The art of freestyle can be ugly and difficult for even the most seasoned rappers. A necessary evil for street cred, if not lyrical exercise, it's the easiest way to separate the the Pros from the Joes. The battle that took place last night at the Walnut Room emphasized the ugly, the difficult and the amateur.
The venue was packed, which is always a good sign. There were rappers to the left of us, rappers to the right of us, rappers everywhere. Host and referee of sorts Dent took what could have been considered a joke in the opening rounds very seriously: Lured by the $1,000 purse -- and the glory that comes with it -- a slew of participants kicked up a whirlwind of rudimentary rhymes littered with "Colfax" references.
It wasn't all bad. Fresh Breath Committee member Flawless brought out the first real cheers and true punchlines. There were a bevy of pre-written verses, which provided folly for the grumbling crowd and sneers from opponents. No rap battle is complete without the disgruntled. Judge Mane Rok smoothed over many an ego as the night wore on and patience wore thin.
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A successful freestyle requires a banging beat, and DJ Unison executed this point perfectly, giving a platform of possibility even to every rapper in the early round -- even the ones who had no rhymes at all. The energy was kept lively as several Colorado rap legends made their way into the building, and the encouraging, if not heckling, laughter from the judges.
Dent maintained a Grandmaster Flash tone all evening, rhyming everything from instructions to shout-outs. The second half drew a perpetual stream of applause, as the rappers got better and the opportunity to posture more apparent. And there were some suprises, as when Haven, a master at improv, didn't produce a full rap sequence during his second bout with Mic Jones, who in turn performed with expected brilliance.
There were a few participants so skilled they warranted a name repeating: Offly Nice, an unfamiliar face rocked and bounced with a cadence of surety, he easily became a crowd favorite. As the rhymes got more heated and the scowls grew uglier, the pros emerged. Posse-heavy FBC was represented again with a frenetic rhyme scheme from Purpose carrying him to the finals.
Although the battle wasn't that exciting in the beginning -- MCs weren't following the rules of the game, much less those of the tradition -- it quickly became clear who was there to win: guys like Phumes, who finished on a high note and took his round with ease. The room emptied to admonishes and A-game promises. This Saturday night's finals with guest judge Supernatural looks to be just as heated and contentious.