QOTR: Femcee Battles
Many complain that the music industry is doing an injustice to Hip-Hop fans for the lack of female rappers in the game. On the battle scene, the statistics are even smaller. Rarely have we seen it from a female’s perspective until QOTR, the newest platform that affords female MC’s an opportunity to prove their skills in the ring.
The battle scene has always been instrumental to the progress of Hip-Hop culture. Just think about it; Some of the most infamous moments in Hip-Hop spawned from battles on wax. Boogie Down Productions vs. The Juice Crew, LL Cool J vs. every-damn-body, and of course, the epic Nas vs. Jay-Z battle kept heads on the edge of their seats for years. Battling on wax always brings an energy to recorded music rarely heard, even on the liveliest of records, because it’s all about proving one’s self. It’s not about the catchy hook, or being a radio smash. It’s simply about bodying someone so badly, that they either return more lyrically vicious than before, or they’re forced to off their careers as rappers.
Now envision that kind of energy live on stage. Imagine how the crowd felt at Summer Jam 2001, when Jay-Z performed “The Takeover”. Or for older heads, when Kool Moe Dee called out Busy Bee. The feeling Detroit kids got watching battles at the Shelter when Eminem was still proving himself long before The Marshall Mathers LP. Must we even discuss Nicki vs Kim? There is just something about the battle world that will always be a source of intrigue and a necessary element of the art form. And finally (and thankfully), there is a place for the ladies who rock the mic to spit crack sans judgment, bias and bullshit—the usually cattiness that comes with being a female MC on the come up.
No doubt women have been putting in unrecognized work on the battle scene since it began. Legends like Roxanne Shante and Queen Latifah battled on the block before getting deals. Eve spoke of having to battle every MC in Ruff Ryders before they would even sign her. For many MC’s, male and female, battling is how you prove yourself as a lyricist and performer before you get major recognition, in hopes that someone will take notice of your skills. While Battle Rap Leagues like SMACK/URL and Grindtime are the biggest names doin’ it right now, let’s be honest: you’ll be lucky to catch a dope female battle once every blue moon. In comes Queen of the Ring (QOTR), the world’s first all-female Rap league, which features a roster of at least 15 chicks that will take your fuckin’ head off.
Founder Vague already had King of the Ring (KOTR), when his future business partner Debo approached him with the idea to launch its female counterpart. “KOTR was doing well, but I just thought that the idea of having an all-female league would be some new shit we never really saw before. So I nagged Vague about it and eventually we had our first event with two battles in US Fitteds in The Bronx,” Debo says.
That was less than a year ago and QOTR has already established itself as the premier breeding ground for female MC’s. Rappers from Detroit, Philly and all over NYC have stepped into the ring in an effort to get their weight up. Babs Bunny, best known for her days as a “bad girl” in Diddy’s Da Band, is now co-hosting the battles with Vague. Former battle rapper Lady Luck has come through to show support, as well as Cormega and a countless other top tier male battle rappers, which begs the question, how do men view all of this? “Honestly, I mean, most of the URL niggas show love, you feel me? They come to the battles and support; it’s all good. I haven’t heard any bad feedback from anybody,” says E-Hart, one of the first MC’s to battle in tonight’s QOTR.
Why would there be bad feedback? As with everything in this world, haters are inevitable, but to be a battler is to be an underdog which is what ultimately keeps leagues like this tight knit. Regardless of gender, everyone is trying to make it. However, you can’t help but wonder how MC’s in KOTR feel about QOTR taking off even before they have, especially since they’ve been established longer. Debo explains the difference. “QOTR has far overshadowed KOTR since it started. That’s not to say KOTR is garbage or not up to par, it’s just that we’ve all kind of seen guys rapping before, you know? QOTR was a fresh, new idea that created a lot of fans that weren’t there before.”
Most say they heard about QOTR via word of mouth and went through the audition process to get their chance on stage. Some were virgins to the battle scene, while others battled on their neighborhood blocks and in project hallways before making it into QOTR’s ring. The key to their success thus far is the diversity of their roster, which is hard to come by at local open mics or just standing in front of your mirror with a hairbrush. From the rapid fire attack of Norma Bayts to the slow and steady poison of Matrimony, there’s a variety of styles that continue to bring QOTR and its lyricists new fans regularly.
“For example, if you go to SMACK, you have one first lady. Go to Grindtime, and there’s one main girl doin’ it. Here, you have options like ‘Oh, I don’t really like her style, but the other one is nice,’” Debo explains of what sets QOTR apart from other Rap battle leagues. “That’s what brings in new fans and brings in more female MC’s wanting to battle in our ring. There’s a better pool of competition here, the type that could battle niggas and give you a show.”
Yet, the idea that these ladies could beat some of their male counterparts in a battle may be hard to grasp for some, even for a few of the movement’s supporters. One reason may very well be the notion that female MC’s don’t write their own raps, especially when it’s praise worthy. “It’s a compliment, and it’s stupid,” says Brooklyn bred Jaz The Rapper. “It’s like they saying a guy wrote it for you because it was that good, but it’s a compliment because they saying you['re] nice. If they accuse you of that and you write your own shit, then you know you['re] nice. If you don’t write your own shit, that’s your business, but I don’t respect that.”
While the industry has always been a hard road to navigate for women in the game, the battle circuit does offer a greater opportunity to be notice. But truthfully speaking, in some ways the battle circuit is no different. “The hardest part? Every nigga wanna fuck,” says Mt. Vernon rep Shooney Da Rapper. “You finally find a studio to record in, and niggas wanna call you at four in the morning like, ‘What you doing?’ Nothing nigga, get the fuck outta here!”
Norma Bayts from the BX chimes in clarifying the real issue when it comes to being a female MC period. “The problem is the respect level. We got this cliché that [especially as battlers] we don’t have the platform. But we have it now through QOTR, so we gonna take it to the next level with our heels on, iron fists and these bars, feel me? We gonna get it in to the point where you have to respect us.”
Watching some of these battles, you would think they lack respect for each other, but it’s safe to say that most of the animosity stays inside the ring. There are some unspoken rules for what is considered off limits, like not raising topics about dead loved ones, but very little else fits in the “going too far” category. According to Bronx bomber Chayna Ashley, it really depends on the contender that’s placed in front of you. “If we cool, then we gonna keep it straight bars. But if I don’t like you, I’m violating you, period.”
That’s not to say that every battle is a slugfest. In fact, there are a few who don’t take the opportunity seriously and spit hot garbage, but that happens in every league at some point. For the girls who do take advantage of the platform, the experience is invaluable. Ask them and they will tell you that stepping into the ring, both literally and figuratively, can be a career changer if you play your cards right.
Located at Aaron Davis Boxing Gym in the Bronx, NY, the current home for QOTR and KOTR, Debo claims the fans love the theme, and seeing the girls go at it in the ring. Now, thanks to QOTR, the best femcees on the circuit no longer have to play the cute chick in a crew, but can body the stage all by themselves. Debo sees this as a massive opportunity, one he hopes will help to expand the brand and its reach in the near future. “Eventually we want a bigger venue, bigger crowd, better AC [air conditioning]— all that. But for us to be less than a year in, I think we’re alright. [We] still a long way to go though. I just want all the girls to step it up because we’re trying to do a QOTR Mixtape and make some even bigger moves real soon.”
Images by Kevin Amato exclusively for STARK.