By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
Being "in the zone" is a big thing among battle rappers, although Britney Spears has probably ruined that phrase for all of us in six short weeks. In-Q calls it "the most freeing feeling in the world. At that point, nothing is scripted and you couldn't even stop it if you wanted to. There'll be a lot of times if I say individual,' I automatically know that rhymes with indivisible, visible, invisible, intellectual, habitual, whatever. There are certain punch lines I have that come off, like, I'm invincible, you're invisible.' But if you really get into a zone, you let yourself go completely."
Says Doane, "Most battle rappers have stuff in their head they can fall back on, but they all talk about this zone they can just float into and all this new stuff just starts coming out."
He cites one Hispanic rapper named Raffi as being "the jazz version of battling because he's so intellectual. Sometimes he can go over some people's head because there are some battlers that can be like, You breath smells like doo-doo,' and then you got someone like Raffi putting in amazing pop culture references and becoming like a human thesaurus. Sometimes that can get lost."
Occasionally, rappers try to stack the deck and bring their friends to cheer even their dumbest couplets.
"It's essentially cheating," says In-Q. "When you bring a bunch of your boys to the battle and they're cheering you when you say something like, Your rap is wack,' that's not a punch line. That's part of the game. If I'm in a battle and the dude brought a bunch of his friends, I'll push even farther to turn his friends to my team. The best thing in the world is to be in a battle and say something so ill that boys of the boy you're battling start to smirk. You see the twinkle in their eye and they start to cover their mouths. You said something so sweet but they can't really show it, but you can tell."
Unlike competitive sports, there are no real rules in battle rapping. A certain amount of self-policing is involved, however.
"I'm more of a reactor-y person," admits In-Q. "I take it as it comes. If someone disrespects me, I'll get right back in his face. I tend not to touch the person first. I give them a certain amount of space. What I do is try to pull them out of their zone. If they say something, I'll talk over them to see how focused they are. If they say they're gonna fuck me, I'll be like, Go ahead and do it,' just to see if they can stay in their zone. I don't really have a code of conduct. I'll talk about people's mother, brothers. I don't give a shit."
"I think everyone polices themselves only based on how the crowd's going to react," admits Doane. "If you're going up against a girl and all you're talking about is gender, people are expecting that. Or if you're going up against someone who's got dreadlocks, you should be careful not to have a thing about dreadlocks because everyone knows it's coming. If everything is going good and you got the crowd on your side, then you bring some of the obvious stuff in."
"Generally, the more jokes you have, the more you win," adds In-Q. "My style tends to be more lyrical. I'll throw in some jokes, but I like to fuck with the rhythm. A lot of people think it's just a comedy session that rhymes. And people who are able to stick on the subject of clowning their opponents tend to win the battles."
While In-Q has seen his share of battles break out into fisticuffs, the only time things have gone beyond the usual battling tension happened, ironically enough, right here in temper-filled Tempe.
"What's the strip with all the college places?" he asks. "Mill Avenue, right. I was there with a buddy, [local rapper] Mia Mind, going cross-country three years ago. We were chilling and ended up getting into a battle with some dudes very randomly at a coffee shop.
"When [hip-hop's founders] started this thing in the Bronx, did they ever imagine that two cats would battle outside a coffee shop in Arizona? There's no way they'd imagine that! Before I knew it, we were talking about moms, neighborhoods, and before I knew it he pushed me. So I fuckin' hit him over the head with a metal chair. We got into a fight with six guys. When people lose a verbal argument, they want to take it to a physical level. Damn, my ego's been bruised, at least I can kick this dude's ass.'
"When I battle people who aren't good, I battle just good enough to beat them, but I don't rap great," he continues. "But when I battle rap someone who's amazing? Man, I kick up my level."
In-Q has only recently come back to battling, having spent the last couple of years recording his own hip-hop albums and helping to spearhead the Poetry Lounge, the largest poetry lounge in the nation.