Lyrics Scorn: Talkin smack is de rigueur at the local freestyle battle Versus 2
Stage left is Stik Figa. Small and lanky in glasses and a skullcap, he emits the comic charm and easygoing nature of someone who rarely pays for his own drinks and is welcome to crash on the couches of his friends any night of the week. He ambles like a Slinky.
Stage right is Info Gates. He looks surly, his sleeves pushed up to his elbows, his Kansas City Kings ball cap pulled down low over his eyes. He struts like a prizefighter.
Info turns to the audience and says, “I swear to God this is true.” Then he rhymes: My pops is in Florida on his deathbed/So how the fuck am I gonna lose to a skinny-ass methhead?
Like kids on a playground, the people in the crowd go ooooooh!
More than 200 people are packed into the Record Bar for the second-annual installment of Versus 2: an MC and Beat Battle.
In hip-hop’s verbal martial art, freestyle battlers must bend their impromptu rhymes to insult their opponents while winning over the crowd with cleverness and consistency.
“If you don’t come prepared,” says Okwerdz, a nationally accomplished battle MC who’s here from California to judge tonight, “you will get fucked up.”
Organized battles like this are hard to put together and are rare in Kansas City. But two MCs, Sephiroth and Vertigone, have organized Versus to try to get the sport going again locally.
Before this night’s battle is a producer contest, in which DJs come with beats they’ve made at home and vie for audience approval. The winner is Leonard Dstroy, whose expansive, grinding beats move the crowd more than the work of his opponents: Atilla the Beatsmith, Ben Swiller, JKR70, Ace Fadal and the two-man team Barbaric Merits.
Along with $100, Dstroy wins the honor of helping judge the MC battle. He joins Okwerdz, DJ Just and me at the judges’ table.
Fifteen rappers have signed up. They include established recording artists MilkDrop, Lucid of Human Cropcircles, and Ubiquitous and Godemis of CES Cru; well-known open-mic hustlers Dutch Newman, Ben Grim and last year’s champion, Swayzorblades; and more obscure figures such as Dat, EMC and Reese. DJ Beatbroker is on the decks, providing the fight’s rhythmic soundtrack.
The host is Mac Lethal, who immediately flouts convention by forbidding two staples of freestyle battling: the word faggot and all references to the opponent’s mother.
The one artist nobody has heard of is a stocky guy named Retarded. He says his name is no joke, and Godemis, one of the most skilled MCs in town, takes him down like a flimsy treehouse, decimating him with punches, including I thought that Bernie Mac was dead.
I get my own roast when Negro Scoe goes up against EMC. The latter cites The Pitch‘s bad review of Scoe’s latest album (with collaborator Info Gates as the unfortunately named duo Scinfoe). Scoe responds to EMC’s challenge by telling me and my employer to fuck off, saying One judge does not make a difference.
He’s right: I’m impressed that Scoe has come prepared to answer for the review, and I vote for him. All of the other judges, however, vote for EMC.
Ubiquitous ravages Reese, and Acetone beats Lucid but is trounced by EMC. Newman — a crowd worker if ever there was one — plows through Dat and narrowly beats Swayzorblades, who says to Newman, in reference to the latter’s alliance to a more popular local rapper: You didn’t wanna enter this battle/How’s the weather under Reach’s shadow?
Newman moves onward, only to lose to Info (who had upset Godemis) in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, Stik Figa charms the crowd and disses his way through MilkDrop, Ubiquitous and EMC.
And so it comes down to Stik and Info. They go through a couple of rounds over beats and then a final a cappella round. Info begins his rap with the methhead comment, instantly claiming the upper hand.
I’m about to take this money/Soppin’ wet, you probably weigh about a buck-twenty, he continues. You look funny/I’ll give you the real hip-hop/You look like you wanna look like Chris Rock … and so on through several more rapid-fire put-downs, to the final punch: Suck my damn cock like a hamhock.
Stik, failing to come back in turn, drowns amid boos. For a second, he appears to regain his footing by talking himself up (Motherfucker, I ain’t Chris Rock/I’m Spike Lee), but ultimately fails to deliver the hardcore disses needed to drive Info into the ground.
Info goes home with the grand prize: $500 and bragging rights.
Because in battle rap, nice guys finish last.