Battle Scars: Lyrical Combat

Brixton Jamm, 19/03/10

Lyrical Combat. Lyrical Combat? I have witnessed, and even taken part in, a couple of arguments in my time but this? This is a whole other battlefield.

My friend and I headed to Jamm, who’s website explained that the Battle Scars competition ‘demands intelligent lyricism, it’s not just about “dissing” or offending your opponent’ and that the style, execution, delivery and technique will be what the competitors are judged on. So, a night of sharp cutting words was what we expected…and what we got.

The night started off with the hosts Lawyer Da Black and Peaches introducing themselves. They were really funny and had so much attitude, if you could bottle it and sell it you’d make a fortune. Peaches with her streak of pink through her black hair, made it very clear that she was not going to be accepting any crap tonight. If I had been performing, this alone would have scared me senseless! They both explained how the night was going to go: there would be four rounds and the three judges would judge each round, with the audience also able to voice their opinions. There were also 3 golden rules 1. No physical contact, 2. No cussing the opponent’s family and 3. No racism.

So time to meet the judges. Comfort walked on first, a tall, talented woman who’s been a spoken word poet for two years. She performed a poem called ‘I want a man’ exposing the sexist stereotypes for both men and women. The next judge was Logic MC (Peoples Army) who gave us a quick taste of his talents before taking his seat. Last to be introduced was Judge Bespoke, an American who coolly explained he’d ‘won a lot of battles’ before showing us how.

Round One
In this round there was no battling, just a selection of MCs who put their names forward and had 30 seconds to show their talents and the judges would pick the best 12.
A couple stuck out such as DK, a young girl who had so much pent up energy and an almost snarling delivery, it was impossible to take your eyes off her. Emergency spoke of how he was the gingerbread man (he had short ginger hair) and gave his lyrics a d n b beat. Then an older lady called Lady Einstein took to the stage, although within a few seconds she froze, the crowd gave her another chance and she came back fighting.

Round Two
Here the names of 12 best from round one go into a hat and audience members pick out names for who battles who. They each had a chance to say their piece to the other and this is where improvisation kicks in. First to compete was Talent v. Rob Peters. Afterwards when the crowd was asked to show some appreciation for either Talent or Rob Peters, someone yelled “What talent?” This was what was so great about the night; the audience were so involved from the start and their judgment, even if a little harsh at times, was an important element. Rob Peter’s went through.
The second combat was between Emergency (gingerbread man) and Middy. Both were pretty evenly matched so it was an exciting one. Emergency survived. The third was between Rugged and Raw and Lady Einstein. Lady Einstein started off pretty vicious by saying “I’ll cut you up and scatter you round the city”, but then it got way worse when she said she could tell he was African because he had flies round his face. Everyone looked at each other in amazement…did we just hear that? Peaches then stopped the battle and with backing from the judges and the crowd, Lady Einstein had turned to Lady Frankenstein and was disqualified from the competition. The others to get through were Menace and DK.

Musical interlude
Before the third round Lawyer Da Black (by now, far more drunk than when first took to the mic!) said he wanted us to hear a girl he was very impressed with. Up came Donna to the stage and after a few seconds of looking shy in the intro bars she belted out ‘Who’s lovin you’. She. Was. Amazing. A different kind of talent was being showcased and the audience was totally behind her.

Round three
This round was an interesting one as, instead of going acapella or with their own beat behind them, each person in the three pairs had to create their own beat by telling a drummer, a bassist and a bloke on the keyboard what sound they wanted. They had 30 seconds to get their backing right and then 30 seconds to rhyme to it, against their component.
It was really interesting mixing harsh lyrics with a jamming live band behind them, and it gave the battles even more immediacy. The three finalists that got through were Menace, Emergency and DK.

Final Round
This was an intense round. The three finalists lined up on stage and battled against each other to a standard beat created by the band. What soon became pretty clear was that the two blokes, Menace and Emergency, were ganging up on DK. She held her own for a long time, but their two-against-one was relentless. Someone in the crowd started to get angry with tactics and started to get loud about it. MC Logic had to calm him down, but despite objections from him and others, DK was out.

Two against one?

So, just Emergency and Menace remained and it was a close final stage. However, halfway through Emergency just stopped and suddenly gave himself up. He had broken one of the golden rules and cussed a member of Menace’s family. To be honest with you I didn’t catch it (neither had Lawyer Da Black) but Emergency took it seriously enough to want to win by the rules. Menace was then declared the winner. Both my friend and I agreed he was the better player regardless of the disqualification. He improvised way more than Emergency and retaliated with clever observations. He goes on to the second heat in July 2010.

Last two standing

We had a brilliant night. Positive energy was flying, as were words that could pack a punch. I’ve never felt so included as an audience member and I would definitely be up for going again.