After 6 months of emcee challenges, 5 heats and 1 epic UK final End of the Weak London had (re)crowned the 2017 EOW UK Champion. Having fought off the some incredible competition in the form of heat winners Menace Mendoza, Dr Koul, Emerge MC, Huski88 and Watusi87, South London’s Gatecrasherz reppin’ Gee Bag stepped up and successfully defended the title he’d won in 2016. He’d won the opportunity to represent the UK in the 2017 EOW World Final in Prague and attempt to improve on the 4th place position he’d achieved in 2016 in Geneva. Accompanied by organisers Mas Law, DJ Snuff and Kissy K as well as myself, Gee Bag set out on October 22nd for a week of pure Hip Hop vibes in the lead up to the End of the Weak World Finals on the 28th.
From what began as a humble open mic in New York City in 2000, End of the Weak has grown into a truly international organization and the World Final is genuinely a global summit of dedicated Hip Hop heads, community organisers and some of the most talented freestyle emcees on the planet. The host chapter takes on a the huge responsibility of accommodating, organising and entertaining around 100 emcees, DJs, B-boys and B-girls, graffiti writers, camera teams and other organizational members from competing countries. It’s a huge task, and this year the Czech team did an incredible job, planning and executing a full itinerary of raw, pure Hip Hop for everyone involved to enjoy. A lot of building took place across nations and scenes, with everyone involved fully engaged in the true spirit of Hip Hop and of EODub.
We opened up the week with a headline performance by Mas Law at Prague’s Freestyle Monday. EOW Prague organizer Metodej Constantine has been running Freestyle Mondays for 7 years, ever since he returned to Prague after representing the Czech Republic in the 2010 EOW World Final in Berlin. Similarly to EOW, the concept was founded in NYC but has taken on a life of it’s own in Prague. Live musicians, jam sessions, freestyle competitions and international headliners makes for a wild night of Hip Hop, and with the EOW Final in the same week this event did not disappoint. As soon as we walked in the door, we were greeted by EOW family members from Prague, Switzerland and Belgium before being asked almost immediately, ‘you wanna freestyle?’ Gee Bag, Kissy and myself jumped on stage with Low G, the 20-year-old champion from Belgium and put down some bars with the band. Every man went in and Low G showed why he was in the World Final. He’s only been spitting for 2 years, but can freestyle like a pro in English and Flemish, moving effortlessly between the languages and regularly flips his flow into double time. He was joined by another dope emcee, Samoerai, an OG of Belgian Hip Hop and a veteran battler who again is bi-lingual and can freestlye in English better than a lot of emcees I know in London. It was a great introduction to 2 dope spitters.
After the band was done, there was a dope performance by American emcee Johnny Youngblood, who put down heavy tracks, some raw, some comedic, blending in different influences and styles. The crowd were nicely warmed up for Mas Law to come through and shell it down – and he did just that. Bringing his trademark versatility and energy, Mas ran through a crazy set with raw bars, and knowledge, mad stories over Boombap, Dub, Ragga, Trap and Grime influenced beats on tracks like new ‘Putting in the Work’ and ‘Fucking Good’. Spreading love in the way he does, Mas brought me and Gee Bag on stage to perform too. We both did solo tracks before I jumped on Mas’s ‘Warrior’ and Gee B joined him on the absolute banger that is ‘EA Sports’. Like every crowd I’ve seen this performed to, the audience was going mad, spitting the catchy hook with Mas and vibsing out. The stage got killed.
Between performances and cyphers, there was also an auction of a beautiful piece of artwork to raise money for a charity called ‘Whisper’ and a cause that EOW/Freestyle Mondays Prague has been supporting for years. Having made a strong connection with EOW Uganda in 2010, Metadej and the team routinely raise and send money to help support a children’s hospital in Kampala. It’s a genuine, grassroots effort to help vulnerable people who need it, bypassing corporate charities who claim to do these works but do little to actually help, so the money goes directly where it’s needed and to people who can really use it.
Spin Radio ‘Street Cypher Show’
EOW Prague organizer Anna hosts a weekly radio show dedicated to local and international Hip Hop on Spin Radio 96.2FM on Tuesday nights. All the champions from the chapters who’d made it into town by this point descended on the show to be interviewed and perform on air. Low G represented EOW Belgium alongside organizer DJ Proceed, Dzon Ass repped for EOW Prague, and Gee Bag was interviewed alongside EOW Montréal champion Basics. We’d met Basics the night before when the delegate from Qubec arrived at freestyle Mondays. These brothers were mad cool. With a big Caribbean community, we’ve got a lot of similar slang and it was dope to hear these dudes spit bars in French and English in French-Canadian-Caribbean accents, a real mix of flavours.
Alongside the champions, EOW founder and ill emcee Vice Verses had touched down to help with proceedings and gave a dope interview on the history of the organisation alongside Sammy Jackets, EOW France’s first organiser, the first outside of NYC and one of the keys to EOW’s international success. All the interviews gave a real insight into EOW and into each champion’s personality and personal journey. Basics story was particularly interesting; he’d never left Canada before and winning EOW meant that Hip Hop had taken him on his first international flight to his first international performance, something that many champs from around the world have been able to say over the years.
After the interviews there was a crazy cypher with all the champs and organisers, emcees from 5 countries freestyling in 3 languages. Gee Bag (UK), Vice Verses (US), DzonAss (Czech), Basics (Quebec), Low G (Belgium) and, after coming straight from the airport, underground EOW/NY/Brooklyn legend Poison Pen. This brother was one of the first EOW champions and has worked with heads like Immortal Technique, MF Doom and MOP. Every man went in with punchlines coming in from all over the place. Some highlights (from the lyrics I could understand) were from G Bag “I doggy more than homeless muts” and Poisen Pen “You go get someone, I’m the someone that son gets”. Madness!
University of New York in Prague
As well as a dope presenter and Hip Hop connoisseur, Anna is also an academic, currently completing her PhD in Sociology focusing on the representation of women in Czech Hip Hop. Through her department she arranged a public lecture at the university, where each champion who had made it by that time had the opportunity to speak. Gee Bag, Low G and Basics were joined by Osyris Antham, the New York champion (direct from the airport) and Dandyguel, the host from EOW Paris. The panel gave in depth insights on their personal careers, their relationship with Hip Hop, how they viewed the culture now and how women are perceived within Hip Hop. It was an interesting discussion and was a great opportunity to see a side of each finalist that we might not have been able to see otherwise.
After a questions and answer session from the audience, the champions were asked to give a freestyle on a given subject. Gee Bag went in off the top, spitting about family, Low G rapped about love, Dandyguel spoke about his view on women in Hip Hop, Basics spat about the influence of the police as an institution’s influence on Hip Hop. Osyris stole the show though, despite having 2 hours sleep and having just come off a 20+ hour flight, he dropped an incredible freestyle about colonialism. The standout line was “[indigenous Americans] got blankets infected with lime disease and all types of chicken pox, now we eat diseased food out a Popeye’s chicken box”. Crazy!
The event was another success and attracted the attention of a load of the universities students, especially when after the talk, in true EOW style, a dope freestyle cypher kicked off outside. We saw a lot of the faces from that talk at all the other events in the week.
It’s become customary at EOW World Final weeks that the emcees and producers assembled come together to create tracks to commemorate the occasion, and like most things at this year’s final, the recording session was taken to another level. Metodej had secured 2 dope recording studios connected to one of Prague’s biggest music stores Kytary.cz on the outskirts of the city. All the champions recorded a track together, and all of those who had made it at this point were filmed putting their verses down. This included Rox, Switzerland’s champion and the 3x French champion, 2x World Champ Rez, who had flown in the night before. 5 other tracks were recorded, teaming up emcees and singers from every nation involved. They’ll all be released on an EOW 2017 World Final EP.
Warm Up Party – Cross Club
After the recording session, there was another show, this time at Cross Club a really creatively designed venue. The outside was covered in intricately woven steel pipes while the inside was like a maze, with 2 rooms for events in the basement and rooms to eat upstairs. The stage got blessed, first by Baxter Wordsworth, the lyrical ninja and EOW NY host, who brought incredible energy to the stage. Next up was a performance by the only female EOW World Champion in history, K.T. Gorique from Switzerland. This sister is a force of nature, and she shut down the show with her mix of vibes, blending Hip Hop with Afrobeats and different electronic styles. KT Gorique was followed by one of the Czech Republic’s biggest emcees, Rest. They crowd loved him; they room was rammed and the clearly talented brother had the crowd eating out of his had, reciting his bars and reacting to everything he said. After that Poison Pen, who got the crowd hyped with his pure Brooklyn, ‘don’t give a fuck’ bars.
DJ Snuff was spinning for Pen and stayed on the decks doing what Snuff does; laying down wave after wave of dope riddims. He set the tone for another marathon cypher with emcees from all over the world before staying on for hours, blessing the Czech crowd.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the night, Sammy Jackets had been targeted by police and arrested. In an environment where 80% of the people were smoking ganja, police had rolled right up, arrested him and ended up detaining him for possession. This was the first negative thing that had happened the entire week, and amongst all the love we’d be shown by Prague’s Hip Hop and wider music community, an uglier aspect of Czech society had now exposed itself. Our EOW Prague family informed us that this is something that happens too much in their country, that Africans, tourists or residents, are often targeted and racially profiled as drug dealers. This is something we as people of African origin have to deal with all over the world, but it still hurt to see one of our family treated this way when we were here for a celebration of Hip Hop and global unity. The next 3 days would be spent trying to get Sammy out, and it put a real dent in the vibe of the event. Despite the frustration and anger, we weren’t going to let racist police derail the World Final. ‘Free Sammy Jackets’ became the slogan of the rest of the week.
Warm Up Party – Vzorkovna
On the night before the World Final, EOW Prague had set up an event for each chapter to showcase the artists who’d rolled to Prague. It started of great. The Netherlands team and their Champion MC Gyver had arrived and set off the event with mad energy, moving fluidly between different languages and rocking the stage with a real hardcore style. The French team stepped up next, but as they were performing, the racism of the society we were in exposed itself for the 2nd time in 2 days. A bouncer on the door caused altercations first with Poison Pen and then with Gee Bag and his family who had come to Prague to support him. The bouncer refused to let Pen exit the club to make a phone call, and then refused entry to Gee Bag’s wife and sister, on both occasions telling them ‘this is Czech, you must speak Czech’ – something he hadn’t felt the need to say to any of the other white, Asian or lighter skinned people talking English, French, Dutch or Flemish in the spot.
In the spirit of EOW, nobody hesitated and we left the club, taking a huge percentage of the crowd and the line outside with us, humiliating the bouncer in the process. We moved to another venue after having a dope a cappella cypher in one of Prague’s central squares, with emcees dropping bars inspired by the events we’d experienced and educating the big crowd that had formed about why it’s important to fight racism. A one off cypher in the street isn’t going to rid Prague or anywhere else of this shit, but it felt good to see the reaction of the Czech people who’d followed us out, and the way they and others who’d gathered embraced what we were saying. Again, racists had attempted to disrupt the vibe, and had failed. We moved to another spot, had another dope cypher and then EOW UK laid down some more fire for the people.
With the week done, all that was left was the World Final on. Despite the events we’d been to and performed at all week being insanely well organized, with big crowds showing a lot of love, none of us expected the World Final to be quite as good as it was. Lock back in for part 2, where you’ll get a full breakdown.