New York City saw the launch of Total Slaughter on Saturday night, the much-hyped rap battle league backed by Eminem’s Shady Records. The event was a huge step towards bringing battle rap closer to a mainstream hip-hop audience, but it didn’t do so without a few stumbles.
BattleRap.com had a team on site and got a first-hand look at what went in to the event, as well as what came out of it. If you haven’t been following our coverage already, check out our preview and live updates.
The main theme leading up to the event was “industry rapper versus battle rapper.” Joe Budden and Hollow Da Don sparred on Twitter and in interviews for months before they finally faced each other in the ring. The narrative created a divide between the two types of emcees as fans debated the differences between them.
This event brought both camps back together. Everywhere you looked around the venue there were elites from the world of industry hip-hop and battle rap. Poison Pen, Drect, Star, Mz Gracie and Kid Capri judged battles together. Fans showed Aye Verb and Math Hoffa as much love as they did Kool Herc and Busta Rhymes.
The production values for the event were incredible. The setup at the Hammerstein Ballroom was a raised circular stage in the center of the ground level with standing room around it and three tiers of balconies with seats looking down on the action. We’ve had a chance to watch the pay-per-view now and can tell you it only captured a fraction of the 360-degree experience.
Our team arrived a few hours before the event started and watched as hundreds of professionals worked to make sure the machine ran on schedule. At precisely 8:00 p.m. the event went live, except for some fans who ordered the pay-per-view online. The issue has been addressed now, but it wasn’t the best first impression for people trying to watch at home.
Sway Calloway of “The Wake Up Show” hosted the event from the stage and Slaughterhouse’s Royce Da 5’9" provided commentary between battles with self-professed “battle rap hater” Ebro. DJ Kay Slay was on stage throughout as the referee. Eminem was originally slated to make an appearance but concerts at London’s Wembley Stadium got in the way so he instead sent a video message that played on the massive screen behind the stage.
ARSONAL VS. BIG T
First up was Chicago’s Big T against Newark’s Arsonal. This matchup was announced only a few days ahead of the event and Arsonal had said on Twitter that he was an 11th-hour addition with only five days to prepare. The short notice didn’t hurt him at all and he brought one of the night’s best performances. His delivery was dynamic, his content was disrespectful and his stage presence had the crowd in the palm of his hand, which he figuratively used to smack Big T around for three rounds. His “I’d do it right” angle about T surviving four bullets was especially cold.
Big T did his thing too and we’ve seen some tweets giving him a round. His delivery (which isn’t always clear to begin with), mixed with microphone issues and a hostile crowd, was a losing combination. He still got out some memorable lines, including: “I'm like what's-her-name on the shower rod, y'all expected me to fall off but I didn't.”
Judges’ decision: Arsonal
DAYLYT VS. T-REX
About a block away from the venue at Madison Square Gardens, thousands of wrestling fans were watching a WWE event as Total Slaughter was happening. That may have been a more appropriate setting for this battle. Daylyt took to the stage in an expertly-crafted, head-to-toe Spawn costume. He's said previously that his face tattoo is based on the comic-book character, a soldier-turned-demon who fights the powers of heaven and hell.
In an interview the day before the event, Daylyt told us he wasn’t bringing antics. In another interview before the battle (done while he was only wearing his underwear), he told us about his struggle with schizophrenia and of his intentions to be “the new Moses, the new Jesus, the new God.”
The schizophrenia talk reappeared in his third round against T-Rex, when he pulled out a pill bottle and told the crowd he was all out of medication. He then ripped his costume off piece by piece until he was again wearing only his underwear. He screamed “What is this?” repeatedly while convulsing and staggering around.
Did he shit on the stage and eat it? It certainly looked that way. But with Daylyt’s lengthy track-record of blending reality with theatrics, it’s hard to say for sure.
Either way, the crowd wasn’t feeling his third at all and let him know with heckles and boos. There’s a good chance his complex, bar-heavy style would’ve been met with the same reaction.
T-Rex did the same thing he did to get him to this tournament final: show up, spit cleanly, throw a few haymakers and let his opponent implode to get the win. Even with short rounds he caught the judges’ decision. We heard there was no official prize for winning the tournament beyond bragging rights, so if Daylyt comes out of this battle more famous than he was going into it then he likely considers it a victory.
Judges’ decision: T-Rex
LOADED LUX VS. MURDA MOOK II
This was the best battle of the night, partly because the lack of hype leading up to it meant that expectations were low. A lot of people counted Mook out after his sub-par performance against Iron Solomon in 2012 but he proved them wrong here.
The battle scene usually avoids rematches, preferring not to risk tarnishing a classic, but with so much history between these two rappers and so many changes in the game over the last ten years, this actually felt fresh.
Mook’s attack centered on Lux’s questionable character behind the scenes, his fluctuating identity and his hypocrisy for touting lyrical ability but using gimmicks in battles.
The crowd loved Mook. He was doing so well that some of his most ridiculous bars were getting more love than Lux’s best. He literally said: “You are more hypocritical (hippo-critical) than a dying hippopotamus” which was, as people have pointed out on Twitter, the same wordplay Don’t Flop’s Oshea used to make fun of the American style in a recent battle.
Lux kept things competitive in the first but lost the crowd in the second. By the third, it felt like he was only really targeting the people watching on camera. A recurring theme in his rounds was a coat that was allegedly stolen from Mook 10 years ago. In his first, he said: “Known niggas took a whole coat off you, not a drop of paint thinner.” Then in his third, as he was rapping about the coat again, one of his guys actually cames on stage with it wrapped in a dry cleaner’s bag and tossed it at Mook’s feet. It was a concept 10 years in the making and for that alone Lux deserves credit.
Mook rebuttaled it to start his third: “This my coat? Niggas robbed me? Y’all niggas stole it off the ground when I put it down to get it popping/Well since y’all got it here, for the last 10 years, I’ve been meaning to get some house keys out my pocket.”
Mook brought props of his own as well, pulling his hat off to reveal the do-rag from his early days and playing a long-forgotten verse of Lux dissing Busta Rhymes, who was there to hear it himself.
In an interview we did with Mook, he told us he planned on returning to active duty, so we may see him again soon.
Judges’ decision: Murda Mook
HOLLOW DA DON VS. JOE BUDDEN
Finally the main event arrived. And it was mostly underwhelming.
To be fair, with the amount of buzz building up to this matchup, it would’ve taken something enormous to live up to expectations. It’s even possible the final product didn’t make a huge impact because every fan had already imagined scenarios of how things would go down, predicting every possible angle and counter-angle.
Still, Joe Budden had some big moments. That he was able to make it debatable in the eyes of a lot of fans on his first time in the ring says a lot. His “here I go again making another bitch famous” line got the biggest reaction of the night. His “you the only thing that stay on lean but ain’t supported” was strong writing. And his “stop my time” slogan became a meme within minutes.
But as his performance wore on, cracks became apparent. He seemed over-rehearsed and unnatural at times in the first. His delivery became monotone in the second. He had a low-key meltdown in the third, threatening to quit rapping if people didn’t stop booing and then dropping the microphone when they only booed louder. Hollow picked it up and went on the attack for a few bars before Budden grabbed it back and finished his third round to close out the battle.
Hollow had his own issues as well. He barely moved the crowd in the second and they turned on him in the third. He was heckled loudly from several corners of the audience but powered through his material. The crowd was tough on a lot of rappers throughout the night, but this battle brought out the most vocal people from two groups: battle fans not impressed with Budden and Budden fans not interested in seeing him lose.
Regardless, when the official footage drops, we expect that everyone will still watch and debate for a long time. Even if it’s not one of the best battles ever, it’s still one of the most important.
Judges’ verdict: Hollow Da Don
When Total Slaughter hit the scene six months ago it billed itself as “The king of all battle rap leagues.” They made good on their claim with the pre-event media coverage and the sheer spectacle of the live show, but they still have work to do with crowd control and the quality and delivery of the actual battles.
Even if the biggest lesson was what not to do for the next event, it’s still a valuable one.
Here are some more of our photos from the venue. Find @BattleRapDotCom on Instagram for more.