Long before competitive battle leagues and international MC-showdowns, there was one battle-rapping championship to rule them all. Jump Off TV’s World Rap Championships were modern battle rap’s genesis, and the 2007 incarnation was particularly influential. Five years later, its influence is still felt.
The WRCs were the brainchild of Jump Off founder Harold Anthony, who wanted to evolve their weekly London rap battles into a formatted league-sport with different regions competing for prizes. “We were the first to introduce fouls [penalties for disrupting the other MC’s performance],” he remembers, “and we had a point system, but we left it open to the judge’s interpretation.”
The inaugural 2006 Championships saw an American and British division of fan-selected teams of two MCs competing in round-robin tournaments, with the winning teams squaring off at the finals in Las Vegas for $50,000. Being its word-of-mouth and rapidly-increasing viewership helped create an even more ambitious tournament the following year, expanding to eight divisions including Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, London and Melbourne. The winning eight teams flew to New York for the finals; for the first time, the entire rap battle world was watching.
“Everything was very structured,” remembers rapper Jaze Juce who made it to the final round alongside Frankie Wapps before losing to Illmaculate and The Saurus, “It was as professional as a battle rap event could be.” (All-time battle greats including Craig G, Pumpkinhead and Poison Pen were judges.) The event provided worldwide exposure for the talent involved (“My MySpace plays jumped from a small thousand to the 50,000 range,” remembers Juce), but it was not without its controversies.
“Craig G had approached Frankie and I after our first battle with the Australians and his exact words were ‘The fix is on,'” recalls Juce. According to the participants and judges, rulings were inexplicably overturned. “After one or two decisions, we were like ‘Did you vote for this guy?’ ‘I didn’t vote for him,'” remembers judge Poison Pen. “Once it seemed dudes were making their own decisions, everybody was kinda like ‘fuck this’ and every MC that [lost] didn’t automatically think they lost.” During the resulting commotion, a bulk of the footage of the day’s battles were stolen and still haven’t surfaced to this day. (Of these controversies, Anthony has no comment.)
But while the stolen tapes loomed over the final bouts, it didn’t come to define the WRCs’ legacy. “The story goes that the tapes went missing and that’s why we didn’t come back and do it again. That’s not the reason,” Anthony clarifies, “The reason is we couldn’t afford to do it again because it was such a huge cost.”
While the 2008 World Rap Championships never materialized, the attention gained and relationships made from that one-day tournament blossomed into today’s current crop of worldwide network of rap battles, including King of the Dot and Grind Time. Still, the WRC may not be down for the count. “We’re really looking forward to bringing them back,” Anthony says. “We’re doing a lot of restructuring and we’re looking for sponsors. But there’s a lot of fans, a lot of MCs and we feel summer 2013 is the time to bring it back.”