Scottish battle rap is in a weird state of flux. Over the past year we've had a sporadic battle league in the form of Breaking the Barrier, a lacklustre Badmouth event, an annual Kelvingrove Park event where half the battles were cancelled and not a Don't Flop Scotland card in sight. Oh, and a night in Ayrshire where nobody has a clue what's happened to the footage. Attempts to unify the Scottish scene have repeatedly failed, so much so that talented up-and-comers have begun to stream down south in search of an audience. Freestyle champion EVIL apparently killed his debut on Don't Flop last month, meanwhile JR the Juggernaut, SSU's own M1sterman and Andrew MacKenzie have all earned tryouts for DF/other divisions in England over the past couple of months. This is no longer just a trend - Scottish "battlers" that want to clash in an a capella arena are destined for minimal views and minimal coverage as long as they choose to battle here, at least until a wider platform is established. It's something that we've considered doing ourselves at SSU, particularly as the Scotland Stand Up battle brand was one the most recognised in Scotland at the time.
Picture: Jonathan Rimmer
Ultimately though, there's a debate to be had about the merits of such a move. Is battle rap still merely a promotional tool for Scottish rappers? Should battles remain raw and street-based, confined to the streets in classic hip hop fashion? Should we just have a laugh? Or do we need to just get with the programme? Should we have our own Don't Flop/King of the Dot package - real events with real promotion, real competition and real production levels? For what it's worth, this year's Bristo Battles event in Edinburgh stood probably somewhere between the two. There's been coverage from ourselves, host Drew "Werd" Devine's own blog and local mag Dopezine; there were talented photographers and cameramen shooting the cameras from various angles; and there were sponsors, prizes and incentives for the winners of the card. With Bristo Square out of commission, the battles were held this year at the Meadows. Everyone could drink, have a laugh and watch as much or as little as they wanted. Still, for all the preparation that Werd inevitably put in, street/park events lead to folk acting rowdy, shouting and generally spoiling battles. Last Saturday was no different - the lowlight was one prospective battler passing out in his own vomit around halfway through the afternoon (he turned out alright, don't worry). All that aside, the vibes were good, the crowd size very respectable and there were a few battles that met/even exceeded expectations. Here's a wee breakdown: Kid Robotik v Milla curiously took place at the start of the day. Unsurprisingly, this proved a mostly "jokes v bars" battle, with Robotik's wordplay and double entendres combating Milla's puns and witty observations. Milla did attempt to neutralise this angle, advocating his style of "mum joke humour" in round 2, however I've seen more accomplished performances from him in the past. Milla did pick up the judges' decision, but the park atmosphere clearly didn't suit Robotik's style. He had a clean performance, some hard punchlines and will feel hard by. Tryout battle Mr Sinton v Scrabble proved hilarious for all of the wrong reasons - a true Scottish battle "classic" for the culture. Sinton was incredibly drunk, slurring most of his material or forgetting it completely. The highlight of his first round was "I'm just shit, mate" - a brutal but fair assessment. His freestyles were akin to Pedro from Don't Flop's if he rhymed about 75% less.
Scrabble won pretty clearly on material, if you can call it that (he rhymed). He also called his opponent "a fucking Jew" is an insult though, so he arguably loses automatically . Conscious Route's face in the background said it all. (Scrabble later apologised for his drunken behaviour it should be noted) Eloquent beat Renwick in the other new tryout battle. There were forgotten bars on both sides, which could be attributed to nerves in front of the big crowd. Eloquent has received flack for not turning up to battles in the past and I'm not sure how he prepared he was here - he freestyled all three rounds, but capably which earned him the win.
Photo: Sean O' Donnell
Lumanes v Ryza was the first notable "rookie v vet" clash. Ryza, a newcomer from Inverness, was funny but struggled frequently with breath control issues and stumbles. He arguably performed better v Seuss at Kelvingrove. Lumo was for more convincing, practically battling his own previous performances. At one point he even alluded to this by recounting a "lyrical miracle" style multi surge before dismissing it entirely. His animated presence and wordplay were almost unintentionally humorous at points, but watching URL has clealy worked for him. A highlight was his first round flip about the "ginger bitch" in the crowd shouting and ruining the battles. Steve E-T, sorry Symba took on Haylee G in a predictable one sided, blatantly sexist affair. In a lot of ways this was expected - his dismantling of Haylee was akin to Deffinition's brutal but sarcastic decimation of Dekay a few years back. Haylee did hold her own confidence-wise, albeit she was very quiet, but her only memorable bar was a flip about how she could still have children with IVF.
Stevie was comfortable and laidback in his approach, spitting relentless one-liners about Haylee's nose ("you can smell what the Rock is cooking") and her gender/sexuality ("I asked to be set up with a bird, I didn't mean like this"). This all culminated in him presenting a bin bag mid-round as a prop, and suggesting that Haylee "get in it". As brutal as it was, Haylee G took it all in good spirit - the only bar that the crowd seemed to really wince at was one about dying refugees. I suppose there's a separate debate right there. Stirling's Lex Lethal faced Zebadee in the rematch that nobody really asked for. To be fair to Lex, I was one of the judges that gave him the win in their previous encounter in Glasgow last year. Zebs' previous win over Lex is the only decision I think he's ever won, as far as I'm aware, and he ultimately lost this one too. I'm aware that I've been perhaps harsh to Zebs in the past, so I'll give credit where due - he had better comical timing and a more recognisable rap flow this time around The one battle everyone was looking forward to was Kamihamiha's debut v Scott Earley. Pre-match hype on facebook meant that there was a lot of antagonism between the two competitors.
Earley arguably took the first with better punches, also hilariously imitating Kami's Fife accent in various scenarios. However, Kami did himself justice in the second two rounds. His material was predictably more lyrical, but he also styled on Earley in an unexpected way. Whilst he took the piss out of Earley's "limited" mum-joke style with a Rabby Burns remix of "wee sleekit timorous maw", it was his own punchlines that saw him sneak the battle. I'll have to see the footage to recall the exact line but his bar about Scott Earley's attempts in bed being "missionary impossible" got the biggest reaction of the day. All in all, most decisions from the judges made sense. Whatever form Bristo Battles continues to take, Werd and co. put in an absolute shift to make last Saturday an enjoyable experience. With Wee D now involved in Crown Sound's Breaking the Barrier series, it'll be interesting to see what the next battle card will throw up. @Jonzo67 Please comment your thoughts on the event, the battles and the points posed in this article via Facebook/Twitter etc.