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March 25, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Editor's Note: Scroll to the bottom to watch No Coast in action.
The hard-hitting, underground rap battle scene that originated in New York has taken on a new form in Columbia. Kelly Betz, aka Dr. U.G.Z., started No Coast Battles in July 2009, and in the eight months since then, the hip-hop scene has experienced a reawakening.
Hip-hop isn’t new to Columbia, but in recent years it’s received unfavorable attention. Violence at places such as Sapphire Lounge and The Blue Note left hip-hop with a stigma. Still, the genre’s violent reputation hasn’t kept those such as Kelly from fighting for their right to rap. “We have zero tolerance for violence,” Kelly says. “We’re a big group of friends. It’s about people coming together, and we get that.” His brother and No Coast co-founder Mat Betz, aka Mantra, films and competes in the battles and hopes that people will start to view their craft as an entertaining form of creative expression.
With 30 active rappers from around the Midwest and monthly battles in locations such as Peace Park, MU’s Stankowski Field and Café Berlin, No Coast’s presence is hard to overlook. The league has gained national notice on big-name rap battle Web sites such as Rapmusic.com and Grindtimenow.com, and Kelly says emcees from Canada and the UK have contacted the group.
Steve Eanet, aka XQZ, first heard about the league through Rapmusic.com. “I didn’t expect so many battle emcees and fans to be condensed in an area like Columbia,” Eanet says. “I was pleasantly surprised to find there’s actually competition here.”
No Coast’s format mirrors that of the world’s largest rap battle league, Grind Time. It prefers pre-written, a cappella rhymes instead of the traditional freestyle with a beat. Kelly says some members of the scene, mainly “old heads,” frown at this. These aging purists believe memorizing raps takes away from the core purpose of battling. Macy Pruitt, aka Ice-9, disagrees. For him, it’s a bigger question of language use and memory. “Ultimately you can’t prevent people from preparing,” Pruitt says. “And a lot of things people rap in a freestyle are stuff they’ve rapped before anyway.”
Battle judge Dan Friesen says that his vote goes to whomever he finds least boring. But when it comes to quality, it’s all about the preparation. “If you don’t memorize it, then you don’t care,” Friesen says. “It’s a slap in the face.”
Columbia’s growing acceptance of the league has aided in its success. Maude Vintage sponsors the group, and store owner Sabrina Braden sees No Coast as an artistic, nonviolent forum where people can express themselves through music. For many of the rappers, the town’s support means everything. Eanet says the exposure and experience is a steppingstone for him getting into a national league such as Grind Time.
No Coast’s next battle is scheduled for March 28 at Maude Vintage. And the fun doesn’t stop at the face off. After the winners are named, the league laughs off the verbal jabs with a party. “Our events are hella chill,” Pruitt says. “All of us love hip-hop, but we don’t have ridiculous egos. We like to have a good time and kick it with good people.”
WARNING: This video contains explicit language.