By battle day, I’m requiring a steady intake of tea and honey just to keep my voicebox oiled. To start the morning with a warm-up, I arrange to go on Jam’n 94.5’s Ramiro and Pebbles show to challenge the crew’s intern Problem Child. When I get there, I discover him duct-taped to another intern in celebration of Gay Pride Week — which makes for good practice in the sort of reflexive heterosexism that I shook cold turkey years ago. In a two-round bout that Ramiro deems “the worst thing I’ve ever heard,” I serve Problem Child with a spiel ending in “Eat my meat.”
Now I’m one for one, but I need more-relevant practice scenarios with actual rappers to help curb the anxiety that I’ll surely experience sparring at intimidating distances, so I invite rappers from across the local scene to an open cipher at the UnderGroundHipHop.com retail store. North Cambridge MC One Mike and his Calvery crew go hardcore, Awkward Landing brings abstraction, Rheto and T-Ruckus straight-up frighten, and notorious street champ Game Boy delivers the sort of clever zingers I’m expecting to face off against. They all take it easy on me, but it boosts my confidence to hang with such assorted styles.
By check-in time, I feel prepared. At the recommendation of an experienced battle rapper whose name I won’t mention, I scribble on my notepad some key words for my dozen-or-so pre-cooked one-liners (i.e., “Menino” triggers “You’re trying to come at me on some Al Pacino/But with those marbles in your mouth you sound more like Tom Menino”). The brackets get posted, and I’m to battle someone named Kalab in the first round.
I lose the coin toss, so I have to spit for the first 45 seconds, after which he responds for the same duration before we do it all over again. Since I know ahead of time that his name rhymes with “shish-kebab,” I concoct a line about eating him like one. Between that skewering and a snap about being nervous like his mom at a church service, I woo, then lose, then win back the crowd, all over the course of 45 seconds. Fortunately, Kalab isn’t half the lyrical threat that his all-black guido tuxedo, thick arms, and North Shore coif suggest. He comes with some swift but inaudible rhymes that draw enough boos for me to trump him over a heavy Mobb Deep beat in my reply, which he can’t top in his second turn. Just like that, I advance to the round of eight.
My second opponent is Seventh, a textbook white dweeb with scuffed running shoes, murky eyeglasses, and wings peeking out of his awkward mesh trucker’s hat. It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable adversary. I lose the coin toss again and lunge in with a blow about how he belongs in the nerd section of the club. It kind of bombs, but I have enough stamina to run the distance. In his turn, Seventh pokes at my pink sneakers and erect nipples, which are poking through my Mickey Mouse T-shirt. I come back with some lame threats; his rebuttal is decidedly mediocre. Unable to agree, the judges send us into a tiebreaker, with him serving first.