TRCH Mindgames

Youthoracle

2 April 14 words: Mike Atkinson
"As soon as you bring something quite personal up about someone, or expose them for something, you’ve won really"



You’re going in hard against each other on one level, but on another level, it seems totally friendly...
It is friendly, to an extent. lots of us are really good friends, but there are a lot of bad vibes as well. You get a lot of people who have feuds with each other, so they usually call those grudge matches. But really it’s just entertainment most of the time.

While your opponent is doing his round, what goes through your mind?
I just try and zone out and not really pay attention to what they’re saying, so I don’t get annoyed by anything. Sometimes they’ll finish their round, and I haven’t listened to anything they’ve said. Usually, I don’t worry too much. Nobody knows anything about me, and I can’t see a way that they would, because I’m a very private person in real life. I know a lot of people that expose their personal lives in their tracks, and then they moan when it’s brought up against them.

Is there any scope for picking up what was said in the previous round, and using it there and then? Or is everything pre-prepared?
It’s not all pre-prepared. I’d say 90% of people listen through the whole round and try and pick up on something, so they can flip it, and do a rebuttal. I’ve started to do it recently, but I’m not the strongest freestyler, I’m very nervous. I get pins and needles down my arms. I’ve literally stood there, feeling like I’m going to cry. So half the time, I don’t really dare do a rebuttal.

You were recently battling in Toronto. Was that tough in terms of dealing with a different culture, where they’re not going to get your references or your accent?
Yeah, because I’ve got one of the strongest accents in Don’t Flop. Even in England, nobody really understands what I’m saying half the time. I get pulled up on my accent constantly. I reckon that’s the number one thing that I get done for. My battle didn’t go that well in Canada; I didn’t do any British references but I kept my accent so they didn’t understand a word.

How did you first get involved with Don’t Flop?
My friend Bru-C rang me one day, after the Mark Grist and Blizzard battle came out, and said, “watch this battle, it’s a teacher versus a student”. I’d been doing music for a good eight years, but I was starting to lose the love for it a bit. Bru-C was going to do it, and my little brother was going crazy at me, saying, “you need to do it, you’ll do well.” I said that I really wasn’t up for it. Then I went to Bru-C’s first battle: everyone’s actually friends, there’s no bad vibes. So I went up to the organiser, and showed him a few lyrics. He said to me, “if Bru-C wins his battle, then you’ve got a try-out, but if he loses, never contact me again, ever.” Luckily Bru-C won.

With each new battle, does every bar have to be brand new?
You can’t reuse anything at all, but a lot of people use a catchphrase. There’s a guy who says “I’ll bring them bars right back!” at the end of every rhyme, and then the whole crowd shouts it. It is lazy. You only get three minutes [per round] at most, so you can’t waste twenty or thirty seconds on doing a catchphrase… I’ve done stuff like that, but only to take the piss.

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How does the judging work?
It depends on the individual, but usually there’s a way of judging it in terms of punch count. With every punchline you hit, or every good metaphor, they can put a mark and tally them up. But I don’t think that’s fair, because one punch could really overtake a whole battle. As soon as you bring something quite personal up about someone, or expose them for something, you’ve won really. Unless they expose you back, or they flip it; that’s the only way you can get out of that situation.

The other moment where rap battling went into the public consciousness was with the whole James Arthur debacle...
At the end of the day, a person in his position shouldn’t be homophobic, really. He can’t do it. That’s what happens when you’re in the mainstream. Whatever we do in Don’t Flop, we’re not at that level, so anything goes. There’s been worse things than homophobia brought up in Don’t Flop.

Some of your own punchlines can sound quite homophobic. As a gay man, should I be concerned?
Not at all. I’m not homophobic in the slightest. In battles, I don’t feel half of what I say towards someone. It’s just lyrics. It’s just for the crowd reaction. All of us have an understanding at Don’t Flop. There is no homophobia. None of us are homophobic. There’s even a gay battler.

I’ve had loads of racism, and I’ve been racist in my battles before, as well. I’ve said some really bad things. At an event in Birmingham, I went against a mixed race lad, and I said a few things that were touching the line. But this mixed race lad had gone against a black guy before, and used loads of racism towards him. So it was to make the point of: if you’re so comfortable having a go at a black guy, and you’re mixed race, and I’m mixed race myself, then I’ll have a go at you about that.

In terms of homophobia, one of the battlers, one of our friends, came out about being gay. Then one of the biggest battlers said as long as this gay guy can battle, he’s not battling any more. So Don’t Flop said, fine, don’t battle then. This battler who’s gay, he isn’t a big battler, he doesn’t get many views, but at the end of the day it’s about the principle. He still battles now, all the time. There’s no actual homophobia or racism, it’s just…

Perhaps it’s like watching a boxing match. You enjoy the match, but you don’t go home and start punching people.
Sometimes, it can go over the top. Two years ago, a lad was against a guy from Liverpool, and he said something about Rhys Jones, the little boy that got killed. That opened up the question of where the line is drawn, because he definitely understood after that. He got death threats, and he still gets death threats now. He can’t really battle outside his home city any more. But if you see something in the news, it’s definitely going to get brought up. It’s actually clichéd to say something about Jimmy Savile now. It’s just like: yeah, boring, we’ve heard it before.

Youthoracle will be battling at Don't Flop: Raise The Bar on Saturday 5 April, Rescue Rooms, Masonic Place, NG1 5JT.

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