|Wee D & Andrew MacKenzie. All photos: Craig 'Cain' Hain / Crown Sound|
Though the event was moved from Audio to the more familiar Afillion Studios at the last minute, the final of the Breaking the Barrier battle tournament was still undoubtedly a success. As well as boasting a big headline performance from Blizzard (check my interview with him here), Wee D and Andrew MacKenzie both lived up to the pressure that a tournament final brings. To sum it up: this was far and away the best battle of the Crown Sound competition (I'm aware I've said that before, but this time I was sober).
The tournament format wasn't streamlined - neither competitor battled in the first round, rather they came in as 'opportunities' for competing emcees - but you'd struggle to find two better battlers in Scotland.
With that said, there was a clear contrast in styles. MacKenzie's content was undeniably more conceptual, tailoring his rigid flows and multisyllabics towards personally breaking down Wee D. Unsurprisingly, MacKenzie decided to take the referendum route, berating Wee D for his decision to vote no to independence in September. Though it seemed predictable in hindsight, MacKenzie's prop idea proved to work well. After wearing a "No Thanks" t-shirt during the first two rounds, he managed to swing crowd reaction (most of it anyway) in his favour by ripping it off in favour of an "I'm Still Yes" tee.
That's not to say that a 'gimmick' won him the battle. MacKenzie's content was razor sharp with concentrated punchlines and a balanced amount of humour. MacKenzie tipping the crowd reaction by the third round proved to be a problem for Wee D to counteract, especially considering his crowd friendly style. That isn't to say that his approach was inferior, however, as his second round was probably the highlight of the battle. As he himself admitted in our interview, the Scottish battle crowd is more drawn to jokes due to our humour. Upon receiving no reaction for a more seriously orientated bar, the two emcees privately observed on stage that "they won't react to that." Regardless, in terms of structure, cadence and overall delivery, Wee D is unmatched, and it made for a very close contest.
The judging decision ultimately went 3-0 to MacKenzie in a battle that was anything but a 3-0. Myself, Blizzard and Mr. MacKenzie (not Andy, the other one) all edged it 2-1 in a similar manner, and met much disagreement afterwards. Whichever way you'd give it, hopefully the online views and comments give the clash the recognition it deserves.
One thing that did impress me about this event was the diversity. Being a small venue, it wasn't too difficult to pack out (and there was inevitably a number of emcees making up the numbers), but the music reflected the range of fans in the venue.
Ransom FA's set particularly contrasted with the boom bap vibe that we've come to expect from Scottish events. Representing RFM and 'granite city' Aberdeen, Ransom brought a confidence and energy to his set that is more influenced by trap (or even grime). David MacWilliam, the artist formerly known as Kayce One, is in more traditional territory but no less impressive. His recent material seems to have particularly developed in terms of synchronicity, rapping comfortably over any random beat that is thrown at him (even during a frenetic soundcheck). There is an element of continuity though, with Toni Smoke on the decks for most of the night. Blizzard himself is remarkable, an example of what unbridled enthusiasm to perform can bring to an emcee's game. Even if grime is a more niche concern in Scotland, it's hard not to bounce along to his double time flows and often aggressive vocals.
The night ends, as all good ones should, with cake. I wish I got a photo of it, but it was part of MacKenzie's prize for winning a competition that has run for almost a year now. Here's to the next one.
As I said above, more interviews and features are coming from the event in a separate capacity so watch the facebook pages.