By a number of measures, this past weekend’s Total Slaughter debut was likely the biggest modern Battle Rap event ever. Of course the appearance of an artist like Joe Budden as a battler was the most obvious fodder for headlines during promotional lead-up, but the entire event was a new arena for the culture. Whether good or bad, the event and brand itself may be a productive corporate coup in a crowded space.
A few misfires withstanding, Total Slaughter has sectioned off a new place for itself on the scene. The next few weeks will undoubtedly be full of break-downs and reactions from every angle imaginable, but just as sure, there will soon be an announcement for the conglomerate’s next steps as well.
HipHopDX was on hand during the event to watch it all go down. There will be plenty more coverage to come, but for now, here are some of the things we learned about Total Slaughter over the weekend.
Total Slaughter Is A Different Stage For Battle Rap
While watching the stage being set-up on the eve of Total Slaughter, two things were immediately obvious. First, Battle Rap has reached a new level of production value as a crane-mounted camera panned every which way and professional engineers, sound crews, and light operators bustled about. It’s fair to say that the event ushered Battle Rap onto a new stage of prominence though consistent microphone troubles plagued entire battles as a glaring Achilles’ heel.
Second, Total Slaughter cleaned up some of Battle Rap’s roughest edges. Any fan of the scene is used to putting up with dozens of blunt-toking, Henny-sipping, selfie-taking “VIPs” onstage during a battle. At the Shady Films backed event, the battles were mostly free of that extra noise as DJ Kay Slay stood back and center as a referee and two battlers stood alone. Loaded Lux brought some folks onstage as part of an angle against Murda Mook, but they weren’t in the way. The headline battle featured some onstage support—Joell Ortiz and Crooked I deadpanned through Hollow Da Don’s rounds and laughed or clapped at nearly every Budden line—but it was a welcome change of pace from the norm to watch the battlers so easily.
Joe Budden Doesn’t Like Being Booed
In Battle Rap, even the most successful battlers face being booed, heckled, and sometimes publicly shamed onstage. Needless to say, that’s a change of pace for any industry rapper with a loyal fanbase (Joe Budden haters are probably not lining up at his shows). On Saturday (July 12), the Slaughterhouse emcee proved that while he wasn’t out of his league, the crowd reaction left him noticeably frustrated. After a strong first round against Hollow Da Don, Joe Budden stood apart from the pro battler with a delivery and cadence that was more akin to a diss track than a live take-down. His lines were clever and his punches formidable, but upon being booed in the third round, Budden didn’t seem to be able to take the heat. (By contrast, his telling the judges to stop the allotted time anytime he got cheers from the crowd was proof he was enjoying himself.)
“If y’all don’t stop booing I’m gonna stop rapping,” he said before putting the mic down onstage near the end of the battle. While he was granted some extra time to finish his round, Hollow powered through earlier bouts with negative responses and went straight for the mic once it left Joe’s hands. It was an interesting peek at the perseverance required of a battler and something to watch out for if any more industry heads take the same stage.
Hip Hop Veterans Are Paying Attention
Nevermind that Sway Calloway hosted the event itself, and that DJ Kay Slay served as a quiet and thankfully mostly unnecessary referee, but the crowd was also dotted with Hip Hop vets. Busta Rhymes continued his support for the scene, Vin Rock of Naughty By Nature waved the UW Battle League (and Arsonal) flag, and a who’s who of battlers themselves showed out. Even Craig Mack was there, though. Perhaps in a final bit of affirmation, Hip Hop luminaries Kool Herc and Fab 5 Freddy crossed a generational divide with their presence at the venue.
I'll Be At Total Slaughter In The Cut Watching Smoking Reefer Tomorrow...Come Say Hello I May Say Hello Back...Lol
— Craig G (@MC_Craig_G) July 12, 2014
A Bigger Crowd Is A Louder Crowd
The bigger Battle Rap gets, the louder the boos. In an unfortunate intersection with faulty microphones, the Total Slaughter crowd was rowdy. It was a good sign in some ways as the audience was like an intuitive fourth judge, but it also brings up an interesting question: how big can Battle Rap get before the crowd itself becomes an issue? As Pay-Per-View streams and different Internet broadcasts assimilate into the mainstream, higher view-counts will increasingly be a function of those technologies more so than the venue. In the meantime, in a culture so dominated by enthusiastic crowd reactions, the weekend’s showcase was proof that there may be a tipping point for how big a crowd Battle Rap can accommodate.
Battle Rap Is Right On Time
Alongside press designations for the usual Hip Hop and Battle Rap outlets, space for media conglomerates like Getty and The Daily Beast were evidence that the scene is expanding. In line with its arrival into a new public sphere, Total Slaughter may have started a new trend: a Battle Rap event that runs on time. Battle events are notorious for running hours late, sometimes to the point of botching the headline match-up as was the case when NOME 4 got shut down prematurely—or, more accurately, right when it was supposed to—last month. At Total Slaughter, the battles ran in a measure of minutes off-the-clock, not hours. At a few minutes to start time, an announcement rightfully signaled the start of the first battle. The downside? Fashionably late attendees looked a bit confused when they arrived hours late and the event was running on-schedule.
Pay-Per-View Didn’t Work; Affected Users Will Get A Refund
Sincerest apologies to @TotalSlaughter buyers unable to access 7/12 event online. Everyone charged for online stream will get a refund.
— iN DEMAND (@indemand) July 13, 2014
With all the live coverage and Tweeted updates, fans around the world could easily track the event’s progress online. That said, a lot of paying fans came out of pocket for a Pay-Per-View stream that was dead on arrival. Meanwhile, those who paid for a cable-based PPV—a hopefully more common trend in the industry—got their money’s worth as the online stream left plenty of users in the dark. After the event, WatchLOUD announced that affected users will get a full refund and half-off discount on the next Total Slaughter stream from In-Demand.
Murda Mook Returns & Loaded Lux’s Decline
Ahead of the event, we spoke with several battlers about Murda Mook’s return. Road to Total Slaughter contestant Big T put the veteran’s relevance into perspective: “He’s the first person in Battle Rap to break people down,” T said. “He brought personals to this game.”
Since his reign over the SMACK/URL league years ago, the scene has taken and executed the same style in different directions. His battle two years ago against Iron Soloman may have been an unfortunate false start, but Total Slaughter was proof that Mook is back. He confirmed Loaded Lux’s fall from grace with an obvious win and even nodded to his previous prestige with a doo-rag in tow. Alongside Arsonal (and T-Rex for that matter), Mook offered up one of the night’s best performances and proved he has a second-wind in a career that helped define Battle Rap’s modern era in the first place.
Loaded Lux Recorded A Diss Track For Busta Rhymes
If 2012’s Loaded Lux versus Calicoe battle had a side-show it was Busta Rhymes making a ruckus over Lux’s performance. It was a clear show of support and, even if a little disruptive, a lot of fun to watch. When facing off against Mook this weekend, arguably the battle that brought out the Battle Rap purists, Lux faced practically the same treatment he served Calicoe when Mook aired out a piece of media that wasn’t meant to be shared. After somehow getting his hands on an unreleased diss track for Busta Rhymes penned by Loaded Lux, Mook let the record leak mid-round as the crowd and Busta himself watched on. It raised as many questions as answers—including whether or not such stunts should be allowed in the ring in the first place—but helped Mook get the best of Lux as well. Following the battle, Lux could be seen talking face-to-face with Busta near the judges and we can probably guess what they were talking about.