RIP THE MIC FREESTYLE BATTLE with TALIB KWELI at the Phoenix, July 19. Tickets: $15. Attendance: 975. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Remember that scene in 8 Mile where a sulky Eminem buys a cellphone and signs up for a 24-month contract with a service provider? Me neither. But a scene like that wouldn't be out of place in a movie about Saturday's Rip The Mic battle at the Phoenix, where sponsors lurked in the back of the club like mom and dad at your high school party, leeching all the street cred they could bloodsuck.
The stage was dressed with a chain-link fence to emphasize just how real shit is in the ghetto. Smarmy comedian Russell Peters introduced freestyle finalists Peep Sho, L. Vision, Scandalis, Blake, Ills, Sam Osa, Roger Bling and Lou Wop, who had been whittled down from over 200 candidates.
The judges, A&R dude David Cook, local rapper Solitair, spoken wordsmith/token female Jemini, and Talib Kweli, watched, pencils in hand. First, battlers Scandalis and Ills got ready. DJ Muziklee Inzane dropped a Freeway beat, one of many too-busy Roc-A-Fella instrumentals used in the first rounds.
Over the next hour, the remaining MCs duked it out, dissing each other in the context of themes picked from a cup.
Most of the rhymes spat during the early afternoon event were too muffled to hear. But we did catch some zingers coming from the loud mouths of skinny, bespectacled Ottawa nerd Sam Osa and portly Scartown rep Scandalis, thugged out from head to toe.
Lines like "I'm gettin' nuts like a cashew," and "I'm the reason your sister is half-brown, bitch" ensured that these two would be the last men standing. Obvious as it was, we still had to wait in suspense as Kweli, now alone and wearing sunglasses, worked his way through a set of hits - Too Late, Definition, Move Something, Get By - a forced freestyle over the Get 'Em High beat and a hot new joint called I Try.
Over Nas's gutterrific Made You Look beat, Sam Osa took first prize - sponsor swag and $1,000 - by dissing Scandalis's crew, calling his T-shirt a muumuu and making more references to fornicating with female members of his opponent's family.
Then Peters thanked the sponsors, the promoter thanked the sponsors, Peters thanked the sponsors again and the crowd filed out into daylight knowing exactly which faceless corporations are keeping it real in the hood.