Last MC Standing
You Know the Drill--Mic Wars II Slaps Rappers Around and Bruises the Game
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From 8 Mile to MTV's MC Battle, the art of freestyle battling has hit the mainstream hard, and these days anybody who can grab a microphone wants to jump on the bandwagon. Though mainstreamed, the battle's true essence lives on well in our own backyard thanks to the Major Noise Entertainment squad's Mic Wars. The brainchild of Bas and Big Reese, Major Noise CEO and senior vice president, respectively, this week Mic Wars II moves its monthly duel of local rhyme warriors into Fletcher's.
The first Mic Wars was a successful evening organized by Bas as a one-time event held at the Sidebar Tavern last year. "The first season of Mic Wars ran from the beginning of March to the beginning of April," Bas says. "That battle contained 32 MCs and ended with Polyrock beating Danjarus."
But the first battle's contestants and fans wanted a follow-up tournament. Bas passed the torch to his partner Reese, and Mic Wars II started up in November. The battles are a traveling event and have been held at the Sidebar, hip-hop haven Five Seasons, and now Fletcher's. Locally known lyricists--like Polyrock, Fatts, Danjarus, and Tislam the Great--and up-and-coming MCs--such as P.T., Alex Storm, and Buck--have taken the stage to spit their tightest off-the-top-of-their-heads rhymes over instrumental tracks spun by DJs.
Mic Wars II will cull the winners from 11 tentatively scheduled battle nights and then pit the top two contenders in a final face-off in May. Early on, the champion was determined by crowd response, but some rappers felt that unjust. "If one MC brought a bunch of people with them it wouldn't be fair," Reese says. "So now [in addition to crowd response], we have two judges."
The night's battle winner has to obtain at least two of the three possible votes: one from either of the judges and one from the audience. The judges change every week and can be anybody from fellow artists to everyday hip-hop lovers. "We try to pick the most unbiased person possible," Reese says. And in the future, Bas and Reese plan to use some celebrity judges--"Champ from Roc-a-Fella [Records] will be one of the judges at this [upcoming] show," Reese says. Also due to be in attendance are reps from Terror Squad and EMI Records.
Thin-skinned MCs need not enter the tournament, because anything from your outfit and your weight to your facial features and even your momma can be subject to a brutal dis. And the audience can be just as hard if an MC is not up to par. When the audience doesn't like an MC's delivery or suspects that too many of the rhymes are prewritten, it sounds off with jeers, snickers, and blatant boos.
So why do MCs participate in the Mic Wars tournament? Bragging rights, to be sure--and the $2,500 grand-prize money provides some motivation, too. But the true MC simply loves rhyming.
"I was in one battle and lost to Polyrock," Danjarus says of his first entry into Mic Wars. "But I came back for the next battle and beat him. The final battle [of the tournament] went on for four rounds, but he beat me in the fifth round."
Danjarus isn't participating this time, but he says he'll attend Mic Wars II to support the other MCs. And he's not the only rapper showing up just to show some love. "Before the first [Mic Wars], I'd never been in a battle of that sort, so I wanted to try it," says J-Nina, another local MC. "Plus, I saw a local label trying to do their thing and just wanted to support it."
Unfortunately, the battle is too often shunned by many new MCs, especially those coming out of Baltimore, which is one reason Bas and Reese started Mic Wars in the first place. "Baltimore has a lot of talent that people for some reason overlook," Reese says. "What we're trying to do is take it to the next level, where people around the country will notice it. And right now it's looking good because we're getting calls from Cali, Georgia, the Carolinas."
Their common love for hip-hop is how Bas and Reese became friends in 1995. "Bas and I met in the Army at Fort Meade," Reese says. "We were in a [hip-hop] group called Black Dragon Society. But he got orders to go to Korea, and we sort of lost touch."
While in South Korea, Bas started forming the recording label Major Noise Entertainment, and recruited members of the hip-hop group the Hecklers, who were also in the military. In 1998, Bas returned to Maryland and reunited with Reese, combining the business skills acquired during their time apart.
"Bas picked up a lot of knowledge in the music field and production while in Korea," Reese says. "On the other hand, I invested lots of time, work, and money in startup companies. I didn't get rich in money but rich in knowledge. I worked with a lot of successful startup companies and learned business structures."
With music skills and entrepreneurial experience, Bas and Reese began developing Major Noise Entertainment as a professional label and recording studio. Mic Wars is their first venture into event organization and promotions as Major Noise, and so far they've been pleased with the results.
"We are very happy with the success of Mic Wars," Reese says. "And we're going to try to keep this thing going. Major Noise has been in the grind for a minute now, and we don't plan on stopping."