Shuffle-T vs. Unanymous is a hotly anticipated battle that sums up the U.K.'s bars vs. jokes debate (from maybe three years ago when there was any delineation between the styles) pretty neatly. Shuffle-T has had a meteoric rise to prominence alongside his 2-on-2 partner Marlo, and Unanymous is one of the hardest working battlers who has been a mainstay in the U.K.'s top tier since the very early days of Don't Flop. Both have styles that soundly counterpoint each other but both are fully capable of dipping a toe out of their comfort zones.
Shuffle kicks off proceedings with his trademark eye-rolling observations, and his deconstruction of how Unanymous would achieve one of his hyperbolic threats (using a pyramid as a bludgeon) is hilarious and delivered with absolute sincerity. A whole round on "things the opponent once said" can become tiresome, but Shuffle delivers his ideas and findings perfectly in this round.
Unanymous managed to sidestep the accusations of woman-beating with a deft religious flip (although notably didn't actually deny them) and then continued with a fluid scheme — maybe the most Unanymous round of the battle — crafting successful braggadocio from card-trick imagery. He then, brilliantly, went all Shuffle on Shuffle, accusing him of being not a rapper but a "multi-sayer" and playing out the scenario in a similar fashion to Shuffle's opener. Contrary to expectations, Unan actually played Shuffle's own weapons against him. He dips a little into Shotty's cadence at some points (the "gruesome structure/hoover suction" line was deeply reminiscent of the Manchester emcee's delivery) but he very much overcomes the expectations levelled at him in this battle.
Shuffle then took the drugs route — a once controversial angle that has since become ridiculous (which may have been part of the point) but approached it with enough humor that it was palatable. This stance wasn't really original enough for a writer of Shuff's reputation, but the individual lines ("Your cows talk about you 'til you come home") stand up so well on their own that you see past it. Also noteworthy in this round is a little nod to Marlo that echoes a line from the previous day's battle between Marlo and Pedro — it's great to see comedians in battling applying these touches to their brand.
Unan chose his second to play with his persona while simultaneously running some more bars out. I'm not sure he landed on either side of the equation — people didn't know whether to nod or laugh. But when he made a departure from punchlines into addressing the pressures of battling and the oversaturation of the scene, he really hit home. And I've got to say "I bet gluten makes their tummies restless" is the best gluten-based rhyme I've heard in a battle, even after Nils m/ Skils mentioned it against Uno Lavoz two years ago. Unan has actively toned down his presence and smartened up his writing, and as a result looks more composed and more plausible than ever.
Shuffle played the "I'm a pussy angle" well enough, and being consistently funny is nothing new to him, but his round really took off when he started breaking down how Unanymous is losing popularity. He was direct and concise and it was in this round the real battle was contained. When Shuffle wasn't eliciting laughs, he was eliciting oooohs and he gave his best solo performance in a while.
Unanymous had a wonderful third round, vividly painting a picture of Marlo's bachelor party and how jealous Shuffle would be as a result (even involving Marlo in a great twist) and his bars took a surprisingly incisive turn towards the end of the round. This is the best Unan third round in a while, and a brave one too — he thought from the brain and not the gut about this match-up and did everything he could to neutralize Shuffle's irony while holding on to enough of his persona to hold his head up at the end.
What's clear about this battle is that two years ago this would have been the style clash it was billed as. Now, it is simply a throwdown between two talented and versatile emcees who are constantly learning. It shows that the boundaries between bars/jokes, rapper/not rapper and real/not real are become paper thin, and that any comic types coming into the league now are soon barely going to have archetypes to subvert.
Unanymous won this. He came across with more confidence, better ideas and bigger surprises than Shuffle, and I think after this and 100 Bulletz Shuffle needs to start finding more oblique angles on his opponents as they are coming in with foresight and neutralizing most of his processes. He's still great, and his appeal and watchability have never dipped, but if he is after another Anton Murphy style bodybag (though he could still feel bad about that and may not be) then he is going to have to leave his comfort zone.
Great battle though, and one that sums up a great event.
This battle is available for on-demand purchase individually or as part of the entire event. Get it here.
All photos from Darren Johnson. See more of his work here.
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