Tonight (at 33rd Realm) and Saturday (at Club Underground), the rap battle league No Coast North is staging The Invasion. Set to be one of Minnesota's biggest rap battle events of the year, The Invasion matches up some of the state's best talent, squaring them off with some of the hottest names in battling.
One local battle veteran set to step into the ring Saturday is the Vesh. A longtime battle favorite going back to the Scribble Jam days, his success in the rap battle scene's various forms has made him one of Minnesota's most prolific and respected battlers. Known for some of the sharpest, most well-constructed punchlines on any card he's booked on, Vesh has also had success with his comedic timing in the world of stand-up comedy.
We spoke to Vesh, who faces reigning No Coast North champion, XQZ, this Saturday, about how his style's evolved over the years and what impact being a family man has had on exchanging barbs with opponents.[jump]
Do you recall the first battle you ever saw?
The Vesh: If I look all the way back, it was probably Eyedea at the Blaze Battle. My family had cable, but we would only get HBO on the free weekends. I remember getting ready to leave with a bunch of friends and seeing [Blaze Battle] on HBO telling them, "Wait, I got to see this." That was Eyedea winning the Blaze Battle on TV, and that was pretty cool.
Were you familiar with Eyedea before that battle?
No, not until then. But he was probably my biggest influence and role model, and he's still my favorite battler of all time. From then on, I started to investigate the local hip-hop scene. I didn't realize how much of a scene we had in Minneapolis until [then] and that's what got me into it.
Were you ever able to meet Eyedea at any point?
I was! I actually rented some studio time from the studio built into the basement of his house. He was really cool about helping out me and my friends. He showed us his Blaze Battle jacket and the trophies. I tried to look as cool as I could because he was the man, he was the one I looked up to the most. That was a really cool experience, really nice guy.
I remember we were in his house and going through the session, and he came down with a plate of spaghetti. I didn't think anything of it, like, it was his house, he's having dinner, and he said "What are you guys staring at? Go have some spaghetti!" He made dinner for all of us, he was just the nicest guy. From then on, I'd see him at places like the Dinkytowner and he'd say "Hey Vesh!" He was an interesting, very unique guy.
You were a part of the early 2000s Minneapolis battle scene, as well as the Scribble Jam battle scene. You're one of a very select few who made the transition from then into the a cappella battles. Why do you think you were able to transcend battle eras?
Well, the audience for that era of the on-beat freestyle battle has gone away a bit from the mainstream. They still do it, but even in Minneapolis, you're not going to find too many freestyle battles. And now, people just expect things to be so on-point, that if anybody messes up a little bit in a freestyle battle, they don't allow you to come back.For me, when I was doing the freestyle battles, my strategy was all punchlines, which translated into the a cappella battles really well. When you're doing punchlines in a freestyle battle, the set-up isn't almost as important as — if I'm saying a punchline and getting a reaction from the crowd, that applause is going to keep going but I have to keep rapping because the beat is going. The nice thing about a cappella battles is I can get that crowd reaction, wait, and then I can do my next set-up. [page]
What makes No Coast North different from other battle leagues?
I think No Coast is a battle league that doesn't take itself too seriously. It creates a fun atmosphere. It can be aggressive in terms of how you're battling, but it doesn't have that animosity. It's got a great fanbase, a diverse crowd, and No Coast is just a laid back fun competition in terms of everyone having a good time. That's the kind of battling I want to do.
Saturday you're facing reigning No Coast champion XQZ. Have you ever battled him before?
I have not. This guy is very similar to me, so I plan on taking some interesting angles. I've been trying to reshape my battle persona and be closer to the type of person I am. I want to be able to look back on these battles and be proud of what I'm saying. Somethings I've said in the past are just not things that reflect who I am and I justified it by saying "It's just battling." Not any more. I want to step-up myself and do something different.
What lead to this change in your battling approach? Is it the family life?
Yeah, a little bit. It's just, in hip-hop the biggest thing is keeping it real. That's what I do with stand-up too. When you start, you're writing little weird things that you think are funny. When you go to open mics and see first timers, a lot of times it's real offensive, and they don't know what to do, they've just seen other comedians. Same thing with battle rappers. I just realize good or bad, who I am, I have to do that.
Whether it's good or cheesy, the goofy dad is who I am. I want to be me, and I don't want to get under people's skin in terms of making them mad. I want to make up a strange dialogue about my opponent, I was to do new things that in battle rap haven't been done. Battles can be so homophobic and, some of the things I've said in the past, I'm not proud of that. It's got to change. Otherwise, battling's going to keep delving into this awkward, offensive homophobic chauvinistic, "Here's what I did to your girlfriend!" I want to be better than that.
For additional information and the complete schedule for No Coast North's The Invasion, go to NoCoastComo.com.
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