The Body Bag Battles League takes MC Battles in a whole new direction
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.