular in Ontario that in 2016 two brand new leagues were launched. Underground Kings (UGK) based out of Kingston and London, as well as Capital Rap Battles (CRB) in Ottawa.
De Los Santos believes the growth of battle rap in Ontario is a “positive part of moving the battling culture forward.”
“It’s cool to see the rise in interest. If we can strengthen core talent in the local scenes, it’ll make every emcee better because it’ll provide more competition. We need more talented battlers from Canada so with more leagues opening up, there’s a better chance to find them or build them up,” De Los Santos says.
KOTD staff member, Nate Sosa agrees with De Los Santos. “You need these smaller leagues to do well, and it’s good we’re getting more of them, because not everyone is ready for the main-stage.”
“People need a place to learn how to battle. If they get more opportunities to do so through these smaller places, it’ll only make them better. Growth in leagues means theres going to be more battlers coming up the ranks,” says Sosa.
Beastmode Battles, which has been around the longest among the group of smaller leagues, has also gained some ground recently and as it found significant success this past year. A new class of rookies have helped them make some noise in the Toronto scene.
They’ve also separated themselves as one of the better “little” leagues as they’ve been able to bring over American talents to perform. Battling legends such as Marv Won, Quest McCody, Cortez and Math Hoffa have all made it onto the Beastmode platform in the last year – all the names mentioned are some of battle rap’s biggest.
Whether you’re looking at KOTD or Beastmode, or any other small league, it is clear that battle rap in Canada has and is continuing to make significant strides in the hip-hop community. American talents, as well as emcees from all over the world are making it a priority to come battle in Canada and get their feet wet in our market.
For those wanting to come out to and witness a live event, KOTD is hosting its World Domination event Oct. 21 and 22 in Toronto.