No battle rap event in recent years is complete without a vascular hit of controversy. That metaphor was crafted in the wake of the latest Cadalack Ron uproar, but it can apply to any fight, Eurgh-directed spitting incident, lines gone awry (thinking again of Cadalack’s Zimmerman bar) or snatched Crip bandanas. Drama follows the form around like a hound. Keep in mind: all of these vague references to the already-well-documented moments above are from the last twelve months.
It’s only apt then, in the shadow of these recent controversies, that Dizaster, on home turf, waited until the end of his headline BOLA 5 word-fight against Math Hoffa, and without hesitation unleashed a barrage of punches that continued long after his opponent had left a vertical stance. Various crowd members stepped in to both add punches and break it up. Barriers were scattered and equipment was damaged in the process.
These days, when a rapper punches another rapper in the face, the ripples are felt worldwide. Twitter twitches into life. Opinions are flung about. Questions come up about the culture; about where it’s from and where it’s going. About whether incidents such as this are an endemic part of the roots of battling, or whether they are an ugly by-product of the way news gets around, and the ego this fertilises. This incident is the second in the modern age of battling, and the internet has melted on both occasions.
Math Hoffa has been punching rappers in the face since before it was cool. First achieving notoriety with a close-up swing on Dose that sparked splinter altercations in the venue and cascades of YouTube views, Mr. Hoffa was then aggravated enough by a single ‘WOO!’ from Serius Jones to turn the clash into a Woo movie. Many are arguing that Math is a bully whose karma has returned to him. Right in the face. Many, many times at once.
The problem is, if Dizaster feels that he can take the standpoint of disarming a bully, he needs to have landed on the right side of the equation himself. He’s at the centre of 50 per cent of global battle rap controversy from the last year, give or take. In his clash with Unanymous he showed the same tactics stopping short of a full beatdown. Pushing, hat-flipping and drawing other rappers into the squabble can still be filed in the same binder. This isn’t a triumphant overcoming of the bully mentality; it’s simply a demonstration that there are bigger bullies out there. Diz gets his catharsis. Everyone else is still in the same place.
Except for Diz, who now occupies the Iron Throne of battle bullying with a triumphant grin. But the notoriously smiley Math Hoffa learnt, in particularly pungent fashion, that a bigger bully is always waiting round the corner.
What of the smaller bullies? One of the most gratifying things to witness at BOLA5 was Shuffle-T and Marlo’s winding up of Caustic to the point he issued a swift bell flick to each of them. Caustic, notorious for having had a real impact on the life of Don’t Flop’s Jefferson Price after their 4th Birthday clash, had his comeuppance. And it came from two guys who would qualify equally for “Flimsiest Guy of the Event” were it not for Carter Deems’ appearance in a pink tank top emblazoned with endorsements about cats. This had far more power, in my eyes, than Diz contradicting all the ideals he had spent the whole battle getting furious about in a single blow.
Don’t get me wrong, Math had nudged karma into a certain orbit. Violence begets violence, and with the emotional state battle rap is in and the status it now has, some day or another a rapper of similar physical stature was going to try to knock the living lymph glands out of him for the world to see. Dizaster succeeded. The animosity between these two was not a unspoken one, but it’s not impossible to view the initial swing and subsequent thumping as an act of festering self-involvement.
Pride in those street elements of which I have literally no first-hand experience is a value held dear by many of those in the battling scene. The crux of most battles released globally is finding the most eloquent way to say how few words you need in confrontations. You would hope, perhaps blindly, that the pursuit of lyricism muzzles the need to perpetuate conflict.
But this is coming from a safe, concerned and interested bubble. I don’t know how much that aggression spills over. I’ve never had to throw so much as a handkerchief at someone. I am not alone; much of battle rap’s global demographic consists of those with no concept of anything beyond the image of street life that is portrayed. Maybe these things can help us to understand a bit better.
What I do know is that the already thin line between saying things and doing things is becoming more blurred by the bar. “Antics” have evolved from pulling a picture out mid-battle to wiping your discharged prostate juices on a man’s chin in the name of lyricism (right back to pulling a picture out, courtesy of… yep, Diz again). Hip hop was always a way to divert negative energy into a positive pursuit, and to create with bleak and limited means. Not to destroy something you helped build.
Keeping the physical out of battle rap is important for the form. The whole concept has its roots in winning respect with words. Once you’re in “X punched Y, Y punched Q and A, so X is harder than any remaining letters of the alphabet” territory, you’re a little wide of the mark. This is not an arena where actions speak louder than words. If you err in your actions, you simply get called out for it in later words. You lose the respect of the room. That impacts your cash flow or standings or whatever. That’s what battling is for. Back those words up in an alley, one-on-one, or in a boxing ring. You came here to be the better rapper.
Total Slaughter has commenced the Big-Brother-isation of battle rap and taken it to the most mainstream place written battles have ever been. The underground core of battle rap needs to make known what it is and stand up for itself, otherwise the whole thing is going to become Jerry Springer with bars. Battles like Bigg K vs Illmaculate and Ness Lee vs Tumi have defined the best bits of the new era of battle rap. Moments like Diz punching Math send it back to the Stone Age.
Having watched the whole pay-per-view, the quality of battles was thunderous. Each performer was at something approaching their best; some, like Illmaculate, utterly outclassed themselves. Diz’s actions cast a shadow over the event. It is at this point a pretty large number of the global battle audience has got to ask themselves whether they want to champion real battles with great content and memorable performances, or the drama and negativity that comes with the tabloidisation of the culture.
*Update: KOTD has released their official response to the incident. Read it here.*