Special Events

Three Houston MCs Battle It Out In The Red Bull Batalla

Reverse and Arlington MC Zazo Wan face off at the Red Bull Batalla in Dallas.
Reverse and Arlington MC Zazo Wan face off at the Red Bull Batalla in Dallas. Photo by Oscar Lozado
In 1971, a group of people gathered in Selsey, a small seaside town south of England, and held the Birdman Rally.People would come out with their homemade gliders and launch themselves off a pier to see who could go the furthest distance. For years the group competitions progressed resulting in elaborate costumed participants operating intricate flying machines.

Then in 1992, Red Bull, a young energy drink brand, hosted a rally, calling it the Flugtag which was German for flight day. For years the competition grew with the brand until its height in 2012 when 220,000 people arrived in Cape Town, South Africa to watch and participate in the show.

Hip Hop is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It started with groups of black and brown children in the New York boroughs and eventually branching out to one of the most commercialized artforms to exist, touching every part of the globe. Freestyle rapping has always been a major part of the culture, with competitions happening in many countries in multiple languages.

In the Spanish-speaking world, Cuba, Argentenia, Mexico and Spain have been separately developing their own styles of battle rap. In 2005, Red Bull started Batalla de los Gallos and organized a world final in Puerto Rico. The same company that has put together the Flugtag, Soundclashes, Grand Prix's and Cliff Diving competitions, has been directing its energy toward Spanish battle rap with positive results.
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MC's face off for a chance to represent the United States in Columbia.
Photo by Roger Ho
Red Bull Batalla events are held in multiple cities including Houston, which hosted a competition back in August where three Houstonians continued to the semifinals. In the end Reverse, an MC representing Cuba by way of Florida pulled out the win over Zazo Wan and will go on to represent the United States in Columbia. MCs Lies, White Caracas, and Estany represented H-Town and their respective countries of Honduras and Venezuela with pride and, while they didn’t pull out the win, there’s plenty of promise for the future. A quick search on YouTube shows that Batalla competitions are packing stadiums overseas so the potential for growth stateside is undeniable.

The fact that so many countries are represented gives another edge to the battle which Cuban, one of the crowd favorites, spoke about before the battle.

“You have to be careful,” he said as he took a break from strategizing before the show. “Everyone speaks Spanish, but different countries and regions have varied slang and dialects. I might say something that would get a huge response in Cuba but people from another country wouldn’t care. You have to keep those types of things in mind when you go up on stage.”
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MCs perform in front of an audience of spectators as well as an audience of their peers who cheer and boo onstage.
Photo by Oscar Lozado
It’s an added spin to a competition that a lot of people are already familiar with. In true battle rap fashion MCs face each other and try to use their wit to gain favor with the crowd but there are challenges that Batalla throws at them. Various rounds have the MCs going back and forth finishing each other’s rhyming pattern, rapping about whatever topic is given to them by the judges, or picking random items out of a box and having to incorporate them into the battle.

Red Bull has had a lot of success tapping into established cultures and presenting them to the rest of the world. Sound Clash originated from dancehall culture in Jamica. The Birdman rally was just a group of people meeting in England to launch contraptions off a pier. Soapbox racing started gaining popularity after a photographer took a picture of some boys racing their homemade cars down a city road in Ohio back in 1933.

What Red Bull has done is taken those cultures, some niche and some already popular, and helped to display them to an even wider audience. It is only a matter of time before the same thing happens with the Batalla here in the United States.
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Houston Press contributor DeVaughn Douglas is a freelance writer, blogger, and podcaster. He is 1/2 of the In My Humble Opinion Podcast and 1/1 of the Sleep and Procrastination Society. (That last one isn't a podcast; he just procrastinates and sleeps a lot.)