StyleWarz has the battles, not the violence

ON NIGHTLIFE

Scene

November 24, 2005|By SAM SESSA

It started with spitting and ended with hoots, claps and cash.

In the course of a night, two judges and an audience whittled about 15 rappers down to one champion at the monthly StyleWarz MC Battle.

At last month's event, the rhymes were vicious, but the battle was nonviolent - the main reason it's been at the 5 Seasons for almost a year. Battle night is the last Thursday of the month, and the next one is tonight.

StyleWarz was the brainchild of the Elements Party, a group of local hip-hop event organizers and promoters. They wanted to hold regular battles in the city but needed a format that would avoid the violence known to plague contests across the country. Here's what they came up with:

Three rounds of single elimination dueling over beats selected by the DJ. Once you're out, you're out.

Each contestant gets the mike for one verse and one hook, usually between 16 and 24 bars. This keeps the show from turning into a long, boring verbal slogfest.

MCs must play to the crowd, not each other. If the judges split votes, the crowd decides. When rappers focus on winning the crowd, they're less likely to escalate the insults into fistfights or worse.

Since it started in February, there's been no violence at a battle, according to Courtney Wheeler, one of the organizers. I didn't see any last month and felt pretty safe knowing there were two huge security guards waiting nearby to stop any potential scuffles real quick.

Spectators started shuffling into the 5 Seasons around 9:30 p.m. It was comfortably full (of both people and smoke from Black and Milds) by 10:30 p.m. Wheeler put out the call for MCs at 10:45 p.m. It costs $20 to sign up - a good deal of dough considering you could lose it in about a minute and a half. But these guys - and one gal - had their eyes on the $500 cash pot.

Wheeler pulled the first name from a hat, and the battle began. The first rapper turned to the others sitting on stage, pointed to one and challenged:

"I spit hotter than YOU!"

And so it went, until half the MCs were voted out and round two started. Local hip-hop groups performed between rounds, which helped break up the back-and-forth and kept the crowd into the stage.

Jihad Israel, whose real name is Jamal Reid, dropped my favorite line of the night in the first round: "I rock this apparatus / to keep my status classic / create styles to keep crisp / like Vlassic Pickles." But he didn't capture the crowd and lost in the second round.

Two rappers made it to the final round: Brian "Hazardous" Grimm and Darrell "Kashon" Lea.

By this time, a good portion of the crowd had started to trickle out the door. They'd probably come to see their friend perform, and left when he or she lost. But enough people stayed back to keep the cheers loud.

In the third round, Grimm and Lea went two for three best rhymes, and it got a little heated. For the final trial, they had to add the words "money," "whores" and "immaculate" into their flow. Grimm seamlessly dropped them in, but Lea had a little more trouble and lost.

Grimm stayed on stage, counting and waving his prize money and rapping with his friends. He'd won before, back in July, and knew the routine well enough to net another $500.

The contest finished without a fist or foot thrown - presenting the true might of the mike.

The Elements Party presents StyleWarz at 10 p.m. tonight at the 5 Seasons, at 830 Guilford Ave. Tickets are $5 for women and $10 for men. Registration to compete is $20. Visit elementsparty.com.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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