I've never been to Mankato before, but the opportunity to cross this journey off my bucket list occurred in a big way last week when I was invited to attend a rap battle there in a tiny bar called Moonshiners. With nothing but some random grainy YouTube videos to prepare me for this adventure, I had no idea what to expect. Sure, I've seen the movie 8 Mile, but that movie came out in 2002, and besides, this is Mankato we're talking about, not Detroit.
While I was vaguely terrified of what I might find, I must admit that I had a thrilling time watching Mankato's finest do their best to say the meanest things possible to each other in front of a crowd of locals. I met some great folks and was shown nothing but hospitality by everyone but "that guy," but we'll get to him later. Without further adieu, here are the top 10 things I found at my first Mankato rap battle:
1. King Koopah
We arrived early and saw King Koopah already pacing the sidewalk outside frantically, and were told he had been doing so for “hours.” He was so hopped up that I was almost afraid to talk to him, but when I did I found that he wasn't scary at all, just generally excited and overcome by energy (natural or chemically induced, I could not say). After the battle ended and despite his eventual elimination in one of the final rounds, KK was still more than willing and able to freestyle. Just the sheer existence of this dude almost makes writing the rest of this list feel pointless. See for yourself below!2. Prince
OK fine, so Prince wasn't actually there, but this rap battle was unique in that each 45-second segment in which rappers had to tear apart their opponents were actually based on three topics chosen by the host and submitted by the attendees. Forty-five seconds is a pretty short amount of time to hit on three completely random topics, but this standard definitely caused things to become a bit more interesting. Prince appeared three times: The first as just Prince “the man,” and the second two times as “I'd blow Prince.” Insulting someone else in a rap battle by declaring that you yourself would blow Prince seems pretty confusing, but contestants seemed to make it work (i.e. "I'd rather blow Prince than ...")
3. A dead butterfly
The battle was actually taking place as per request of a certain birthday girl. As we were standing out front smoking cigarettes in between battle sessions, a man walked up cupping the most beautiful of dead butterflies in his hand. He explained that this butterfly had been found and kept safe in order to be presented as a gift to the birthday girl. I managed to capture a grainy image of him showing off his catch to a pirate-like man who parked himself outside of the event for a few moments, then disappeared just as mysteriously and silently as he had arrived.
4. Terrorist insults gone wrong
Apparently there was someone more politically-minded present, because one of the topics pulled out of the jar was ISIS. The official rap battle verse pertaining to said topic wound up being, “He claims he's the best / He couldn't even make it into motha' fuckin' ISIS.” As far as my opinion goes, I wouldn't exactly say that only the best make is into ISIS, but one other thing I learned at this battle is that insults don't necessarily have to make sense; they just have to rhyme. (Or not, because another line utilized within this same 45 seconds was “I took your mother to prom and left her there crying,” which didn't rhyme at all but did fall back upon the standard "your mother" insults, which are apparently still thriving in rap battle land.)
5. A bucket hat
Unfortunately it appears you will be prone to find bucket hats at almost any function pertaining to rap these days. In this case, the DJ was rocking one — made of a brown mesh material and complete with under-the-chin strap. According to this article from Complex, LL Cool J is officially credited with making this intriguing item a fashion staple of the rap game. For those of you who don't remember that far back in the game, just think about the boys of Odd Future, or even Schoolboy Q. Regardless of where it started, the bucket hat in rap trend is so pervasive that it has even invaded the Mankato battle scene.
6. Racial slurs that don't even make sense
One lyrical stab heard in a rap segment: “You're not as good as me / 'Cause you're only half-white at battling.” Come on dude, was that really necessary?
7. That guy
Yes, I am talking about that guy. The guy that is so drunk that he has no idea who or where he is, but is infatuated with you. That guy refused to leave me alone despite my pulling out all the stops — edging myself quickly away every time he approached, eventually physically pushing him away, literally telling him that I had a boyfriend, etc. Thankfully there was a woman there who noticed my distress and pulled my chair close to hers, then unabashedly proceeded to insult and threaten that guy until he sulked away, only to continue being "that guy" on the other side of the room. Will that guy remember his behavior and learn from this experience? Probably not. I think he was black-out drunk. Still, there is no excuse for being "that guy." Please take your weird creepiness elsewhere.
8. The weirdest insult: 'You're a masturbater / I'm an alligator.'
Yes, this one did come from King Koopah — during the actual battle, not on the sidewalk. Again, I'm not exactly sure how this is an insult to the opponent, but it does rhyme and it did make everyone go nuts. So in the end, KK won the round, which leads to my next observance:
9. Third-round tie-breakers
This is a thing that I don't really think should happen in a rap battle, but I can only surmise that they occurred because the crowd was being used as a judge. Therefore all the results of this battle are to be untrusted, because they were based solely upon the amount of friends a contestant had in the room at any given time rather than their actual skill at rapping.
10. M&M bling
My favorite insult throughout this battle wasn't even a verbal one. A certain contestant took to the stage wearing a chain with a bag of M&M's attached to the end of it. While his opponent was attempting to insult him, he paced around his small area of stage pouring candy out of the bag and eating it, apparently without a care in the world. I guess it doesn't matter what's being said about you or your mother, as long as you've got chocolate on hand.
Random notebook dump:
Along with the usual to-be-expected subjects that were pulled from the crowd-supplied topic bucket (big butts, hoes, tight pants, bitches), these were some of my favorite topics: Mt. Everest, Pangea, Richard Nixon's pubes, HTML, dentistry, lions, the Plague, unclogging the toilet, Captain Crunch, The Oregon Trail, and "coupon."
As usual, there was a certain point where there was a long line to the women's restroom so I decided to just "man-up" and use the men's room instead. I opened the door to find two guys in there seemingly just hanging out, who graciously exited and allowed me my privacy in the single-stall facility. When I opened the door to leave, the look on the guy's face waiting outside was priceless.