Suddenly, Reverse went in for the kill. He had everyone in the audience throw various items on the floor, ranging from cell phones to sneakers to backpacks. The Cuban rapper then proceeded to freestyle about the objects, hurling bar after bar towards his fellow finalist Mobetho. It was a stunning climax to the brackets-style rap competition. “I think Reverse really shined through with some of his punchlines, lines that make the crowd react and definitely made me react,” famed rapper Snow Tha Product admitted after the battle.
The U.S. finals of Red Bull Batalla took place over the weekend with 16 ferocious emcees representing numerous aspects of the Latino Hip-Hop diaspora. We know battle rap well here in the States, but Batalla is unique and different. Reverse ( @reverse_tcr ), an Orlando, Floridian of Cuban descent, will travel to Chilé for the international finals, where he’ll face off with emcees from all over the world. There are whispers that the caliber of emcee there will be far more daunting and intense. Red Bull Batalla – the world’s largest Spanish freestyle rap competition – was nothing less than lit.
Lit, but tense. Snow, who acted as a Batalla judge, admitted that she did not want to mess up.
“It was difficult (judging the battle). I was nervous. If I f##k this up, somebody’s fans are about to crucify me,” Snow said. “I just wanted to be fair and pay attention, which is why I looked so concentrated.” Each contestant had a different accent, dialect, and slang, which made it hard to pick the winner. Snow said she looked at all things, then decided who advanced in the U.S. finals along with her other four judges EEl B, Cacha, Jony Beltran, and Cabra.
All of the rhymes are stated in Spanish so there may be a language barrier for some audience members, but energy and vibrations translate rather easily. The flows do as well. The beats were ridiculously dope at the live taping of U.S. finals of Red Bull Batalla as commandeered by DJ Del’Alma, the unspoken hero of the competition. In each lyrical bout, the artists are forced to rap over unique tracks, changing their flows and approach during the Saturday evening at a Hollywood, California studio. The range of the diaspora is on full display.
Cabra, a music producer who acted as a judge said this competition is not as simple as besting the competition through brute force.
“I am looking at continuity of ideas, logic in the ideas, and flow also. Rhythm.” Cabra said. “A lot of rappers [default to] ‘I’m the best,’ but there are several ways to say you are the best. You don’t have to say you are the best to be the best. So, if you can do it in a clever way or a humorous way, I think that’s more powerful.”
The United States is the second-largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world, and Hip-Hop is indigenous to the land so, the strength is more than implied. Red Bull Batalla started as a small, underground movement to one of the largest events in music in 15 years. It is burgeoning into a full-blown culture within another full-blown culture, that celebrates lyrically gifted Hispanic individuals.
Energy aside, the core elements of Hip-Hop are here, which includes hunger, drive, passion and purpose.
Jordi, also known as The Texas Champ, does not mince words with the importance of Red Bull Batalla.
“It’s like a dream,” he said. “This is the top…(as far as) you can go as far as freestyle. I love the freestyle. Some people try to separate freestyle from Hip-Hop, but I love rap.”
Adonys, a Dominican by way of New York, echoed Jordi’s sentiments.
“For us to be here, I don’t think people understand how big this is. We are the top 16 best freestylers in the United States,” he says. “I have been watching Red Bull Batalla since I was 10-years old. It’s crazy. And then in Hip-Hop, people don’t understand there’s Hip-Hop, Rap, and a branch of rap called Freestyle. People that know Hip-Hop, know this.
Make no mistake, Reverse was a classic upset. At 19, he’s been freestyling for a relatively short period of time. However, like so many young people he’s ambitious and unrelenting in his push forward. These balls of energy are from the bottom or the beginning. Most do not yet have a career rapping. They are here for the love and the undying spirit of competition that lives within the culture. Pure instinct propels them forward. Even though Jordi was eventually bested by Eckonn of Venezuela in the quarterfinals, it is almost certain that he’ll be back.
There are five more battles that lead up to the global finals in December: Perú, España, Dominica, Argentina, and Ecuador. Reverse was the toast of the after-party, with many of the combatants flocking to him.
Next up: Chilé.
Here are all of the freestylers.
Yartzi (Puerto Rico)
OG Frases (Miami)
El Dilema (NYC)
RuRa (Las Vegas)
El Poeta (Phoenix)
LinkOne (Puerto Rico)
Adonys (Long Island)
Boss (Los Angeles)