On 27 April, the first heat of the 2017 End of the Weak London Emcee Challenge kicked off in a BIG way upstairs at the iconic Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. Founder DJ Snuff, original coördinator Kissy K and new organizer, former UK champ and world runner-up Mas Law opened up the contest, not only selecting emcees they know have the skill but for the first time offering emcees from around the UK the opportunity to audition to come test themselves against other lyricists and the deadly rounds of the Emcee Challenge.
For those who don’t know, the EOW emcee challenge was born in New York in 2000, a part of what became the longest running open mic night in the world. The first one contained Immortal Technique and was won by Webbafied, and the contest has since featured some of the best underground emcees in New York. The contest aims to evolve the emcee battle beyond clashing, instead incorporating 5 rounds – performing a written, spitting a capella, the freestyle grab bag, MC vs DJ and a 4 or 8 bar cypha. Named after what it is, the competition challenges and pushes emcees to display a range of skils – writing, flow, projection, stage presence, audience engagement, genuine freestyling and the ability to ride any beat. Anyone who can make it through this contest without fucking up can at least start to call themselves a master of the craft. The contest has since spread to 25 countries around the world across 5 continents, each holding regional heats then national finals leading to the annual EOW World Championships that are held in the country selected by the former champion. UK emcees – Stig of the Dump (x2) and Jack Flash – won the first 3 of these World Championships, so we’ve got pedigree and levels to uphold. They have been in the past, and judging by 2017’s 1st heat, they will be again.
Setting the tone for the rest of the competition, heat 1 contained some serious talent. What was most interesting was the variety of styles of those involved, all highlighting different approaches to Hip Hop and to spitting.
The ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ member is a seasoned lyricist and battle champion, winning events like Battle Scars over the years. He spits rugged, multisyllabic, imagery driven lyrics, often over raw, dark Wu/JMT inspired production.
2. Raspect Fyabinghi
This dynamic, rebel minded emcee is involved in a number of different groups, within and without music, fully aimed at creating change for people of African origin in particular and humanity as a whole. He’s become best known as a pioneer of revolutionary Grime
A freestyle poet from Brighton, Gramski has travelled the globe spitting bars in clubs, at festivals and on beaches. Having lived in Vietnam for years working as a resident DnB emcee, Gramski has performed alongside some legendary DJs including Goldie
The youngest emcee in the contest, Jacob has been honing his skills for a few years now, writing and creating as much as possible aiming to make a name for himself in the UK Hip Hop, UK Rap and Grime scenes.
On the night, the contest was properly close. All the emcees were mostly consistent across each round but shone in different areas. Menace and Raspect stood out in the written round, with Menace performing characteristic complex and cinegraphic lyricsm over a gritty instrumental, while Raspect took the roof off with his underground Grime banger ‘Tendai Mwari’. Raspect kept that level up on the a capella round with a heartfelt verse dedicated to his brothers who are locked up and who have passed on. It was a difficult performance to beat, but Gramski stepped up and did it. With the letters ‘M’ and ‘C’ written on his right hand he spat a machine gun flow using 90% words that began with those 2 letters. This weren’t no empty gimmick – everything he said made complete sense, was articulated perfectly and expressed what he feels it is to be an MC. This was probably the baddest performance of the whole heat.
In the next round, the Black Santa Kissy K brought out his grab bag and Menace Mendoza stepped up in a serious way. Living up to his alias The Urban Yeti, Menace come out hard, never breaking the stride of his flow and using the objects he pulled to produce some serious raps, not just focused on the tools but going beyond them – starting and ending the round chanting ‘What the fuck you got in the bag Kissy’!!
In the MC vs DJ round, DJ Snuff did his best to test the emcees flexibility, dropping Jungle, Grime, Hip Hop, Trap, Afrobeats, some instrumental shit and more. Each man mostly dealt with it, but Jacob and again Menace being the most consistent. The young emcee in particular looked at ease on the range of beats, especially the newskool Wavy and Trap shit, while the battle vet drew on his own background of freestyling over DnB to stand firm. The cypha round concluded the challenge with all the emcees kicking 4 bars in rotation, with every man doing their thing.
While the judges deliberated, Mas Law come out to perform riddims off his new album ‘Watership Down’. Naming his album after the beloved (and violent as fuck) novel and animation – Mas goaded the crowd to ‘follow the rabbit’ as he ran through tracks. Showcasing his own versatility (as you’d expect from an EOW champion), the tunes were on a wide variety of topics and styles of production. The biggest was the final track ‘EA Sports’ “I’m in the game” that got the crowd and his New Guardz fam going mad– watch for that one when it drops!! The house band then opened up the mic to other artists in the building, with Soul singer Femi Santiago and 2 sisters (who’s names I don’t know!) standing out amongst the emcees.
After deliberating, the judges on the night announced the winner. With a gap of just 2 points Menace Mendoza took the win, with Raspect coming in 2nd. Menace was rightfully rewarded for his consistent high level across the 5 rounds. How close the difference between first and second was showed just how high the bar had been set and how deep Menace’s performance had been to come out on top. Menace will now enter the UK final – to be held in August – where he’ll compete for a place in the 2017 World Final, this year held in Prague, Czech Republic.
Places are still open for the next few heats, so if you think you can compete and want the chance to perform in Prague, contact EOW London on one of the socials below. Heat 2 is on May 25th, alongside EOW family member Consensus’ album launch. See the flyer underneath for the details.