[UPDATE: We have a new list that reflects what's been going on throughout the first six months of 2014. Check it here.]
Here it is, our last list of 2013.
It’s an attempt to boil down every aspect of battle rap culture, by looking at every battler in every league, to find the definitive best battlers of 2013. It is an ambitious task, and it wasn’t an easy one. Our final picks come after much debate among the writers at T.O. Battle Blog, as well as a few expert sounding boards.
The criteria we used to make our choices include: quality, consistency, impact, achievement, frequency of battle, and difficulty of opponent.
We broke it down into a ranked Top 5, a “Next 5″ for numbers 6 though 10 (in no particular order), and a few honorable mentions. The last group could’ve included a lot more people (namely J-Pro and Lotta Zay) but we had to draw the line somewhere.
But enough explanations. You’re here to read about 2013′s top battlers.
Before his resurgence in 2012, Math Hoffa was known as The Guy Who Punched Dose. Sadly, 2013 has come to a close with Hoffa being known as The Guy Who Punched Serius Jones. It’s a damn shame, because Math had a terrific (and challenging) run of battles in the first half of 2013. During that time, he made his KOTD and Don’t Flop debuts, produced two rewatchable URL battles (against John John Da Don and Dose) and somehow restrained himself from killing Daylyt in their tilt.
Granted, Hoffa wasn’t always great in his performances. (His lack of a second round against Shotty Horroh was embarrassing.) But at his best, Hoffa was a charismatic and captivating MC, whose performances were chock full of humour, heavy punches and conviction. If you haven’t already seen it, go watch Hoffa’s grudge match versus Dose to see the breadth of his talent.
If there was a Most Improved award for 2013, 100 Bulletz would be in the running. Granted, he was already a great battler last year, but now he’s booking — and beating — a higher calibre of opponent. Just check the new victories on his résumé: a battle legend (The Saurus), another former KOTD champion (poRICH) and a top talent from URL (JC). He even brought top-notch content to a recent battle against N-Pose in a fledgling league.
By all accounts, Bulletz crushed his opponent in a URL Proving Grounds battle — enough so that the league isn’t releasing the footage. Had the battle dropped, Bulletz would have probably cracked our top five.
For a while there, it seemed like Rone was chasing views. Last year, he faced — and easily defeated — Blizzard and Protege; both those battles now have more than 400K YouTube views, but little replay value. Then, he dropped a video blog asking for a URL appearance — a surefire way to garner even more attention.
But thankfully for battle fans, Rone is back to facing great opponents and producing classics. His battle versus Real Deal was arguably the best live battle of World Domination 4, and at the second edition of Battle of the Zae, he easily disposed of the event’s host, Dirtbag Dan. Against Fresco he was excellent as well. Let’s hope Rone keeps booking tough opponents in 2014.
Real Deal is the type of MC who could land on these Top 10 lists every year. In 2013, ten RD battles hit YouTube, a number that surprised even us. And like in past years, Real Deal keeps serving up quality content that lives up to his “working man’s MC” moniker.
At World Domination 4, he was responsible for maybe the most talked-about round of the event: his closer, in which he stopped battling Rone, and basically called out every URL MC who has (allegedly) ducked him. (“Chilla Jones is the biggest mark to come out of Boston since Wahlberg,” was one of the most quotable lines of the event.) Unfortunately, many of Real Deal’s battles fell short of expectations, though no fault of his own. Tony D had a historically bad performance, while Bigg K opened his first round with a choke. Plus, it seemed that RD’s Ultimate Freestyle Friday run was victim to matchup changes. Thankfully RD’s last opponent of the year, Don’t Flop’s Ogmios, helped put on one of the league’s best battles of 2013.
You’d be excused for thinking that RemyD was a newcomer to the battle scene. When he made his KOTD debut against QP, it felt like the emergence of a new star, one who could rap circles around his competitors. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that RemyD faced Hitman Holla and Yung Ill … five years ago. The battle scene is certainly richer for having RemyD as a more active MC. During the past year, he’s been one-half of two great battles — against QP and Pass — and faced a mix of established and lesser-known names.
More than anything, his style of rapping — at once, both laid-back and highly technical — has been a welcome addition to the Fresh Coast scene. Yes, he does stumble on occasion, but it’s only because the degree of difficulty on his raps is several stages beyond almost everyone else’s. Are there better battlers than RemyD? Without question. Are there better rappers in the battle scene? Very few.
Soul is a beast. If you don’t believe us, take The Saurus’s word for it. “Soul is my favorite writer in DF overall,” he tweeted at us earlier this month. Then, after Soul apparently 3-0′d Loe Pesci in a recent battle, Saurus tweeted: “[Soul] might be the best out there at the moment.” High praise, indeed, but Soul deserves the accolades after a standout 2013. It started with a breakout performance at KOTD’s Blackout 3, followed by a thorough breakdown of Unanymous in a fledgling league. In subsequent battles, Soul has proven he’s one of the U.K.’s most versatile battlers, capable of switching between comedic content and vicious bars with ease, all while taking direct aim at his opponents. His battle with Pesci (which everyone says he won) could be the prelude to a 2014 full of high-profile match-ups.
This was the year when B-Magic ascended into URL’s top ranks. Last year, it was clear the St. Louis native was the best up-and-coming talent in the league. This year, he was rewarded with battles versus Charlie Clips, DNA, Tay Roc and Ill Will, and his performances never disappointed. Magic’s pen game is among the best in URL, imbued with solid pop culture references and street-savvy lyricism, and delivered with his trademark Midwestern drawl. It’s already looking like 2014 will be a good year for Magic, as he makes his UW debut in January against Daylyt.
Ill Will has finally arrived. For years, he toiled away in obscure leagues, against no-name opponents, and to little fanfare. (One example: In late 2011, he faced a battler named A Oun in a league called Scheme Street. It has just over 6,000 YouTube views.)
But 2013 was a transcendent year for Ill Will. Not only did he claw his way from URL’s Proving Grounds to the main channel, but he won Ultimate Freestyle Friday, exposing him to a national TV audience on BET. (We selected his opening round victory as the top URL battle of the year.) And by all accounts, Ill Will cruised to victory over B-Magic at a recent URL event, an unexpected result that vaults him into the league’s top tier. (We’ll reserve judgment, however, until we see some footage.) Over the past year, it’s entirely possible that no battler’s stock has surged as much as Ill Will’s. Look for him to cash in with some high-profile battles in 2014.
5. THE SAURUS
It was another banner year for The Saurus, in what has been a career of banner years. The Monterey, California native faced a formidable list of opponents: John John Da Don, DNA, 100 Bulletz, Syd Vicious and The Deadman. Of course, Saurus brought deadly material to each one, and you could argue he won them all. (The only judged battle was versus Bulletz, who won via split 3-2 decision.)
In some respects, a string of bad luck and circumstance may have kept Saurus out of our No. 1 spot. He was turned away by British customs and missed out on battling Arkaic at DF’s 5th Birthday event. The opposite happened at WD4, when his opponent Loonie couldn’t get into Canada. If he had battled Loonie – and if he had crushed the Filipino star en route to a five-million-view battle — he might have locked up the top position. Either way, we expect another stellar year from The Saurus in 2014.
4. MARLO & SHUFFLE-T
Just when it seemed like uninspired gun bars were becoming the norm in every battle league, along came Marlo and Shuffle-T. Simply put, they brought laughter back to battling. It started with two concept battles: a “bad bars” battle against each other, then a two-on-two “compliments” battle. Since then, they’ve become easily the top doubles team in battling, with a recent two-on-two championship win at Don’t Flop’s 5th Birthday event.
As a duo, Marlo and Shuffle-T have refined a style of highly-choreographed comedic performance that has rarely — if ever — been seen in battling. And on their own, they’re no slouches, either. (Shuffle’s evisceration of Anton Murphy is one of the biggest bodybags of the year.) We’re hoping that 2014 holds a title shot for one (or both) of them.
Daylyt was the most influential battle rapper of 2013. His fingerprints are all over present-day battle culture. Pocket-checking. Outrageous video blogs. Associative wordplay. Costumes and props. Daylyt was doing all these things before most of his peers. (That being said, we don’t expect other battlers to strip down to a loincloth any time soon.)
If you like bizarre antics, you probably liked his battles versus Loe Pesci and Mycall Million. If you like elaborate, replay-worthy bars, you probably liked his battles versus Cityy Towers, KG the Poet and Lotta Zay. What makes Daylyt great is that we have no idea what he’ll do next. Here’s hoping he has a few surprises in store for 2014.
2. CHARLIE CLIPS
Prior to 2013, Charlie Clips had battled a few high-profile names, but he was hardly a mainstay on major battle cards outside the URL. This past year, however, it felt like he was battling every weekend. And it’s not as if Clips was taking low-tier opponents in fledgling leagues for a paycheque. Here’s his list of opponents in 2013: Arsonal, Tsu Surf, B-Magic, JC, Goodz, Tony D, Oshea, Yung Ill, John John Da Don and Hollohan. (He and DNA also faced Chris Leese and Unanymous in a two-on-two match.) That is a murderer’s row of battle talent. Not to mention that Clips won his battles, either decisively or arguably.
We were particularly impressed by his battle at World Domination 4. It seemed that Hollohan was poised for a triumphant return; instead, Clips deflated those hopes within seconds. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Clips is one of a few guys who could be considered “professional battle rappers,” ie. guys who making a living — or at least a decent income — from their battling careers. Clips is different, however, because he doesn’t dilute his stature with weak matchups in no-name foreign leagues. For that, he deserves credit.
Here’s some perspective on the trajectory of Charron’s career: he started the year by beating HFK; he ended it by beating Arsonal. In between, he dominated Unanymous and DNA, racked up his first million-view battle in the Philippines, and won BET’s Freestyle Friday tournament. (Sure, he was dropped from the BET cypher, but regardless, the snub itself gave him mainstream media exposure.)
Beyond the results, Charron has developed into a multi-faceted battler with equally potent freestyles and writtens. The thing we like best about him though, is the amount of effort he puts into every performance. He never slacks, regardless of who he’s facing or what platform he’s battling on. His natural talent is obvious, but it’s his work ethic that sets him apart from everyone else. The only thing missing from his résumé? A title shot. We’ll see if 2014 brings him the opportunity he’s long coveted.