“I’m ending his b-boy career” says Brandon “Burn” Tumblod, a 20-year-old with floppy hair and a quick smile in a video aired ahead of a breakdance battle with Knowski – who had just accused him of stealing his hairstyle.
When the two meet on the dancefloor at The Great Hall, they go to touch shoes (as is UBL pre-battle tradition) but Burn pulls his foot away and twists it around Knowski’s. The crowd that surrounds them laughs and jeers.
With battle rap reaching the competitive heights of organized sports, consistent judging is essential. When there’s money at stake and reputations on the line, a judge’s decision has to go beyond a gut feeling. But when faced with a split-second decision, a judge can often only choose on instinct and try to justify it after.
In KOTD, judges get two cards with a name written on each. They watch the battle and as soon as it’s done, they hand the winner’s card to the host. There’s no time for reflection. The battle ends, you decide.
Fans want an explanation for each vote and when they see the judgment as a robbery, they want blood. The thing is, every close battle looks like a robbery to half the fans.
U.K. battle league Don’t Flop has been experimenting with seven-judge panels and after-the-fact video judging, but still haven’t avoided accusations of bias. The URL never officially judges battles, which means the debate lives on for weeks in forums and through the battlers’ retweets.
The main problem is that judging is a subjective choice. Some judges prefer style over substance, while others reward the reverse. One judge might praise a specific scheme or line, while another will think it’s played out. It gets even more complicated when you have two different battle styles clashing. How can you decide if one guy’s jokes were funnier than the other guy’s bars were vicious?
In my limited experience as a judge (Notez/Yung Casper, Luciano Crakk/Kinaze and Chris Tipsy/StepEasy at Toronto’s GZGP), the choice was sometimes obvious and sometimes not. I guarantee that all three battles will be called 3-0 wins for both rappers by dozens of people online. Aren’t opinions great?
So for expert insight and advice, I reached out to three people who have judged some of the highest-profile battles in recent history:
From Don’t Flop – Steve “Stig of the Dump” Dixon
Winner of KOTD’s “So You Think You Can Judge” contest – Tasha “Baby T” Allen
From KOTD – Jacob “Knamelis” Karsemeyer