Shawnskie vs. Chaz Kangas

THROWBACK CLASSIC! contributor Chaz Kangas reflects on one of his own battles from the freestyle era.

This week’s my birthday and, given my years in the battle circuit, I thought I'd do something different and give a throwback personal look into what the battle circuit looked like before the YouTube era. While I’ll fully admit a good chunk of you reading this have probably never heard of this battle, it’s the circumstances of what the freestyle days were that led to its creation.

I’m originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Home of Prince, Rhymesayers and essentially a suburb of Canada. I started battling in junior high, and because of how passionate and connected our hip-hop scene was, began watching battles through trading bootleg VHS tapes that would take weeks to make their way to the Twin Cities until I was eventually old enough to attend battles myself. I moved to New York for college in 2004 where, given there being many more battles in the five boroughs as well as up and down the east coast, I was able to really become active and battle at two or three different locations each week.

I was home in the summer of 2007 between semesters, which this year happened to coincide with the chance to compete in the Twin Cities Celebration of Hip-Hop preliminary battles. I hadn’t battled in my hometown since moving to New York, so getting the chance to qualify was really my first opportunity at a homecoming. It went well, and I advanced to the official tournament, which was really under dream circumstances. The battle was going to be on the first night of the Twin Cities Celebration of Hip-Hop Festival, at First Avenue (the club from my favorite movie, Purple Rain) immediately before Eyedea and Abilities’ reunion set. Having grown up always wanting to play First Avenue and looking up to Eyedea, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to show my hometown what I could do.

I wound up winning the whole tournament, defeating Absent (who had one of the best showings in the prelims) in the first round and the previous year’s winner Romes (who today battles for Loud Mouth League) in the finals. The semi-final, which was probably the best overall battle, pitted me against Shawnskie, a multi-time local battle legend and the odds-on favorite to win the whole tournament. I think you can really see both of our experiences at play, picking apart every single thing about each other that we could in front of an audience hanging on our every word.

While I haven’t talked to Shawnskie since the night this battle took place, I have to imagine on some level he and I are alike in knowing this was one of many battles for the two of us. We both had many other battles leading up to this one, and we both had many battles after. As fun and as passionate as one can be about battle culture, to some degree the process of getting on that stage and spontaneously insulting your co-worker is another day at the office.

But for me, the opportunity of doing my favorite passion at my favorite venue in front of my heroes makes this night really, really special for me. Whether they’re a global superstar or a regional semistar, I think all battlers have one of those perfect nights in their career. I don’t know what it is that makes somebody want to get on stage, knowing they’ll be insulted only to insult another person with the caveat of rhyming, but nights like this and reactions like that are a pretty good indicator as to why.

Sorry about the hair and the jorts.

Every Thursday, posts a classic battle that you should know about, or at least be reminded of occasionally. See them all here. Also check out Chaz's article on the modern-day freestyle scene.