Before battle rap was selling out theaters and racking up 1 million plus views on YouTube, one of the most visible platforms for the culture was BET’s 106 & Park. The program’s “Freestyle Friday” competition was the site where many emcees got their first taste of national exposure.
Perhaps no rapper was able to parlay his victories on 106 into a long-lasting music career better than MC Jin. The Chinese-American’s 7-week run as the “Freestyle Friday” champion eventually led to him securing a short-lived deal with Ruff Ryders and working with some of the top personalities in Hip Hop.
Since that initial break, Jin has released numerous solo projects, contributed songs to soundtracks for the Fast & Furious franchise, and landed major endorsements while living in Hong Kong. Even though the 32-year-old rhymer is not quite ready to jump back into battling professionally, he has returned to the music scene with his latest album XIV:LIX (14:59). The 15-track project is the first release on Jin’s own multi-faceted entertainment venture The Great Company.
AllHipHop.com spoke with Jin for part 10 of the“Profiles In Battle Rap” series, and the bilingual businessman reflects back on his days as a lyrical jouster, discusses the inspiration for XIV:LIX, and addresses the impact big money will have on battle rap culture.
[ALSO READ: Profiles In Battle Rap: Hollow Da Don]
Miami Beach, Florida
I started getting into it for fun when I was about 15. Then I was actively battling until about six years ago, so for about 10 years.
Style Known For (ie aggression, wordplay, punchlines, freestyle)
If I had to guess what people know me for - I never thought too much about it - but I noticed in recent years people put a lot of emphasis on me going off the top of the head. If I had to put my style in one lane, I guess people do acknowledge me as the freestyle guy.
I personally feel like over the years, the whole nature of freestyle battling has evolved and changed anyway. And if you asked me, “Where you always 100% off of the head back then?” I’ve always said not at all. I was a blender.
At one point the Ruff Ryders from 2002-2006. I was signed to them, but I look back on it now and I think that was the one misconception - even now when I encounter people they asked, “Do you still kick it with DMX, The Lox and Swizz Beatz?” When I came on board it was around the time everybody was going off to do their own thing, but it was cool with me because I was feeling like I’m not here to sponge off these individuals.
I’m actually a loner. Right now the team that I work with is probably the most I’ve ever felt part of a collective that everybody’s definitely has the same mindset, direction, and core values. The company I’m with now is called The Great Company. It’s not just a company to me. Do I see them as a crew or clique? Nah, it’s definitely a family.
Leagues Competed In
When I was the most active, none of the leagues we’re in the picture. So I wasn’t part of any of these leagues. When I started to fall back from the scene is when these leagues were on the uprise.
Like 106 & Park, I wouldn’t necessarily consider that a league. It was a dope platform to be able to be on, but as far as actual leagues I haven’t been in any of them. I did like one Smack battle, but that was even way before what it is now. This is when Smack was just dropping the Smack DVDs. On every DVD he would have one battle, and I did one of those.
The Ruff Ryder album The Rest Is History. That’s perhaps my most high-profile album. That's the one with production by Kanye West, Swizz, and Just Blaze and features Styles P and Wyclef. Then I released Properganda. If I had to describe it, that’s my "I hate the industry" album. I was coming off a bitter and discouraging experience with the Ruff Ryder album. Not with the Ruff Ryders, just how the album turned out.
After that album I released a couple more albums. I released a couple in Chinese. Then my new album XIV:LIX. People ask, “Is this your best album?” That’s a subjective thing, so I can’t call it my “best album,” but I can say with certainty this is my most authentic album. And definitely my most organic album. It was just me making an album that was most reflective of where my head and heart are right now.
That’s what “14:59” means - What do you do with that last second of fame? Some people will tell you Jin’s “15 minutes” have been up. If feels like that sometimes, like maybe I did blow the opportunity already. But either way with XIV:LIX, if people are still listening and I have a chance to make one last statement, then let it be this XIV:LIX album.
Favorite Battle (Participant)
Me vs Shells
This is for a couple of reasons. Number one, to date it was probably my biggest payout. This was at the Mixshow Power Summit. The winner of the battle won $50,000 which now is not that much.
The other reason why it was memorable was because it was in front of a crowd of people that were influential. I think that was my first time battling in front of the industry. One of the guys in the audience was this new artist by the name of The Game from Compton. Everyone knew he was there. I made sure I made a note of that, and in one of the lines I said something like, “Even my man right here recognizes me/Cause game recognizes game.” The crowd went crazy.
Favorite Battle (Non-Participant)
I rewatch a lot of Hollow Da Don’s battles. There’s a few where he just goes nuts in the earlier stages of the URL. Even his Grind Time battles.
One Of Your All Time Hottest Lines
Here’s the thing. You never know what will make an impact. In context of 2014, the way battle culture has evolved, the line I’m about to reference - I’ll be the first to say isn’t even the most complex, mind-blowing line. But it is a line 12 years later people still come up to me and say, “I remember when you said…”
The line I’m referring to is from “Freestyle Friday” when I said, “You wanna say I’m Chinese/Here’s a reminder/Check your Timbs/They probably say ‘Made In China.’” If you ask me, it’s pretty simple, but it’s effective. I guess that’s the point to make.
Your Battle Rap Hit List
The hit list I would create would be for the ones I think are great, but at the same time these are the ones I wouldn't jump into the ring with right now. Simply because these are the guys that eat, sleep, and breathe battle rap culture.
If I were to do it, it would be against the guys I think are the best to do it. My favorites are Dizaster, Charlie Clips, DNA. I could go on forever - Conceited, Hollow Da Don. I wouldn't call that my hit list for clarification.
Top 5 Emcees DOA
I released a song called “Top 5 (Dead Or Alive)” and the concept is there is no top five. Everybody’s Top 5 is different. My Top 5 changes by the season. So my Top 5 at the moment is not necessarily my Top 5 of all time.
These are just five that I believed played a big part in my own growth as an emcee and a fan of the culture. Off top - Nas, Jay Z, Eminem, OutKast as a collective - Andre 3000 & Big Boi.
One that I always feel like is mad underrated, and I wish he was in more people’s Top 5 - Black Thought from The Roots. He’s definitely in my Top 5. Then Big Pun.
Pun was always repping hard for the Boricuas, so that obviously was inspiring to me. Just to see that you can go hard for your culture and people. At the same time, he wasn’t defined by that either. Pound-for-pound, lyrically, Pun was one of the best.
Do You Prefer To Participate In A Debatable Battle Or A Clear Victory?
In the days I was active that wasn’t even a topic. I never thought too much about what people thought as me being in a debatable battle or clear victory. Obviously, I wanted to give the best performance I could give.
If I looked back on all the battles over the years, the ones I actually treasure the most are probably the ones where I clearly lost. For example, no one would imagine that one of my battles I find the most memorable is actually where I got demolished. That was against Serious Jones.
That was a defining moment in my career, because that was the most clear-cut, no debate situation where I got "got." Initially, it tore me up, because I felt this battling thing is all I have and now I’m losing this too.
Now I look back on it, and I’m glad it happened. In some odd, weird, twisted way, it helped me shake off some of that pressure and baggage that I was carrying for a long time.
Where Do You See Battle Rap Going In The Future?
I don’t know where it will go, but if you were to say where would I like to see it go - I think where it’s going is great already; the fact that you have young dudes that can actually make a living off it.
Once upon a time, the mentality was that “I'm gonna use battle rap as a way to get into the game.” Now you have some dudes where their mentality is “Screw the game, I just want to battle rap for the rest of my life. This is my career. I want to build my empire off battle rap and nothing else."
If they have the ability to do so, then God bless them. I’m happy for them. However, at the same time, any time money comes into the equation things start to change. Even with battling right now, you notice bigger companies wanting to buy into it. So you have to deal with more problems that wasn't there in the beginning.
Once upon a time, we were just battling because that was a way to prove that you’re the next dude. That’s how you proved yourself as an emcee. Now when you ask a battler if he wants to battle someone you get, “If the money’s right.” That right there alone is the biggest indication of the different direction this whole thing is going.
[ALSO READ: Profiles In Battle Rap: John John Da Don]
Read other “Profiles In Battle Rap” articles here.