Photos by Chimena Ihebuzor.
On Nov. 16, in the Popp Martin Student Union of UNC Charlotte, students were able to partake in and gather to watch the joining of hip-hop and the human competitive nature that goes on to create what we call rap. With the expert guest DJ, Slic Vic, the ever hilarious emcee, RJ Chisolm and the four inspiring and talented students – Braxton “B Stax,” Prince, Xavier and Ryan – standing alongside with mics in hand, ready to go, the evening was one filled with jokes, laughs, and, of course, sick beats. With their lyrical swords ready in hand, the four competitors, fellow students and rap enthusiasts, were ready to get the show rolling – although, CAB’s twenty-minute delay didn’t do much to aid the angst that was filling the performers, as well as the audience. But, alas, the show did indeed go on.
The competitors, along with the emcee who just could not leave himself out of this one, were to compete in three structured rounds, plus a freestyle bonus round, with each individual taking turns solo on stage. The first three rounds all consisted of each contestant giving a one-minute freestyle rap on varying topics depending on the round. With the first round, each contestant gave credence to their graduating class and college, repping their personality and achievements as a student at UNCC with their rhymes. Round two is where the comedy began to pick up: what else would you expect when you mix something like Niner Pride and Chartwells’ dining options? Stances were taken and there were shots fired at Crown Commons’ soggy cheese pizza, our football team’s unsavory win-loss ratio and the general lack of swipe-sharing. But even amongst the jabs thrown at our university, there was still some love being shown all the same. The third round was a no topic acapella round in which contestants could freestyle rap for a minute, with or without a beat. This was also interesting to see what each of them would come up with, alone, with just their voices carrying them. They each had their own tone, mood and style that added to their own personal lyrical flow and it really showed what they could do, despite having little to work with. Finally, we have the bonus round: two minutes for each contestant to “bring it.” Each contestant was able to either fool around and roast some of the other contestants, or perform something of their own that they’ve previously memorized. This is where they were able to really show off their talent and each of them did show off very well indeed. And while all of the contestants were each very talented in their own right, it was a battle after all and there had to be a winner.
Student and contestant Ryan Essick managed to impress the crowd with his powerful stage presence, savvy lyrical improvisation, and capability to hold close to rhythm and beat, and was able to walk away as the winner of the 49 Mile Rap Battle, rightly so. This rap battle would mark the first ever hosted by the university’s Campus Activities Board (CAB), taking another step further into incorporating diversity of expression into the campus and its students. As we were able to witness this evening, rap can be something that is fun, entertaining and something used to simply spit rhymes to roast your buddies after knocking a few back, but we must also remember that this is not where rap, and rap’s purpose, stops. Rap also speaks to culturally relevant issues that seem to span across time and gives a voice to those who may otherwise be silenced. Rap, whether it be musically inclined hip-hop that we hear on the radio, or something that is battled out on a stage in a university, it’s something that is bringing about a much needed and overdue cultural appreciation in our society, it’s bringing people together, and it’s forever making its mark on its viewers and listeners. And here at UNC Charlotte, we gladly welcome it.