Battle rap has always operated at the margins of the mainstream, not quite breaking in, but for at least one battler, that has the chance to change. Tsu Surf is becoming a star not just in battle rap, but in the mainstream rap industry as well, and is in the running for a coveted spot on XXL’s Freshmen magazine cover. Surf’s popularity has even grown to the status where Cleveland Cavalier point guard Kyrie Irving is giving him a (rare) assist, asking his 2.73 million Twitter followers to vote for Surf for the cover:
Surf’s ascension in battle rap wasn’t an instantaneous thing, but the one performance that elevated him to new levels is arguably his well-received battle with Big T. It was originally supposed to go down at URL’s first event in Detroit, “Motor City Mayhem” in November 2011, but a legal incident prevented Surf from making the event. Instead the battle went down the next day in a one-off setting at the Burn Rubber shoe store just outside of Detroit.
With URL returning to the small-room environment with March's successful "Born Legacy 2," the legacy of T vs. Surf is still felt today. It’s certainly not the first battle to have gone down in this sort of environment, but with how well the setting was received, it was important in shaping the argument for smaller venues for certain match-ups.
This battle did wonders for Surf’s battle career, as it immediately catapulted him into the top echelon of battlers in the world, with his next five URL main-stage opponents being Conceited, Hollow Da Don, Charlie Clips, Hitman Holla and Tay Roc. His role in producing this classic caused fans to want to see him in these high level match-ups, which in turn elevated his career even higher.
As good as the clash was on Surf’s end, it’s not like this was a one-sided affair. T brings a relentless energy and some massive haymakers to the small venue. The ease with which T flips between funny and hard-hitting punchlines is really something to behold. Against a weaker opponent, T would have simply overwhelmed him. But against Surf, it was simply one side of a classic battle with incredible replay value.
Even four years after dropping, the battle maintains its relevance. In many ways, it was a changing of the guard. This was one of those battles like Chilla Jones vs. JC or Rum Nitty vs. Danny Myers, where in hindsight the substantial impact it had on their careers is obvious. Big T now battles several times a year, traveling all over the country (as well as to Canada and the U.K.), and as Tsu Surf’s battle and music career continue to progress, we can look back at this as the moment when he went from well-respected battler to superstar.
In another respect, we see how often this kind of environment leads to classic performances — something to think about with the debate between big and small rooms having such relevance in 2016.
Vote for Tsu Surf for the 2016 XXL Freshman 10th Spot here.
Every Thursday, BattleRap.com posts a classic battle that you should know about, or at least be reminded of occasionally. See them all here.
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