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Alliance Battle League Hosts Tacoma Rap Battle on May 19th

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Although the Seattle rap scene has recently gained more notoriety as artists like Macklemore and the Blue Scholars become known nationwide, most of Seattle-area rap stays underground and fragmented. But the Alliance Battle League is trying to ameliorate this problem in Tacoma. The Alliance Battle League (ABL) is a small business in Tacoma that aims to provide a safe place for rap battles between artists in urban Tacoma. Although the atmosphere at rap battles can often be tense, the ABL rappers are united by a common goal of promoting each other in their community and rapping to develop their own skills. Although being a newcomer to these events can be intimidating, it becomes quickly apparent that the ABL is comprised of a group of people who genuinely are interested in developing their talents and the community they grew up in.

The last Alliance Battle League battle took place on May 19th at the Deltan Club in downtown Tacoma. Although the event technically began at 1:00pm, the actual battling didn’t begin till 2:00. A congregation of spectators slowly collected outside the venue before 1:30 when both the rappers and the audience began to slowly filter in, greeting each other along the way. This was followed by another half-hour of conversation and impromptu rapping over background music. By the time the event started, there were approximately fifty people gathered in the venue.

Around 2:00pm the host for the day, “Jimmy James,” called the audience to attention. By this time, most everybody had congregated in a circle in a space adjacent to the bar and the table holding the speakers that provided the music for the event. One of the organization’s leaders clad in an Alliance Battle League letterman jacket, Saif, helped gather the attention of the audience so the official event could start. Jimmy James began the event by touting how the ABL was “making history,” a common theme throughout the event and in ABL publications. The first order of business was a community announcement about a Monday rally in support of Tyrone Hampton, whose children were in the hospital. Hampton lamented about the failures of the welfare system to a sympathetic audience. The announcement was just one example of the apparent importance of community in the ABL; the event was even followed by online reminders to attend the “Justice for the Hampton Kid” rally.

To break the somber mood incurred by the announcement, Jimmy James riled up the crowd with cries of how this was “the biggest battle of Tacoma history.” He continued, “Bigness is occurring; history is about to happen.” The spike of energy in the room was palpable as the murmur coming from the audience slowly grew louder.

The first battle featured JP versus Lil Decent. The battle was conducted in three rounds of continuous rapping for three minutes; the two rappers took turns and a winner would be decided by a panel of judges later in the event. The battle featured one of the main themes of the entire night: the rivalry between opposing coalitions. In this particular battle, one of the rappers, JP, was from a group called “Frontline,” while Lil Decent came from “Goodhood money.” The references to the rivalry between the groups dominated much of the content in the battle. Again, the rivalry was evidence of the established community that comprises the ABL; it is difficult to understand the references without being integrated in the community to begin with. For example, Lil Decent accused JP of being “Chino’s b****” and proclaimed it “pathetic how [he] rap[s] like Cash,” both references to Frontline leadership.

Like other battles, the first battle also featured frequent sports references. JP claimed he had a “swing like Tiger Woods.” Lil Decent, meanwhile, claims others would think he was in “the Houston Rockets with the way [he] lift[s] off.” The battle also featured digs about both the rappers respective mothers, another common point of contention in the raps of the afternoon.

The battle was unique in the references about the relation between rap and earning money. JP claimed his raps were “the type of bars people pay for,” while Lil Decent mocked JP by saying, “I’m in it for the cut, you in it for the fame.” As the first battle, it was clear that this was not the battle with the highest stakes; JP was mocked for being “the new kid on the block”; Lil Decent rapped with the ferocity of a rapper who has a chip on his shoulder because of his youth. In Lil Decent’s rap, he even spit a complaint about his placement on the lineup. This also meant the rappers were less familiar with eachother than the rappers in other battles; JP started his segment with the question, “Who the f*** is Lil Decent?” Overall, the rap was mostly distinct because of the rather generic nature of the insults that was derivative of the lack of familiarity between the two rappers, an oddity in the ABL. However, the relative importance of the rap didn’t stop the battle from being intense; both the rappers rapped as if they were trying to prove their worth.

During the battle, the crowd was mostly attentive; however, the murmurs from the audience slowly became a dull roar as the battle continued. The noise elicited a few shrill announcements about being quiet from the League’s organizer, Jade. Otherwise the battle continued relatively undisturbed, with the exception of a small dispute about the length of the grace period at the end of the battle.

The next battle included veterans Cannonz and Lunes. This battle saw a marked increase in pop culture references. Lunes opened with references to Kanye West and Angelina Jolie.  Cannonz was distinct in his frequent and clever references to widely known cartoons and children’s material. He made references to “Casper,” “the Rugrats” and a host of other once popular shows. He even included a line about how his opponent was like “Mr Potato Head,” “knocking pieces off;” and how his opponent, like “Pinnochio,” just wanted to be real. The more comical nature of the second battle was only increased by the animated expressions of the rappers; particularly Cannonz, who’s animation increased the entertainment in the battle significantly.

Lunes displayed a more segmented style than the rest of the battlers but unfortunately his distinct pacing didn’t help him maintain continuity in this particular battle. Less than half of the way through his segment, the rapper “choked,” inciting a small uproar from the audience. He continued for a little bit before “choking” again. His second pause lasted longer than thirty seconds, which according to the rules of the battle, ended his segment and disqualified him from winning the battle. The hardest part of battle rap is the ability to maintain continuity while both using prepared material as well as integrating spontaneity into the performance. The premature end of the segment gave Cannonz a virtually unlimited time period to continue his rap, which he took full advantage of.

The third battle of the afternoon was preceded by a short intermission, during which most people milled around directly outside of the venue, either smoking or making conversation for the duration of the ten minutes. Although a small altercation was incited, the situation was diffused fairly quickly by the ABL leadership, who were obviously respected members of the ABL community.

 

After the intermission, “Jimmy James” brought up the energy of the crowd by announcing that the next battle had a $500 cash prize for the winner. The increase in stakes came with an augmentation in the reputation and the skill of the rappers in the battle. The next battle was markedly more personal than the previous two. Although the second battle of the afternoon was obviously between two artists who were more familiar with each other, the insults were not specifically tailored to the opponent; though to be fair, the battle did end prematurely. In this battle, much of the discussion revolved around the legitimacy of Caesar’s group affiliation and background. The opening rap made this apparent within minutes; Cash made fun of his opponent’s “Ray Chucks that [he] wear[s] to every event,” and quipped, “You’re not going to get a deal like that, you’re not marketable with a head like that.” The main complaint of the battle, however, was the accusation that the second rapper pretended to be from Philadelphia when he grew up in Tacoma and “forgot what hood [he is] from.” Caesar retaliated with insults directed at the “Frontline” collective which the first rapper is a part of. He mentioned the other members and called the group ”A1 and Caution’s pet boutique.”

This particular battle also incorporated aspects of life in Tacoma into the rhymes. Cash mentioned how he knew people in both the Bloods and the Crips who still maintain a presence in Tacoma. The same artists claimed his opponent thought he was “Farrelli’s when he was really Little Ceasar’s,” comparing different pizza places in Tacoma. The rapper also accused his opponent for misrepresenting himself and appearing to be “hood” but then going to “Shiloh Baptist every Sunday.” This concern with “realness” was reflected in all the raps but particularly in the third battle; the lines reflected a community emphasis on loyalty and metaphorically ‘walking the walk.’ The battle was followed by a huge burst of cheering from the respective coalitions that had to settle down before the beginning of the next battle.

The last battle of the afternoon was the battle with the highest stakes, reflected in the skill of both of the rappers as well as the intensity of the battle. The rivalry between different groups came to a zenith during this battle; the first rapper, “Caution,” wore a white t-shirt with “Frontline” emblazoned across the front, and was facing NU Empire’s Starr; much of the rap consisted of digs about the opponents’ respective groups. This battle was also extremely personal; the rappers spoke of their history together and the personal lives of each other. Even though this gave the battle a almost hostile intensity, it also highlighted the interconnected community that comprises the ABL; there was the distinct sense that although these two artists were rivals, they were ultimately part of the same community.

Caution began the battle more aggressively than previous battles. The two rappers were fairly close to each other on the floor, increasing the intensity of the battle. This battle was extremely personal: Caution spoke about how they used to be part of the same coalition and how Starr actually stayed with him when he needed to. Caution even spoke directly to Starr’s girlfriend, calling her by name and accusing Starr of infidelity. Caution had a less frenzied pace and style than most of the rappers and had obviously thought out the progression of his rap.

Starr’s retaliation lightened the mood a little bit but still maintained a personal quality. Starr made fun of Caution, wondering how Caution could live in Tacoma and “[think] Al Davies is a school,” when it’s a local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. He claimed that Caution stole other people’s bars and accused Caution’s girlfriend of infidelity in response. Caution retaliated with a dig about Starr’s contacts and warned him to not incite trouble. Starr continued discussing inter-brand politics, claiming A1 was ready to kick Caution out of their coalition and claiming he had “bars tighter than a Frontline shirt.” The animosity between the two became more palpable as the battle progressed; Caution rolled his eyes at one point and Starr looked to the audience for validation that Caution’s claims were false. The intensity and skill of the rappers definitely justified the high stakes battle; it was clear that this was the centerpiece of the afternoon and an example of what skilled rap battle looked like. The afternoon ended with a huge uproar and the crowd loitered, continuing to socialize with the community united around a common goal of promoting rap in Tacoma.

The winners of each of the battles is listed below. Take a look at the ABL Facebook page and the Youtube channel, which features live videos from the battles.

Lil Decent vs JP- Winner: Lil Decent

Cannonz vs Lunes- Winner: Cannonz

Cash vs Caesar- Winner: Cash

Starr vs Caution- Winner: Starr