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Write-Up: Star Power (cortez)
Cortez’s recent battle with Philly legend, Cyssero, on URL’s Summer Madness was nothing short of a great performance, especially as it relates to Cortez. This should be very encouraging for him because for the past few years Cortez has been the poster child for shit throwing. Though, this is not his fault entirely, it is an unfortunate truth.
A few years ago I wrote an article on the Brooklyn battler, Cortez’s Uphill Battle, and explained that it seemed as though no matter how good he was he just didn’t have that “it-factor.” I was convinced back then that he didn’t possess the spirit of an All-American champion that you find on a box of Wheaties. That was two years ago, and after a slew of battles, some good and some not so good, I’m not convinced anymore that his inability to climb battle rap’s hierarchical ladder rest solely on his shoulders.
The Cyssero battle brought mixed reviews. For the record, Cortez clearly won, but even in his victory he can’t seem to outlive fan’s denial of his accomplishments – just read the comments section. It’s so painfully obvious that even Chris Unbias, someone who has been critical of Cortez in the past, made these same observations. However, this situation brought me to this question. Are our expectations of battle rappers unreasonable?
Battle rap nowadays makes me think about the music industry and how it works as a conglomerate that attempts to monopolize our thinking on how music should be heard or what we as consumers should be listening to. This sound is hot. This isn’t hot. This is alternative. This sound doesn’t make money. Believe me, I get it. It’s a business and businesses have to make money, but who we make stars isn’t always about talent as much as it is about a bottom line. For this reason battle rap concerns me because we’ve become a microcosm of the industry that we claim to dislike.
“If it ain’t on URL it don’t count,” is the moniker we use to tier the value of battles and battle rappers. It’s almost as if to say, “if it ain’t platinum it don’t count,” or, “if it ain’t on the radio it don’t count.” If this sounds eerily familiar it should. It echoes the tyranny of corporatization and how it has helped to microwave the quality of music into formularized, prepackaged material. Because of this, the URL has inadvertently become the unofficial “corporation” of the battle rap industry. URL is the machine by which all must be tested to have some kind of credible standing in this field – or at least that’s what’s being pushed on us. This account does have some validity. P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes, Drake, Jada Kiss, and even Kevin Durant frequent or have been to URL events. No other league can pull this off like the URL and that’s a fact.
URL wasn’t the first league in battle rap but they are the league that proclaims to be the best, and many would agree. Because fans have placed URL on a pedestal it’s hard for them to value anything outside of it on the same level. That being said, by this same standard, any battle rapper that enters this league and doesn’t have “star-quality,” not talent, to compete with URL “star” battlers, will soon find themselves slipping into a barrage of fan hate mail, and ultimately into oblivion – unless, of course, you’re a “star.” For example, Harlem-legend, T-Rex got washed by Charlie Clips, clearly beaten by Danny Myers, and arguably beaten by newcomer, T-Top, all in a row, and because he’s “Rex” to fans it doesn’t matter because he’s insured by star-power. Star power in battle rap is the Holy Grail. It protects your status when you lose, or when you can’t even rap. It’s a license to do anything without severe consequences.
What sucks about us chasing after the stars is that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy a good battle. Our expectations have become like that of a music executive who only wants hit after hit, after hit, no matter how diluted the music is. Then we tend to forget about people who actually put out good work because we’ve conditioned our ear to hear a certain tune.
The hypocrisy of the standards by which we judge battle rappers like Cortez is that we say we want someone with bars, metaphors, stories, punches, stage presence, someone who is anti-industry, but what we really want is a star with that “it-factor,” whatever that is, whose appeal is defined, outlined, and pushed on to us by the industry. Although Cortez is a URL rapper, fans judge his star power based on a URL measuring stick, which for him and others like him is unfortunate, because they will always find a reason not to like him.
Cortez vs Cyssero – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-qkYxqtPZg
© Copyright Eddie Savoy Bailey III, 2015