Its been over eight years since Eminem thrust the concept of battle rapping into the mainstream consciousness with his first feature film, 8 Mile. Even though hip-hop has thrived within different types of competition since its birth (including breakdancing battles, DJ competitions and crossed-out tags on walls), crowds in the early part of this decade began to gravitate toward MC battles, the place where talented wordsmiths faced off with one another, throwing punch lines and witty remarks about each, talking trash about their opponents, hair, shoes, girlfriend or whatever.
Locally, the Body Bag Battles, which kicked off this past May, have focused on written battle raps, a completely antithetical approach to the historical freestyle battle raps of the 1980s. We recently caught up with Vo Tha Face, the founder of the Body Bag Battles league (which is open to all comers, BTW), and he explained more about how and why the league was formed, and the difference between battling with pre-written verses and how it came about.
Westword (Rachel Romero): How did the Body Bag Battles come about?
Vo: I have been an avid fan of the written battle format for a year or so now. I have hit up bigger battle leagues to see if we can bring something to Denver, and each of them have told me that Denver does not have a big enough demand or talent pool to host a battle or to have our own league.
Fast forward to today: We have our own league in Denver and are making crazy moves. One of our first events was on May 22, 78 days later from the start up, to be exact. So far, we have 21 videos and over 5,000 views [on YouTube]. I have been doing hip-hop shows in Denver for years now, which has put me in contact with many artists. A lot of them say, "Lets come together," but nothing ever happens.
I feel like some individuals are in it to only get their name out, but what I am trying to do with Body Bag is to start a movement for Denver. It's for all artists involved, battlers or otherwise. We will rep this movement, rather than each of our personal accolades. This is something special.
Ww: Explain what a battle league is and why Denver may or may not need one.
Vo: My battle league is a huge outlet for MCs that haven't gotten exposure for making music but are talented, nonetheless. We keep a record and have a ranking system just like sports.
[The league is] most comparable to boxing because we give two individuals a battle against one another and plenty of time to prep; the only difference is you cannot take a round to feel your opponent out, and you must come out of the corner swinging, going for the knockout!
I feel like it is vital for us to have a league in Denver, mostly because its providing all types of opportunities for our rappers, such as national recognition, tours, collaboration and ghostwritten huge chances of a lifetime.
Ww: You're also an MC -- do you think that your participation within the battles gives you an advantage?
Vo: I do! I think there are pros and cons to my situation. On one hand, it is nice to have the respect of my artists, judges, and crowd. On the other, I am That Dude -- That Dude to beat, That Dude to watch, That Dude everyone wants a chance to get at.
I do give myself quality opponents and good time slots, but besides those two things, that is all I control. People talk about your family, friends and appearance imperfections. It takes a real confident person more or less to put him or herself out there. I give credit to all battle MCs.
Ww: In the old days, MC battles were based on freestyle and not pre-written battle raps. Do you believe that written battles give the MC less credibility than a freestyle battle?
Vo: I think its the same. Freestyle battles definitely show a certain spontaneous style of improv comedy, in which you address what your opponent is wearing, doing, how they sound and more obvious visual disses. With the written battles, you get a chance to ignore the obvious and dig deeper, much deeper.
I've heard people get made fun of because their MySpace pictures or Facebook status and even go as far as teasing peoples [taste in] music. Its a toss up to say which style is more credible. It takes a different type of swag to battle both arts and both should be respected!
Ww: The battles are pre-arranged, meaning that there are set competitors once the flyers have been released. How would an MC go about participating?
Vo: Yes the battles are pre-arranged, because we love our written approach. It gives your typical rapper and/or battle enthusiast a chance to get in the ring! I mean as MCs we have to be honest. Some of the art of freestyling has been lost.
It still lies deep within, rhyming with your peoples or at your everyday house party; the drunk turned platinum lyricist. From a battler perspective, you get three plus weeks to dig up dirt on your opponent, and that's the beauty; you can find out anything about them and throw them under the bus! Very entertaining.
Ww: Are the battles open to everyone?
Vo: Right now, we are nonexclusive, meaning no tryouts. If an MC would like to get involved, all they have to do is contact me! Like I said, it is all about the movement. I like to give battlers a chance to show their skills to Colorado and worldwide, which is why we promote the events as hard as the videos.
I think our talent pool is huge, and we haven't even scratched the surface yet. Quality of rappers will grow with the movement. We had four MCs heading into May 22nd; now we have thirty, plus we just got our first female battler. Things are going to get real interesting real soon. So stay tuned. Any rapper who wants to get down, email me or text 720-447-7853.
Ww: Most of the Body Bag participants are fairly unknown to a large portion of the Denver hip-hop scene. Who do you think is the best battle Body Bag Battle MC that most folks may not know about?
Vo: We have five elite rappers in our top tier and they all deserve [shine].
[Those five in their own and other people's words:]
Farenzik from Aurora (battle record: 1-1, Blak Chain): "Colorados been up on hip-hop, just waiting on the right light. That's where BBB comes in giving us a light to shine together."
Azrael from Denver (battle record: 1-0, unsigned): "The battle circuit, has reached all corners of the English speaking world except for the Rocky Mountain Region. BBB has given them an outlet and a platform to show their skill to a worldwide audience."
Mr. Biscuit from Colorado Springs (battle record: 2-0, Brass Knuckle Entertainment), via YouTube comment from user Authentic Prophetic: "Hopefully more people prepare like Biscuit did for future battles. He proved that shit works! Makes shit way more entertaining too!"
Klutch from Denver (battle record: 3-0, Brass Knuckles Entertainment): Vo says, "Klutch is a problem; he is a very experienced battle MC, who has been thru the circuit rapping since seventeen. Klutch is making a lot of noise in the community, and he just signed with Black Pegasus's Brass Knuckle Records."
Vo Tha Face from Aurora (battle record: 2-1, Blak Chain): "Sometimes you gotta act like you have been there before, and we haven't, but we are ready to take this movement to the next level. My baby is growing up in front of everyones eyes -- BBB its like Suri Cruise!"
Ww: You've created quite a following on YouTube featuring footage from your events. Do you believe that the future of MC battles is dependent on online media?
Vo: The online networking sites are becoming more and more common in successful business and are a big advantage for us, with the majority of our demographic using the web for entertainment. We are currently working on our website but are going to continue to deal with our YouTube account, even when the website is up and running. I am blown away by the support we have received and how our community has embraced this whole thing!
Ww: How do you respond to people that think that the MC battle era is dead?
Vo: Nothing in any genre of American culture has ever died! Some things lie slept on until they come back, but they always do! Roger & Zapp turned into T-pain. Madonna turned into Lady Gaga. And skinny jeans... well, I don't know where that came from, but that could die, and I wouldn't cry -- but you get the point.
There is no need to revive battles because they haven't left; they always happen on a small scale somewhere. The thing is battling has always been underground and will never get the shine it deserves. But that is why Body Bag isn't helping in the demise of battling, only more of the evolution!
Ww: What's the best battle line you've ever used?
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Vo: I am torn between several lines, but out of the videos posted so far, the general consensus of fans like: "And when it comes to this battle I'll be body bagging him/'cause Lutch ain't Klutch/He's an automatic... Win, and Vos Tha Face of the fans." So you gotta love that one.
Ww: What's in the future for Body Bag Battles?
Vo: This month wraps up with a bang August 28 at Club Inferno. We will be bringing out a Scribble Jam battle vet, Unorthodox Phrases, to battle Klutch. Vo will be going against Mr. Biscuit; Azrael is taking on Farenzik and many more! Our special guest host is Black Pegasus. Then, next month Body Bag hits the road heading to the Mizzou campus in Columbus,Missouri, to participate in several battles out there. Stay posted and check us out on YouTube and subscribe to our channel. Show your support and leave a comment.