A few months ago, a work buddy of mine and I shared a couple of our tracks with each other for the first time. Right away, his skill and experience were apparent to me. The production was muddy and less than perfect, but I became a fan of his cadences right then and there. The old P.A. at Eddie’s Calzones (where we worked) blared out a steady onslaught of syllables sitting in tight triplets with impeccable timing.
After taking a listen to a little bit of my stuff, he invited me to come out and see him battle live with the local Barbarian Rap League that Friday night (give their channel some love on YouTube @ Barbarian Rap League.) This kind of took me by surprise, because I recognized the name of the organization as soon as he said it. I had been introduced to that league as well as the South Carolina Battle League while researching competitive organizations in the city the previous year.
I ended up having to take a rain check on his Friday night gig, but I told him I appreciated the invite and that he’d have to keep me in the loop because I’d definitely come out and support him soon. He hit me up a couple weeks ago and we finally made it happen, and I’m just now getting a chance to tell ya’ll about it so I’m more than excited.
Mariah and I pulled into the parking lot at Indulgence Lounge at 8:07. We were excited, but anxious that we had possibly missed Juice’s coin toss, which was supposed to be at 7:50. We walked to the front and peeked our heads in, but only noticed about twelve people milling around passing time, so we returned to my car and plopped down on the hood.
Mariah is an American Spirit hippy, so she pulled one out for us to split while we waited. A shorter dark-skinned black man in a white leather vest covered in studs strolled by and nodded his head to us, and in the back of my head I tried to wrap my head around what he must have paid for his flashy jeans. We acknowledged him politely, and began to crane our necks scanning the parking lot for our friend.
“JUICEBOX”, I hollered, finaly spotting my bro’s beat white sedan. “What it do, Bossman!". Justice (Juice’s government name) rolled up his windows and made his way to my spot. He’s the kinda guy that puts a smile on nearly everybody’s face. His back length dreads hung in a pony-tail over a rasta themed tie-dye button down which sported a fat-head sized portrait of Tuff Gong. I’m almost absolutely sure he’s always zoning, but those are, of course, the easiest people to get along with.
“Ayyyyyyyo bruh”, his voice is smokey but smooth, and his high elation gave his tone an audible smile behind it. We slid our palms together then wrapped up in a grip, and he hugged Mariah with the other arm.
Me: “What’s good with you?”
Him: “Focus, focus, focus, I’m slipping into that space, ya feel me?”
That’s when I noticed the thin white vein stretching from his ear to his pocket, and come to think of it, could hear a small hiss every time a snare hit in his ear bud. “Damn, don’t let me pull you out of it bro, it’s good to see you. A taller kid walked up, in a dark hoody. “Hey Wheeler” juice addressed me, “this is the man Mel”.
Introductions over, we got to the door and were asked for our 10$ a piece. Mariah mortified, let out and audible sigh, because she didn’t have any cash on her. She and I stepped outside, and then almost immediately the woman in the doorway says: “..Oh, hold on, you rap pin? How many… 1.. 2.. 3.. just for of you? Come on, you alright”. Just like that we shuffled into the low lit atmospheric lounge and bar.
As with all types of artist, rappers are not always the most punctual people. The battle was being delayed while we waited on a rapper scheduled to battle, but not Juice’s opponent for that evening. The fella Juice was matched up against that night was another younger performer, by the name of Mike. As we waited, Juice pointed him out to me, and I realized we had already acknowledged each other. He was the man from the parking lot early in the white vest.
Barbarian League isn’t 8 Mile you fuckin children. Competition is an acapella format, and all the more nerve-wracking for competitors because there is no instrumental to support your punch lines. Rappers perform in silence, until the crowd decides to heckle or encourage. Bars fly in strange directions and fluctuate in speed, because there is no back beat tying any one down. It allows for creative flexibility, but makes it very easy for artists to lose the favor of crowd if they are inconsistent or lack charisma.
Halfway through his first jerky verse, poor Mike, who had loudly elected to go first against Juice in a display of machismo, was already sweating inside his leather vest. “…she call me Charmander, I got charm, and her…” this was the bar that drew the the first cat call from the crowd. Mike was the only competitor on the mic so far, and the crowd had begun to turn on him.
Mel and I stood behind Juice’s shoulder, doing our best to contain our laughter, and our friend was grinning ear to ear, as Mike stumbled awkwardly to the end of his verse, doing his best to say something that would hit home. But nothing. And then…
“She rolled around gagged my chiccostick,
The way she got straight to the brain I knew she was a psych major,
But that’s his love…
I was like her, she kisses mad dick, mouth so good, she would have been a greater debater.”
Juice’s response was more than adequate to draw a sharp contrast between his skill as a live performer and his opponents. He began his verse insulting the sanctity of his opponents domestic relationship, and winning the approval of the room. The crowd was hooting and hollering by the end of his first verse, and the man on the other side of the stage looked mortified.
Mic pass to Mike
Searching for something to elevate himself, to find that next level of juice (no pun ended) that could help him come back from his awkward last round, the vest-clad rapper dribbled off filler lines, searching for something legendary he had written a week ago, but was now a little too high to recall. In the middle of one particularly long “break” in his flow, someone in the crowd yelled “TIIIMMMEEE”, doing the hosts job for him about a minute early. This was the beginning of the end for Mike, as he let the crowd hassling him into his head.
Juice took the mike back, said maybe ten bars, one memorable couplet being:
“Yeah, I Will be disrespectful off jump,
cause I don’t care if he get hard, his tough talking is simply irrelevant,
when it came to The Rock this Kevin Hart ass boi was Central Intelligence”
and then he turned to the rapt crowd, and straight-up said the battle was over.
Now that was risky for him, because if the crowd had not been totally on his side, and cheered him in agreement at that moment, he may have ended up embarrassed himself. But he could read the audience, and accurately judged their reaction to his intervention.
Right before he went on, Justice, Mel, Mariah and I passed a minuscule roach on the back patio, sucking the last bit of life out of it in unselfish but substantial portions. The rapper leaned on the railing and said “before the show dude was saying I’m a hype man. Because I was out here a week ago supporting my little brother at his show. When I see him up in here supporting his boy who isn’t blood, and he’s talkin’ like that about me? off-stage? bruh. I do my talking on the microphone.”
For more information on the Barbarian Rap League check out their facebook!