The ability to rap is a gift, and the ability to rap on the spot with little to no preparation is one that sometimes gets under-appreciated. Rap isn’t just a musical talent, it’s a feeling. It tells the beautiful stories of life and all of its highs, lows, and everything in between. In addition to the talent element, it takes a certain amount of grit and toughness to not only make it as a rapper but to elevate to the point where you're performing on some of the world’s biggest stages. One of those stages is Red Bull Batalla, the world’s largest Spanish-speaking rap competition that gathers some of the best premier freestyle rappers on the planet to go toe to toe and put their talents on display.
Red Bull Batalla Is Ready For Big Things in 2021
If you are anything like me, then battle rapping isn’t an unfamiliar concept. I’m from an era (the early 2000s) where kids would rush from the school bus in order to be home in time to watch 106 & Park. The show, of course, was centered in the heart of Harlem eventually moving to Manhattan, and every Friday was “Freestyle Friday.” The segment mostly consisted of rising underground rappers who would square off in battles to determine the champion. “Freestyle Friday” was fun, entertaining, and full of musical prowess. Of course, you may have even been (or be) lucky enough to live in an area where battle rapping surrounds you every day.
Battle rapping itself is something that has been around for decades, and just about all of your favorite rappers have had to do it at some point. The ability to “spit” is largely determined by what you can do on the spot, and battle rapping is the ultimate test. Sort of like the concept of MTV Unplugged. Sure large-scale performances with insane production and effects were awesome, but if an artist could strip all of that away and perform only with a small band in front of an intimate audience—well that’s how you knew an artist was the truth.
Now let’s dive a little more into the importance of battle rapping. As mentioned earlier, it’s mostly freestyle, aka “from the top of the dome,” and back in the day, winners would get bragging rights for being the better rapper. To be successful, one has to know many different rap styles and have the ability to easily switch their flow and cadence while having memorable one-liners. You also have to know your opponent and be emotional while not letting your emotions get the best of you. Simply put—it’s a skill, and not very many people can do it.
That said, there is a small percentage of individuals in the world who can, and many of them will be gracing the stage as we kick off the newest season of Red Bull Batalla. Having been around since 2005, Batalla has provided a platform for the best hip hop improvisers in the Spanish world to connect, develop and compete, becoming the world’s biggest international freestyle battle competition.
The 2020 season was a record-breaking one, and Red Bull Batalla went through an intense process that required each MC to submit a freestyle video in order to select the competitors for this upcoming 2021 season. The submissions were judged and ranked by a panel of experts, and we spoke with four of them—Yartzi, Jordy, El Dilemma, and Jayco a couple of weeks ago in New York City.
Yartzi, who hails from Puerto Rico, is a 2x Batalla US Champion. Jordy is a 2021 competitor and 2019 runner-up. El Dilemma is the New York King of Spanish freestyle rap, and Jayco is a 2021 competitor. We talked to them about their personal rap battle journeys, and what they want the world to know about Red Bull Batalla.
ONE37pm: When did you guys first start battle rapping?
Adonys: I first started battle rapping officially about two years ago, but when you are freestyling, you are just going off the top of your head in terms of whatever comes out. I’ve been doing that since I was around 12 or 13.
Jayco: I started rapping when I was 14!
El Dilemma: I started rapping around 2007. One of my biggest inspirations is J. Cole, and that’s when I really began tapping into freestyle mode.
Yartzi: For me, I started in 2014. I participated in a National Tournament in Puerto Rico called the Punchline Master. It was my first-time battle rapping professionally.
ONE37pm: What is your mindset when you know you have a competition?
Adonys: Well if I know I have a competition in the upcoming weeks, I tend not to over-prepare myself because it’s too much of a synthetic scenario. It’s freestyle, so you just want to flow off the top of your head. I try not to bring issues from the outside into the battle because that can affect my way of executing an idea. In terms of preparing for the competition, I work on my flow, drill, cadence, and delivery, but there isn’t much. Obviously, you want to be knowledgeable about the things that happen every day in terms of history and geography, but for me, it’s more of a mindset.
Jayco: I go into every competition clear headed, and I always try to be culturally relevant to all different cultures so that way when I travel to these different countries I can connect with fans authentically. When it comes to my mindset, I try not to overdo it by competing in too many competitions, but I am always sharpening my toolset by practicing as much as possible.
El Dilemma: Same thing with me! I try to stay clear-headed by not bringing outside problems in and focusing on what’s ahead. When it’s time for a competition I avoid distractions and stay off social media.
Yartzi: My practices consist of exercises to have my mind stay sharp. I experiment with different formats and situations, and I practice mental agility. Anything I can do to stay on top!
ONE37pm: I know you all said that you try your best to stay clear-headed, but do you pull from your emotions and experiences when battling?
Adonys: I’ve actually done more emotional rapping than battling. I’ve been freestyling since I was 13, and I’m now 25. Out of these past 12 years, only the last couple have been battling. The other years were me having a bad day at work and rapping about it as I’m driving home, so that was my stress reliever. If it comes down to it again, I could do it and dig deeper, so it’s something that is natural for me.
Jayco: I’m an emotional rapper, and I channel that into my style and rhymes. My mood doesn’t make a difference as far as battling and being aggressive, and I use freestyle to let it all out and channel everything that I have been going through.
El Dilemma: My emotions run high when I’m battling, and I channel that energy back and forth. Battle rappers have got to have a lot of aggression when going against each other, and when somebody is going hard, you have to go harder. When I rap I have tunnel vision, and my focus is on my opponent and not letting the element of surprise get to you—especially when you aren’t on your home turf.
Yartzi: I definitely channel my emotions and experiences. You’ve got to have a lot of willpower, the ability to concentrate, and not give up when things get tough. The hard moments and the struggles are the ones that end up being the best battles.
ONE37pm: Last but not least, what do you want the world to know about Red Bull Batalla?
Adonys: Besides being a global phenomenon, I want for Batalla to be seen as an art form. You know Batalla is kind of like a sports competition, and Red Bull provides a great platform for artists to express themselves.
Jayco: Red Bull Batalla has provided a worldwide platform for 15 years, and it's a stepping stone for a lot of stars through the internet and social media. Batalla has helped put the culture on the map, and I think that is super important to help learn more about the rappers.
El Dilemma: I 100% agree! I want more people to know about Batalla in the USA because it is the youngest movement compared to when you look at other countries. Batalla represents the culture, and we’ve been doing it for a long time. There is a lot of potential!
Yartzi: Freestyling is one of the most impressive things in the world! You have to conquer nerves, have agility, etc., and it’s an impressive thing to do. The world has a certain view of rapping not requiring a certain amount of talent, and it is exactly the opposite. You have to put a lot of practice into it just like with any other career, and battle rapping is prestigious. You have to respect the discipline.
The largest Spanish freestyle rap battle in the world is set to kick off soon, and 36 rappers will have a chance to battle it out. The action starts on August 12th with the prestigious Twitch Battles, a bracket-style battle event where competitors will go face-to-face in battles captured in Austin, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. These 1v1 battles will be reviewed by a special panel of judges during a live event on the official Red Bull Batalla Twitch channel taking place on August 12 at 7 pm EST/4 pm PST.
The panel of judges, including former Batalla competitors Tito Yang, Kim MC, and Cuban rapper El B, will evaluate the talent and skills of the MCs and decide if one, both, or none of the competitors is selected to move on to the USA National Final. Judges will assess the freestyle ability of each individual MC, and not who beats whom. Multifaceted Argentinian artist and media professional Muphasa is set to host the live Twitch event.
Following the event, 13 lyricists will advance to the U.S. Finals in Los Angeles on September 18th. Additional information can be found below.
U.S. Finals | September 18
The 13 finalists who emerge from Red Bull Batalla Twitch Day victorious will go on to compete with the three returning finalists from 2020 for the U.S. Red Bull Batalla Championship, on September 18 in Los Angeles. During the competition, 16 will become one as the 2021 U.S. Red Bull Batalla Champion is crowned.
World Finals | December 11-12
Following the U.S. National Final, the respective champions from over 10 countries including the U.S., Mexico, Spain, and Colombia, will square off for the Red Bull Batalla World Final – where only one contestant can be crowned the 2021 Red Bull Batalla World Champion.
The Livestream of the 2020 Red Bull Batalla World Finals was watched by over 1.5 million concurrent viewers, making it one of the two most-watched music live streams of the year. To relive 2020 highlights, head to the Red Bull Batalla website. To learn more information about the 2021 Red Bull Batalla season, go here.