After 5 crazy heats, where the level of freestyle and lyricism has been off the chain, Mas Law, DJ Snuff and Kissy K had found 5 champions to compete for the coveted title of End of the Weak Emcee Challenge UK Champion 2017. Having witnessed each heat myself, I can tell you that each of these champions had thoroughly earned and truly deserved their place in this final and the opportunity to compete for their place at the 2017 EOW World Finals in Prague against the best freestylers the EOW international community has to offer. After seeing off competition from 14 other ridiculous emcees over the last 6 months, the champions of each heat and UK finalists were:
Heat 1 Champion: Menace Mendoza
Heat 2 Champion: Dr Koul
Heat 3 Champion: Emerge MC
Heat 4 Champion: Huski88
Heat 5 Champion: Watusi87
A couple days before the UK Final at Hootannay Brixton on September 28th, Mas Law announced that 2016 UK Champion and World Final 4th place taker Gee Bag would be entering the final to defend his crown. This added an extra dynamic to the event…anyone who was gonna take the title would have to defeat not only 4 other heat champs but the current UK champ…the pressure had been turned up.
Before the event even started the venue was nearly full. Merciful Music’s monthly fusion of Jazz, Hip Hop, Reggae, Jungle, Afrobeats and more draw audiophiles and partygoers from across the world regularly, so it was the perfect spot for the Emcee Challenge. While the venue got busier and the buzz started building, I interviewed the finalists for GlobalFaction and you could see that they were all focused and ready for the contest. Each handled the situation in different ways, some cool and calm, others gassing themselves up, some had studied their opponents, others had deliberately not, but they all knew what anyone who’d seen the heats knew…this was gonna be a close and serious competition.
By the time the final got started, Mas and Kissy had been warming up the crowd nicely and introduced the judges, Peaches, Femi Santiago, Skandouz from FRSHRZ and ConSensus – 4 heads who all know their way round a mic. The stage was set and the first round could get underway.
Round 1 — Track
All the emcees went hard but they also displayed how different their styles are. The finalists came out in heat winning order, so Menace Mendoza kicked off proceedings barring over Mobb Deep’s Hell on Earth (RIP Prodigy) and set the level HIGH. With characteristic complexity and content, Menace walked the balance between rawness and insight, he looked like he was rapping on the edge. He burned the beat and then went a cappella to finish his verse when he ran over time and the crowd showed their appreciation. Dr Koul stepped up next, putting some soulful flows over a soulful production. Rapping about his ethnicity and views, he spat about spitting out any silver spoon he was born with and threw one into the crowd to demonstrate his point. Emerge MC showed just how far he’s come as a lyricist, spitting a verse that encapsulated his style; intellectual, road, funny, outward looking while introspective in equal measure. Huskie88 spat punchline after punchline, mixing cockiness with perceptiveness to have the crowd reacting a good few seconds after he dropped a gem and had them bussing up and whiling out at the end of his verse. Watusi87 came with the style he embodies – soulful, uncompromising truth wrapped up in an effortless, natural flow that had the audience clearly contemplating things at the same time as just enjoying the vibe. Then came the reining champ Gee Bag with his smooth, suave flow sitting like a saxophone in the groove of his jazzy boombap beat, placing whitty, ear-catching lines into the listeners ears. Gee got a wild reception from his hometown south London crowd and the first round showed immediately that if there’d been any doubt, this final was gonna be a madness.
Round 2 – A Cappella
The lyricist round. No dope beats or vibes to hide behind, just you and the mic. Now, most emcees will come with a carefully crafted bar and that’s usually the way to win this round. But coming back in reverse order Gee Bag took a next approach. He stepped up and put down a fire freestyle, referencing things in the room from the smoke from the smoke machine and myself (behind my camera) and ripped it, barely breaking stride. It could have been a verse most emcees are proud of writing, all of the top of the dome. The rest of the mandem came with a more traditional approach. Watusi88 came with a dope concept, focusing his words on the letters P R A G U and E (if you don’t clock it the jokes on you). He stumbled a little bit at the start but saved it and the concept alone deserves props. Huski88 came back with his trademark style “I came out of the blue like a Smurf bred me” one of many crazy lines in a verse of dope wordplay. Emerge MC and Dr Koul repped in the way I like to see in this round. The Ginger General came with a deep verse called ‘A Letter to Me’ about battling his demons and responsibilities, pointing out his flaws and strengths and trying to fix his life with a blunt, straight to the point flow. The Swiss born emcee produced some spiritually and politically charged social commentary about life’s struggles and trying to remain hopeful and mobilized towards making change. Menace came back on stage with his rawness and multis, calling out dead emcees while dropping some reality raps about those deprived in the UK. Every man smashed it and the level was maintained…this was way too close to call so far.
Round 3 – Grab Bag
The Black Santa Kissy K pulled out his bag of…acquired goods ready for the freestlying to properly kick off. Emcees HAVE TO go off the head in this round and it’s no easy task. Huskie88 kicked it off in style, unflinching with a consistent flow and no breaks, rhyming about 2 DVDs, a can of sweet corn and a hacksaw! ‘I’m a sociopath and evil, don’t talk to me feeble, I’ll use this to cut off both of your legs and we’ll no longer be equal, there will be no sequal”. Dope! Emerge held the levels up, barring about an Illmatic vinyl sleeve, a feather duster, some kinda air freshener and a little trophy. He spat that it was a sign ‘written in the cards, freestyle no written with the bars, Champion give me the crown, I’ll pack my suitcase, 2 shoelace, toothpaste, I’m going to Prague with these bars. Fire! Gee Bag stepped up next and went in. Nearly every rhyme was a multi, and that aint easy for a freestlye, about instant coffees, an oven lighter, a bottle of water and some aftershave. He read the ingredients off the coffee jar and spat about spraying the aftershave…downstairs! Dr Koul followed rhyming about hairspray, a beer can, an ice cube holder and a mug – dropped in that he was sippin’ on his tea – appealing to the UK audience. Watusi88 put flows down about 2 magazines, a Prague guidebook and an apple. His best line was ‘I go deep like the core, deeper than before, deeper than you’ve ever seen before, might take a bite, tastes kinda nice’ – he bit that apple then was freestlying with a mouth full of apple! Madness! Last came Menace Mendoza, and he took the round. He came through terrorizing Kizzy, robbing his bag and telling him to get off the stage, then went on to do the whole round by himself – he turned ‘the bag grab to a bag snatch’!! He spat about a clock, some lingerie ‘my girl wouldn’t fit in this, she’s way too big, batty’s too big and crisp’, toilet wipes and a plate. He killed it, a dope idea and pulled it off perfectly.
Round 4 – Emcee vs DJ
Legendary DJ Jazz T can be an emcees greatest asset if he spins for you, puts cuts down on your track, producers your beats and more, but in this round he’s an MC Killa, it’s the work of a Masta. Seeing as it was the final man didn’t hold back. Gee Bag was up first and came in hard, double time flow again laced with multis, he slowed the flow down flawlessly as Jazz switched it. Gee’s flow is crazy and he hit up every track like it was a recording before going in with pure freestyle a cappella until Mas had to stop him, man coulda gone all night! Huski87 went next and threw down the challenge to Jazz T – ‘I’m a musician by trade so I’m training, so I don’t mind what you’re giving, I mess with time signatures for a living, I’ll burst any riddim’. He started off doing just that, going in with dope lyrics and flows, but then he slurred a couple lines, stopped and said he’s failed. He came back in hard but it was the first slip up he’d made all night, saying ‘Jazz T – you need prayer’! Dr Koul killed this round in the heat and he did here too. Spitting before the first beat even dropped, he caught it perfectly and then kept coming with his laid back, funky flow, matching the beats that Jazz served up. From slow to double time and back, he went in on one nice horn driven beat, on a kinda spoken word tip that sat nice in the rhythm – it was dope. Menace came back on the stage with a brandy going in on a boom bap beat, then got given a dope 80s electro beat and matched the flow after a tiny pause. Jazz then dropped him a slow beat that he opened up on with nuff room to freestlye – you could see he enjoyed it. Watusi88 got blessed with a dope jazzy joint that matches his style. He was in his element, then Jazz switched it into a next boom bap classic and upped the speed steadily. Watusi matched it as the tempo went all the way up like a master, then Jazz dropped in some glitchy beat that kinda caught him off guard. He recovered nicely though and got through to the end unhurt. Emerge came through lastly, going in over a Jehst classic, saying ‘I’m the champ’ – running with his early prophecy. Jazz started cutting up the riddim, throwing Emerge off, so he turned it to a battle and told Jazz to bring it. Jazz gave him some DnB that he handled with ease but then Jazz put down something at a mad awkward tempo, Emerge hesitated a bit until he caught it but he did it, finishing the round strong. Jazz T had put every man to task and they’d held it up. The contest was still ridiculously close going into the final round.
Round 5 – Cypher
This round is all about kicking off the last emcees word, the 4 bar cypher round. It’s important to make it clear that the spirit of EOW is unity through competition, this is not a battle round. However…with a lot on the line, testosterone and adrenaline pumping, it aint always easy to keep it that way! With emcees of this level with battle history it was always gonna be on the brink. From the first round, the flows and bars were wild…there was a few subtle cocky lines that pushed the boundaries. By the 2nd time round mandem were battling and full blown dissing. I can’t lie, it was DOPE! Some of the punchlines were ridiculous, like a lyrical all-on-all. Only a couple man weren’t sending for others and I think that might have influenced the judging of the final result.
A big reason why this round aint a battle is because the kind of emcee we normally get in EOW aint the types of dudes to get dissed and not do something about it…this aint a middle class Hip Hop organization, certain heads are rough. Things did get a bit heated, but in the true fashion of Hip Hop and EOW it all got straightened out and everything was love after a few minutes.
While the judges got on with adding up the scores, the rest of us were treated to some more high caliber musicianship. Mas Law, backed by a ridiculous lineup in his band ‘The Masses’ stepped to the stage, adding a beautiful live dynamic to Mas’s already energetic stage presence and lyricism. Mas and The Masses were followed by a crazy duo of musician/producers Blue Lab Beats dropping some ridiculous live Jazz infused Hip Hop, as the name hints at. After that, my mind was blown by the music of Theon Cross and his tuber, sax and drum trio. The level of skill and innovation the three brought to the stage was insane. They had the whole crowd moving with a mix of original compositions and covers, including I Wayne’s ‘Can’t Satisfy Her’. If you’re interested in real music and real talent, keep your ear out for all three of these groups.
After literally hours of deliberation, the judges put their scores in. The totals were stupidly close, but it showed how much skill these emcees have and had displayed on the night. I’ve been attending EOW events since they first came to the UK, I’ve been to nearly all the UK Finals and a few World Finals. This was hands down the best competition I’ve seen so far. Every emcee should be proud of what they put down on the night and know that they are masters of our craft. But there had to be a winner and the final results looked like this:
1st – Gee Bag
2nd – Menace Mendoza
3rd – Huskie87
2016 champion Gee Bag successfully retained his title after consistently killing each round. His flow, lyrics and freestyle ability – highlighted in the a cappella round especially – showed how rounded he is as an emcee and how as well as being a lyricist, he’s an entertainer with the ability to draw in an audience. I think crucially, refraining from the battle that burst out in the cypher round also helped him win, and I don’t mean for that to take away from his victory. Gee deserved his win and I know he’s going to be properly focused on taking that global title in the UK Finals in Prague on October 28th. Keep locked in to I Am Hip Hop for the results and – if you’re properly on it – we’ll see you in Prague.