Battles are a staple in Hip-Hop, whether they occur on wax or live, competition between MCs (and DJs as well). The one-on-one war of wits stands as a building block of the culture, a space where rappers develop their stage presence and ability to come up with lyrics on the fly. On popular platforms like Grind Time and Ultimate Rap League, live MC battles have shifted from being based on off-the-dome freestyles to more of a theatrical performance of mostly rehearsed rhymes, but the Red Bull EmSee competition brings back the spontaneity by posing a different challenge every round, forcing each MC to memorize words shown on a video screen and incorporate them into their lyrics.
This week at the Masquerade in Atlanta (a familiar venue for attendees of A3C last October), eight MCs stepped onstage to battle in front of hundreds of fans and judges DJ Premier, David Banner and Big K.R.I.T. at the event’s national finals, where the winner would walk away with $10,000 and the chance to collaborate with a legendary producer of their choosing. The event was hosted by Phonte and DJed by 9th Wonder, while each of the judges put on their own showcase performance between rounds.
Mic Stewart, the winner of the Philadelphia qualifier, scored the title and grand prize, taking out Hostyle from the Detroit bracket. The final battle went to an extra round, as the judges couldn’t come to a consensus in regulation, which featured Hostyle accusing Mic Stew of doing unspeakable things with his own mother, who also happened to be viewing the battle from the front row. Stew’s last bar clinched his win, spitting “and f*ck you for dissing my beautiful mom” on his way to a unanimous decision.
Before the festivities, I had a chance to catch up with invited guests DJ Premier, 9th Wonder and Phonte and had them share their thoughts on the place of battles in Hip-Hop, their preferences between written versus off-the-top battling, and what they look for when judging an MC competition.