A diverse group of contenders Friday night packed the stage of The Blue Note, preparing to duke it out in another No Coast Battles. Host Macy Pruitt stepped up to the microphone and declared the night "the biggest rap battle event in Columbia history." Opening for Indyground rap talents Steddy P., Earthworms, Dallas, Abstracked and Farout, and guests Fresco, No Coast Battles occupied a larger venue than ever before.
"This is an unprecedented type of event," said rapper and No Coast founder Kelly Betz, aka Dr. U.G.Z. "There is, that I know of, only one other place in the world that has this big of a crowd for a rap battle."
In addition to the new venue, No Coast tried out a new format, putting the battlers on stage with microphones. To Betz, this seemed like a natural progression for their pre-written, pre-rehearsed format. Although most battling scenes still focus on the element of freestyle, No Coast aims for a more organized arena feel to its events.
"By taking away the beat and the improvisation, we're making it a bigger deal," Betz said. "It makes it much more about the performance itself and the comedy. It's more of a direct focus."
Until recently, neglecting the traditional freestyle format has been considered a major faux pas in the battling world. Betz said the scene is still small, but the pre-written format is on the cusp of taking off, having become more acceptable within the past two years.
"For us, it's the difference between jamming in your basement with a roommate and deciding to make a band and write some songs and add an audience," Betz said.
Friday's event elevated the audience participation element to a new level, for which Betz and the other No Coast rappers are aiming. The night saw hundreds of fans crowding the floor of The Blue Note, a far cry from the 30 people No Coast saw at the first few battles.
The event brought 30 rappers together, including the group's first national acts, Fresco and Ryebread. Haling from seven different cities, the night's rappers represented a variety of geographical locations, social circles and levels of expertise.
"Some of us are real, gritty rappers that do a battle every weekend,” Betz said. “Others are theatre majors that are just doing this for fun.”
With the flip of a coin to determine who would go first, the night's battles were under way. Local talent Abstracked took the mic first, facing off against Betz. The two took turns trading insults and crafting rhymes in three 60-second rounds.
"This isn't even close to beef, if anything it's lunch meat," Abstracked rapped.
After the first three of five celebrity judges gave their votes to Abstracked, the battle was over. The doctor had been trumped at his own game.
Abstracked, Stoney J., Al Hendi, Hindu Rock, Mantra, dB and Dr. U.G.Z. (in his second battle of the night) all took home wins Friday night, having proven themselves No Coast rap champions. The biggest victory for all the No Coast rappers was the event's success. Occupying their largest venue yet and hosting their first national talents, Friday night was a big leap forward in the eyes of many No Coast rappers.
"We are very quickly becoming one of the best rap battle leagues in the world, as far as the amount of talent and the crowd and the enthusiasm," Betz said. "We're on the up and up and we are blowing up."
To view Friday's show and other No Coast rap battles, visit www.youtube.com/nocoastraps.