UPDATED June 15, 12:20pm
The history of hip hop has always held dear the notion that all good emcees must have the ability to decimate an opponent in verbal wordplay. When it comes to a battle, words and wit are the earmark of a true wordsmith. From the very beginnings, there were now seemingly ancient battle tapes with the most memorable including Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee. LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee. KRS One vs. the Juice Crew. Roxanne Shante vs. The Real Roxanne. Notorious BIG vs. Tupac. And of course, Jay Z vs. Nas.
Purists of the craft have been aware of this important thread, and it has always been a favorite part of the overall “realness” of the culture. However, up until fairly recently, its mainstream sustainability came with something of a stigma after the largely media-instigated East Coast vs. West Coast rap battle that contributed to the deaths of both Christopher Wallace and Tupac Shakur in 1996 and 1997, respectively. Though it would still remain all-important for the artistic credibility of both male and female emcees, battle rapping has rarely been a marketable mainstream entity unto itself until the new millennium.
Ratings success came with Nick Cannon’s Wild ’n’ Out. Airing on MTV, attempting to highlight the art of battling, lyrics expressed were always tongue and cheek coming off more like snap sessions than rap battles. But the traditional MC battle is confrontational by nature and full of both profanity and talk of gunplay. These things make it inherently difficult to market in a world where teen violence and street gang activity haunt the dreams of low-income Black, Hispanic and White families in America.
How does one get around this fact?
You get a man who some say is one of the five greatest lyricists alive today. One whose roots are in battle rap. And a guy who just so happens to be white and named Eminem. His credibility in hip hop is as irrefutable as his trailer park lineage. He teamed up with Electus Digital’s WatchLOUD.com to co-produce Total Slaughter. Hosted by hip hop journalist Sway, the show was judged by former battle rapper Poison Pen, legendary DJ Kid Capri and battle rap promoter Drect, who himself was instrumental in the growth of the battle rap circuit. The Pay Per View live stream and on demand replay featured some of the most recognizable names on the battle rap circuit.
Total Slaughter included the long-anticipated rematch that was 10 years in the making between Murda Mook and Loaded Lux, and a contest between Shady Records recording artist Joe Budden and Hollow Da Don. There was also a lopsided battle between Daylyt, who drew more jeers than cheers because he came out adorned in a costume inspired by Image Comics character Spawn. Also featured was T-Rex, whose bars weren’t anything spectacular, although clearly better than his opponent as he defeated Daylyt in convincing fashion. Arsonal versus Big T was one of the more coherent matches of the night as each contestant appeared to rely more on their punch-lines than using the tactic of simply screaming insults that were incorporated by other combatants. In the end, it was Arsonal who reigned supreme. Hollow Da Don was largely incoherent and repetitive early in his battle versus Joe Budden.
Homophobic slurs and guns were all that could be made out most of the time. Budden, the Jersey-based member of Em’s Slaughterhouse crew had the better metaphors and similes. But his opponent was able to elicit more audience response by hurling a large volley non-rhyming dialogue at Budden while dissing his reality show pedigree. Although Hollow Da Don relied heavily on the same tired gun metaphors that were incorporated by most of the evening’s contestants as well, the N-word and shooting metaphors seemed to be a crutch to help some unimaginative rappers segue to a better verse on multiple occasions.
It would be curious indeed if judges took points away from contestants for being so lazy as to continue building freestyles with the same raw materials. Although Budden was penalized for placing his microphone on the floor in the middle of the contest, his protest came from audience members booing despite him being one of the most recognizable of the emcees featured Saturday.
But the battle between Murder Mook and Loaded Lux was the most anticipated matchup of the evening. Being the most entertaining and lyrically legitimate contest of the night as both competitors seemed to be in rare form early on. Murder Mook emerged victorious.
The success of Total Slaughter will not only pay dividends to Eminem and his business partners, but it legitimizes the battle rap circuit as a whole. Now potential investors have another reason to bank on the talents of your favorite underground rapper. It also provides the potential for substantial revenue for those who are continually successful on this circuit. With shows like this, no longer will a record deal be the primary motivator for some of the more talented emcees who languish beneath the public notice far too often. Legendary DJ Kid Capri recently told The Shadow League that he has always seen the commercial and artistic viability of battle rappers.
“I got tired of these battle rappers getting the stigma that they don’t know how to make good records," said Kid Capri, whose next project, Top Tier, is designed to push them to the forefront of creative discourse. "They did everything I asked them to do, everything was on time, everything jelled together and the album came out perfect. Now, it’s a process of who I want to bring it to. Everybody is calling me and wanting to put it out but I haven’t decided on that yet. It’s really a good album, it’s going to push battle rap along.”
Viewers shelled out $19.95 to witness the Total Slaughter festivities, which were broadcast live from the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. The event is still available on demand until July 29. Though the final numbers have not been calculated as of yet, WatchLOUD’s live stream partner experienced technical difficulties, because the server was inundated beyond its capacity during showtime. As a result, WatchLOUD and InDemand are offering affected on-line customers a full refund, and an opportunity to watch Total Slaughter for the next seven days, along with a 50% discount on future Total Slaughter live streams as well.
Monday, Total Slaughter participant Hollow Da Don tweeted that Eminem might step into the square circle to battle him because of his victory over Joe Budden after many of Hollow's bars were pointed directly at the Shady Records CEO, as well as his manager Paul Rosenberg. If this future battle is true, the bump in credibility for any ongoing Total Slaughter endeavors will increase exponentially.