Though battle rap, a showcase of brags, boasts and brutal insults, has existed as long as rap itself has, it exploded into public consciousness with the 2002 film “8 Mile,” and has drifted in and out ever since.
But the development of rap battle leagues such as Grind Time in the US and Canada’s King of the Dot has given rise to a number of growing promotions across the United States, such as local upstart Voicebox Battles.
Voicebox, co-owned by local MC Greg Sacks, promoter/musician Chuck Clark, as well as Mike Dailey and Tim Wamboldt, has been growing quickly both in local popularity and national stature. Its first show last April drew about 60 people; its latest, held January 13 at Divine Tattoo, brought in over 200 hip-hop heads.
“The crowd is so amazing now; it’s a lot harder (for MCs) to get over on them. They’ve gotten a lot wiser,” Sacks said. “Unless you’re in New York, Toronto or California, you’re not going to find a better hip-hop crowd.”
The promotion’s YouTube presence is a large part of its growing popularity. Since the channel opened last July, it’s collected more than 126,000 views with one recent video amassing 800 views in less than 48 hours—a staggering number for a league that’s less than a year old.
“We hit 100,000 views right after Christmas, which is when everything started to come together,” Clark said. Now, Voicebox is expanding its operations further; In March they’ll be holding an event in Tempe, pitting Tucson’s rappers against Phoenix’s; they also have plans to expand further into Southern Arizona and as far out as Missouri.
“I never though I’d be doing business with the guys I was watching on Youtube,” Sacks said. “All of a sudden, they’re like ‘yeah, we’ll come battle for you,’” with some MCs even willing to pay their own way to come out.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about entertainment. Voicebox takes much of its inspiration from pro wrestling, from the title belt its champion holds, to specialty match-ups such as male versus female or its signature Triple Threat, which has three MCs facing off against one another.
The lyrics can get harsh — you don’t want to watch the above sample of Sacks against Clark at work, unless your employers don’t have problems with men yelling about bodily fluids and scat. But that’s par for the course at Voicebox.
“We’re upfront and honest with our MCs,” Sacks said. “We’ve taken it on ourselves to cancel a battle because of too much conflict the last thing we want to see on the news is ‘Violence breaks out at local rap battle.’ Tucson would shut that down quick.”
To put it as simply as Clark: “Don’t battle if you don’t want mean shit said about you.”
For more information, check out Voicebox Battles online on Facebook.