Schoolyard taunts used to be basic: ancient accusations of milquetoastdom that evolved into combat-boot punchlines and “ya mama” jokes. Then came the advent of the hip-hop freestyle battle, which raised the bar substantially. To deliver a suitable insult, one suddenly had to not only keep up with a beat, but develop a rhyme scheme to boot… and all of the top of one’s head.

Freestyle battles date back to the larvae stages of hip-hop (see the Cold Crush Brothers versus the Fantastic 5 on the basketball court in the 1983 film Wild Style), but especially after the Eminem film 8 Mile, freestyle battles are now a staple of regional hip-hop scenes. For the past three years in San Jose, this has manifest itself as Battle of the Zae, a no-holds-barred, face-to-face onslaught of verbal destruction. This year’s big draw is a rematch between Tiger Ty and Dirtbag Dan (pictured together, above), but there’s no telling what sparks will fly throughout the all-day event. The a capella battles are vulgar, funny, creative, crude, and smart, and though the language and subject matter of the rhymes means you definitely don’t want to bring Mom along, it’s the place to be to see 22 of the South Bay’s best improv rappers shutting each other down.

Battling Off the Dome in San Jose 29 September,2014Gabe Meline


Gabe Meline

Gabe Meline is KQED Arts’ Senior Editor. He lives with his wife, his daughter, a 1964 Volvo and too many records in his hometown of Santa Rosa, CA. Find him on Twitter at @gmeline.

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