(AllHipHop Features) When the Ultimate Madness tournament was announced there was a particular current of electricity moving through the battle rap atmosphere.
The culture’s been here before, but this time it seemed different.
Those who were a part of the movement for a minute understand the vibes, even if the locale has shifted from one platform to the next. Last time around, people were comfortably duking it out on 106 and Park’s UFF. In the center of New York City, the birthplace of rap music, the platform allowed emcees to blast off from the celebrity-clad and Viacom powered set of a hit after school BET show. Tiers were climbed. Slogans were developed. Stars were made.
But that was then.
Now as dangerous as the pandemic that birthed its renewal, a generation of lyricists vied to achieve the same level of success that made T-Top and Ill Will the superstar names that they have come to be.
The elimination-style competition debuted exclusively on Caffeine TV.
— Caffeine (@caffeine) June 13, 2020
What started as 16 emcee competition, dwindled to two in a grueling six-week competition. The final two, Jey the Nitewing and Fonz, rapped their way onto one of the biggest stages in the culture, NOME X. And while it is true that their prayers will be answered with the mere appearance on the stage, a stage that has given rise to some of the most exhilarating moments the culture has ever seen, it will be the cash prize of $25,000 that could potentially change their lives.
But who are they?
Federal Way, Seattle’s Jey the Nitewing was an unlikely emcee to make it to the finals. While people believed in his potential his history of “dropping the ball” has made even the most die-hard fan suspect that he could not pull out a win. Still, with the cash prize on the line, and a new outlook on life, he found the discipline to almost always dominate over his opponent in this competition. The artist who sees so much of his life through the lens of comic books compares himself to Tony Starks:
“Tony Starks has plenty of ability and talent, but sometimes he just drops the ball due to his own ego or some issues that he is not dealing with on a conscious level and ends up making bad decisions. That is applicable to me, especially in the beginning of my battle rap career.”
He first started battling in 2014. However, it was not until one year later that he decided that he had an issue with alcoholism. In early 2015, he caught a DUI. The law gives him a deferred prosecution; for the next five years of his life, he had to be on probation. Two of those years, he had to enter into a treatment process. Upon completion, his DUI will be wiped clean.
He remembers the day well when he decided to sober up. It was Halloween of 2015 — court-mandated AA meetings, self-willing, and evaluations repositioned in his mind what was valuable. If he was gonna be an emcee, the focus had to come from a different source than the bottle.
“I can definitely relate to Tony Starks on that level. As a recovering alcoholic, one of the main things you learn is that putting down the alcohol doesn’t mean that you are good now. All the issues that led you to drink, you have to address those things.”
“You have to make the choice. It comes down to survival … You only get one life, one chance.”
Five years sober, his life has drastically changed. It made him a creative monster with the ability to outwit many of his opponents with his “own” style. He is not electric like K-Shine. He is not super funny and charismatic as T-Top. He is not beaming to be considered a heartthrob. What he does is replicate on the stage the authentic spirit of the fans that watch. Not just the ones that are street ripping and running, but those that care about the quality of verse and pen. The subculture population that finds solace and peace in the ripples of their imagination. And this unique twist got him to URL in three years after he stopped drinking.
“Once I made it to URL, I was ok, this is a platform that people around the world know about. I feel like anybody who is here is gifted in one-way shape or form in what they do. And it wasn’t until then that I did fully acknowledge that I do have something that is a scarcity in the culture. I also realized that I can’t be like other people if I want to be like one of the greatest. And that is the goal … to be one of the greatest.”
Jey was born smack dab in the middle of The Golden Era of Hip-Hop and started to understand the culture of battle rap through the diss music that he heard the elders in his community listening to. He is from the West Coast and was coming into his first exposure to rivalry rap by listening to the hood’s celebration of Biggie and Tupac’s beef. “Who Shot Ya’” vs. “Hit ‘Em Up” at the time fueled his grammar school mind with that back and forth spirit. Later he found out that The Notorious B.I.G. ‘s song was never about ‘Pac but by the time he found out the mythology of their wax war was bigger than the artists.
That actually is the best lesson that he ever could have gleaned and applied to modern-day battle rap: the story of conflict sells the commodity and is sometimes better than whatever is real. TALK THAT TALK.
Other lessons he is actually learning is come from observing those whom he considers the greatest in this arena. He looks at Lux because of his creativity, originality, and champion mentality. He says he aspires to be like Tsu Surf for his industry hustle, his philanthropy, and how he carries himself. Hollow da Don makes his greatest list because of his business acumen and originality. Nu Jerzey Twork also makes the list for being original, and despite his shortcomings, Jey believes he is the most creative (unmatched) battle rapper of ALL TIME. Rounding out his list is Math Hoffa because of his longevity and ability to still compete with this generation.
But even while those are the ones that he admires, they all could be food for the hungry URL Ultimate Madness finalist. His stomach is grumbling and SMACK (courtesy of his judges Unkle Ra, Knowledge the God, Reda from Champion, and Tony Bro from Black Compass Media) has given him a plate. Fonz is looking like grub.
Four days before he battles Fonz, on NOME X, he will be totally free of his obligation to the state relating back to his past life of boozing. What a great feeling of accomplishment he will feel! And according to Jey, a free Nitewing is damn dangerous and the Ohio rapper needs to be afraid.
But the Cleveland mc ain’t about to just turn over and give Jey a win because he used to be a drink a lot and knows how to flip the X-Men in a couple of rounds. To let Fonz tell it, the Nitewing will get his pinion’s clipped.
— Caffeine (@caffeine) June 13, 2020
Fonz is a street dude.
Rightfully guarded and more interested in figuratively ripping someone’s throat out in a battle than trying to make friends. While he has excelled in this space, he is ever mindful to remind folk that he is a rapper’s rapper. Don’t let the Midwest accent fool you — Cam’ron, Nas, Eminem, Project Pat, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has helped mold his style. He says that because music is really his entering point into the culture, even in battles when he is spitting his hardest acapella bars the beats are still playing.
He ain’t even there he is so locked in on the genius fantastically orchestrating in his mind. People say it all the time but for some reason, it seems true for this Ultimate Madness finalist … he is different.
“I can tap into different things.” He shares.
One of the things that he tapped into to start rapping was the SMACK DVDs. For him and so many others, the Murda Mook and Party Arty inspired him to get serious about the craft.
“We would come kick it, roll up, go straight to the back of the DVD and watch the battle. You would find the DVD at the studio (Everybody boosting it).”
But this is the thing … Once Smack stopped putting out the DVDs, Fonz thought it was a rap for the franchise. He was a street dude from Ohio, why would he just be on YouTube … browsing.
“At that time, one of my homeboys started a league here (in Cleveland). I was just sideline watching. I was like I didn’t want to be a battler because they had that persona that they can’t music. I was like I didn’t want to do that. But I kept watching and watching and watching. Then I said, I got to fight somebody.”
Battling drew him in. The rapper that didn’t want to have anything to do with that underground stuff, found himself immersed in the contest of the battling. And what got him is what is most intoxicating to most artists (battler or label having): the roar of the crowd.
“You get that instant love. You might make a CD and you pass it out. Motherf**ka, never listen to it. You battle somebody and you body them … You get that instant love. I think it is harder to be a battler because with an album you just vibing … you just making something that is smooth to listen to that sounds good. With battling, you have to make the words attack. You have to make sure that your words make sense. It is a real art form with this.”
While it is an art form, he does not have time or energy to just get caught up in people’s creativity. You can be as creative as you want, but unless it makes sense for his end goal, he is not trying to see you. That is why the people he battled in the tournament got the “L’s” that they got. He, like Jey the Nitewing, wants to be great. And he won’t be great without a strategy.
“I take pride in my craft. I am not trying to battle everybody. I’ve turned down plates before. They have offered me certain people and I have been like ‘Nah, I don’t want to do that right now.’ Battling certain dudes ain’t gonna do nothing for me. I ain’t taking anything unless it is right. I want to take somebody that is gonna help me move up.”
For Fonz, he actually considers himself a lawyer and the battle arena is his courtroom. When he is in the battle, he says that he is “fighting” for his “case.” The fans are the jury and his job is to convince the court that he is iller than this opponent.
“That’s what battle rap is. You have to get your point across better. It is offense and defense in battle rap. You might have someone that might have stronger wordplay, stronger punches, stronger presence, or stronger delivery. But you have to be able to defend your side.”
When talking about the Ultimate Madness competition, Fonz contends that he was the best one there … including over the opp that he faces on July 11th.
“I am blessed to be a part of NOME X. NOME is fire. My favorite NOME battle was Surf and Rum Nitty. Classic.”
When asked if that is how Jey is going to do him? Are people going to debate the winner or is it going to be a classic? He swiftly says “Nah.”
“Nah. That ngga Jey has already had his ass kicked. I ain’t never had my ass kicked. I am about to win NOME. I am about to win this $25,000. I am not coming there to put on no classic. I am coming for the body.”*
Will Jey’s thoughtful and authentic cool, calculated, and sober-minded ready to dance with Fonz’ fiery personality and focus on what them hood dudes be thinking about (the come up and the bag)? The world will see who will be the first Ultimate Madness winner and walk away with $25,000 at one of the biggest events in battle rap history, Night Of Main Events X.
URL’s NOME X will be live for free on Caffeine TV on Saturday, July 11th.