Sage Francis vs. Esoteric

THROWBACK CLASSIC! A look back at the Super Bowl Battle from 1999, featuring two emcees with some of the most successful post-battle careers.

This weekend is Halloween, a time of the spooky, the scary and the supernatural. While there are plenty of unsettling things that have been said in rap battles over the past three decades (and of course costumes), we figured this week we'd skip the festivities and look back into the archives from two artists with some of the most successful post-battle careers in the history of the craft.

With Sage Francis currently on the Going Through Hell Tour (which brings him this Friday to Portland’s Port City Music Hall with Metermaids, B. Dolan and BRZO) and Esoteric hot off the release of his second Czarface project with 7L and Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck, we’re looking back at their classic Super Bowl Battle from 1999.

As you may have been able to guess from the almost decade-old dates on the YouTube uploads, the Super Bowl battles were among the most respected and distributed (or bootlegged, if you’re nasty) rap battles of the turn of the century. Taking place the day of the Super Bowl at Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Western Front (which closed after 46 years in 2013), the Super Bowl Battles were not only an evening of the Boston scene’s who’s who under one roof, but became a destination event for emcees trying to make their name across the country, including Jin and Rhode Island’s own Sage Francis.

You have to appreciate the quality of this battle and the way it was shot. Along with the fly-on-a-wall angle capturing the aura of the battle perfectly, the positioning also immerses the viewer in the wall-to-wall packed elements of late '90s underground hip-hop counter-culture. With the Internet just emerging, this national notoriety through hyper localization really made the Super Bowl battle special, evident by how we're still talking about this battle more than a decade-and-a-half later.

Two very different and very unique styles squaring off in such a high stakes environment makes for some of the best battles, and this was no exception. Given both have some of the most devoted fanbases in all indie-rap, online comments are divisive, and rightfully so. Both were at the top of their battle game and absolutely brought it, with the third round determined to just edge it for Sage. Given the career that both emcees have had since, it’s a testament that a battle this great isn’t even in either of their Top 5 most notable accomplishments. Still, it’s one of the last classics of the tape-trading era, and essential viewing for indie-rap and battle fans alike.

Every Thursday, posts a classic battle that you should know about, or at least be reminded of occasionally. See them all here.