My name is Jonathan Rimmer. I’m the Editor & Creative Director at Scotland Stand Up, Scotland’s leading hip-hop platform. You can find all of our blog reviews, podcasts and live/studio sessions at www.scotlandstandup.scot.
SO, Opinion 2: It’s Time for Scottish Battle Rap to Step Up
Battle rap has never been more popular in the UK. It’s almost become an art form in itself, reaching demographics of people that might not have been exposed to UK hip-hop otherwise. Rap battles have huge viral potential for obvious reasons: they’re confrontational, often hilarious and uniquely impervious to the pressures of political correctness..
‘sure, I called his mother a slutty goblin but it’s only a battle’.
Battle culture is everywhere in England, partly because it has a respected professional league at the forefront. While Jump Off and smaller leagues like Clash Money and Words are Weapons do cater to fans of other formats, Don’t Flop is gradually becoming a globally recognised brand.
The picture is a little different in Scotland. Don’t Flop rarely make the trip north of the border and showcased Scottish battlers have to work hard to become staples. This seems to be for a few reasons: our battlers are joke-oriented, refusing to imitate the trendier wordplay-based (not the mag!) style of London/American battlers; the accents are stronger and much of the humour used doesn’t translate down south; and we simply don’t have a unified league to rally behind.
My Scotland Stand Up colleague Scuba attempted to stir up something a few years ago (http://versetracker.com/battles/scotland-standup) before Badmouth Battles took up the mantle not long after. Crown Sound’s Breaking the Barrier tournament has become an annual fixture in Glasgow (http://versetracker.com/battles/breaking-the-barrier-rap-battle-league0) but has less of an online following. I won’t even get into the countless leagues that have failed or been abandoned (or I might have forgotten).
Of course, nobody should advance battle rap for the sake of it, but it’s plainly obvious that there is some desire to emulate Don’t Flop’s success in England. It’s not as if there isn’t talent lurking here: Soul, the Don’t Flop champion is from Fife. EVIL and Mackenzie, two rappers who have been killing it up here for a few years, are getting some props for their appearances in England, too.
That’s the problem, though. Our talent has to travel over the border to even get a sniff, which isn’t viable or affordable for many Scottish emcees to repeatedly do (try-outs understandably don’t get their expenses paid for as far as I know). I don’t blame Don’t Flop for how they run their ship; it seems to have gotten to the point where it’s more financially viable for them to travel to America than throw an event in Scotland.
While we should definitely learn from our neighbours, I think it’s important to remember that Scotland already has a hip hop scene that’s distinct from the rest of the UK. There’s no reason why emcees and promoters here shouldn’t seek to do their own thing. Recent endeavours have demonstrated that we have a wave of new battlers coming through: Ryza, Seuss, Makar and Jr the Juggernaut are all talented. There are also plenty of other consistent emcees that never battle outside Scotland anyway.
New battle league IRON BARZ may well have the right idea in matching up English and Scottish talent. Their headline battles, Evil v Chris Leese and MacKenzie v Cojay, would be just as exciting in London or anywhere else. Their debut event on June 17 will also be hosted by veteran Respek BA, adding a touch of continuity to proceedings.
I think (and hope) that this new venture will learn from the mistakes of previous ones and reflect the talent and diversity in Scotland’s scattered battle scene. There will still be room for tournaments like Breaking the Barrier, sure, but I’d encourage Scottish battle fans to come out for battle events no matter what. There’s no reason why we can’t create a vibrant movement of our own.