One of the most well known hip hop traditions is battle rapping. Literally field testing your skills against somebody with your ego, your reputation, and in some cases your career on the line. You may have been exposed to this tradition in Eminem's film 8 Mile. More on this subject later.
So what happened 9 years ago today on January 12th, 2001? Roc-A-Fella Records led by Jay-Z, Dame Dash, and Kareem "Biggs"Burke was amassing an army, and were essentially the untouchable label at that point. They had recently signed philly artists Beanie Sigel, Oschino, Omillio Sparks, The Young Gunz (Chris & Neef), Freeway, and Peedi Crakk. They were probably in talks or had already signed The Diplomats which included Cam'ron, Jim Jones, Freekey Zeakey, and Juelz Santana. And they still had the Brooklyn boys who'd been around awhile like Memphis Bleek, and of course Jay-Z.
So, if you were Jay-Z and you knew your label was untouchable, what would you do? Well, I'll tell you what they did. They went to the nearest radio station and got busy bragging about it. And how does one brag about being the best label with the most talented artists? Takeover a major radio show, in this case Funkmaster Flex's Hot 97 evening show, and let everyone destroy the mic. And they did. They completely murdered that show, and from the noticeably giddy squeals from Jay-Z, he knew it. He doesn't even rap that night. And he doesn't have to.
A large portion of casual hip hop fans never get to see major label artists in this raw format. Mostly people hear their watered down singles or whatever R&B song their label made them feature in. A lot of those songs are dumbed down for mass consumption, and you miss their clever lyrics. But this session is proof of their hunger. This is their element, and what I love love love about rap. So, I've uploaded this session to a zip thingy on mediafire because I want you to hear this. Seriously.
Above is a video from the radio station that night. The first artist rapping is Freeway. And that is the reason why I chose this particular video. I want to show you an example of Freeway kicking ass. Because in my opinion he does kick ass. He has an original flow and style and a cool amish beard.
Now I want to talk about what happened later that night.
Remember when I said earlier battling is when you field test your skills? And it is a forum that can either make you or destroy you? Well, later that night, an infamous battle took place between two philadelphia rappers, one of which was Freeway. I know this post is getting long, so let me attempt to be brief. Cassidy, another up and coming philadelphia rapper, met Freeway to duke it out in front of their crews and some home video cameras. It is pretty much consensus that Cassidy brutalized Freeway in this battle, but watch the videos below and decide for yourself.
To be fair to Freeway, I think a few things should be noted. For many people, Freeway's flow was/is too unorthodox to translate into an A cappella situation. Even Freeway at the end says "put a beat on." A comment which later was a source for much ridicule. In an interview he did years later, Freeway spoke about how he had essentially juiced himself at the Hot 97 session, and felt pressure not to repeat himself at the battle later that night. So, it is extremely feasible that he may have been gassed at that point, but as you can see he still put his heart into it, and I think that is commendable. But regardless, Cassidy's performance was crazy. I don't know many rappers who could have walked away victorious against him that night. And it virtually jump started his career. Ok. I'll let you go now. Thanks for sticking through that one.