Tokyo Damage Report

freestyle rhyme battle @ Ebisu MILK


First some bands played, SOUL PLAZA and SLASH SPIT SQUADRON. Then some human beat-box guys played improvised music with a live bass and drummer. After that, the main event. . .

soul plaza

below, slash spit squadron

I wasn’t feeling his styles, but how can you not like a Japanese guy doing American music while wearing an Arab kaffieh? Yasser AraPHAT.

beat boxing. note their hands. they are "air-DJing."

The rules were so simple even I could understand them. two MCs at at time would take turns berating each other for 8 bars, like, Mr. A, Mr. B, Mr. A again and finally Mr. B, the end. The winner would go on to the next round. The first round had 32 MCs, the second round 16, and so on. first prize was 300 bucks and a shot at the all-tokyo competition. Second prize was a boot in the ass.

Awesome things about rap battles in Japan-

1) . The judges were not industry weasels or washed-up ex-rappers, but audience members chosen by raffle, and equipped with flags.
2) The energy in the room is way more electric and "hype" than a regular show. It’s like the nervous spark of a sports event.
3) Instead of going for one minute apiece, The MCs traded 8-bar verses back and forth, so they could have a chance to respond to what their opponent said in the last verse.
4) Maybe it’s just the legendary Japanese efficiency at work, but there was NO idiotic "ah, ah, what, what, yo, yo, what, uh, yo, uhh, one-two-one-two, what, yo, yo, ok, here we go, uh, uh, one-two," before each verse. It was like, the show’s hosts drag the MCs out on stage, hand them a mike, and just yell "one two three four" and that’s it. Ruthless!
5) I was scared it would be a whole room full of dorks with fake FUBU and do-rags. But it turns out that dudes who actually CAN rap don’t look like rappers at all! Clothing styles ran the gamut from thrift-store bob dylan t-shirts to bathing ape gear, to whatever.
6) In addition to people-not-looking-like-idiots, this casual fashion also showed the emphasis of skills over appearance or thugg-ness.



Less-than-awesome things:

1) no female rappers. If this was the national finals, maybe you could say that the judges were biased and weeded out the women, but this was like the beginning tournament, and anyone could enter. So there is no excuse for women not even trying.
2) The DJs didn’t represent hip-hop. . .. in fact they only played east coast rap from 15 years ago. Wait. No, that IS awesome.
3) The audience didn’t dance or even move. They were so serious, like students at a lecture. But when an MC said an especially good punchline, everyone would erupt in cheers and laughter. I guess this is not so much bad as kind of odd.


Common tactics:

My comprehension of Japanese is not 100%, but I could tell generally how rappers were belittling their opponents.

1) making fun of their clothing was the biggest theme, followed by making fun of their name and things that rhymed with that name. After that, you could make fun of where they lived (seemed like half the MCs were from Kichijouji?!?), and point out if the audience failed to laugh at their punchlines.
2) The best, though, had to be rapping a few bars in your opponent’s style. All, "this is what YOU sound like." "No, this is what YOU sound like."
3) Not only were there no female MCs, but I didn’t hear anybody talking about anyone’s "okaasan" (mama), "mesubuda" (bitch) or "kanojo" (girlfriend). Weird. It was like Islamic rap battle night except in the porno capital of the world.
4) When it was the other guy’s turn to rap, most MCs would slouch and stare at the ground like a scolded child. No idea why. Below, this dude’s slouch style was off the hook. He’s all "your styles make me so glum. can you handle my glum? can you even fucking handle it??"

5) Pointing. At one’s opponent. So much pointing. Lots of pointing. Like, I am pretty sure there were more pointing-styles than there were rap styles. Some guys would just wind up flapping their free arm like they were about to take off into the air.

again with the pointing


"AHA!!! now it is YOU who are being pointed at!"

6) Naturally there were a lot of styles on display, from the slow to the fast. Most rappers favored a pretty fast delivery with lots of tongue-twisting, recited in a sort of swing rhythm. At the end of their 8 bars, instead of climaxing with a single taunt (i.e. "bitch!!") they’d finish with a huge torrent of words, trying to cram like 3 bars of shit into the remaining 3 seconds.

in the semi-finals, above,ART MC yelled at MC ZOU a lot.


below, the final round! PUNPI on the left, vs. MC ZOU on the right.


Here you can see PUNPI’s new technique– leaning to the side to dodge his opponent’s vicious taunts


"No, it is YOU who are wack."






The winner was a gentleman named, I think, PUNPI. He beat out MC ZOU in the final round. Uncomfortably, PUNPI looked exactly like a caricature of an Asian man – short with buck-teeth and glasses. It was scary seeing this little dude go up against big dudes in hoodies and timberland boots, all calling him an "Akihabara nerd", but then he would just turn around and tear them the fuck up so bad it wasn’t even funny. Maybe this proves that the Eminem Syndrome works worldwide.

anyway, congratulations to PUNPI, and good luck in the all-japan final bout.

Here’s the website for ultimate mc battling if you are interested.

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