On February 26th, 2016 in 105 Forum over 100 individuals composed of both students and alumni gathered to watch Penn State Open Mic’s 4th annual rap battle. The sense of excitement in the air was palpable and hushed conversations were all that could be heard. To begin, the judges and Open MIC President, Louie Petrone, discussed logistics at the bottom of the lecture hall.
Prior to the rap battle, I sat down with Louie Petrone to discuss expectations and the purpose of the PSU Annual Rap Battle.
“It is important to understand that the Rap Battle is an exercise in “battle-rapping”, and not solo rap.” Mr. Petrone said.
“What is the difference?” I asked
“With battle rapping we [Open Mic] are looking for someone who is more punch-line oriented, and can one-up whoever they’re against. The ability to improvise things off the top of their head is also important to battle-rapping.” Petrone explained.
When asked why it is important for the rap battle to continue every year, Louie referenced the history of hip hop. “It’s important because this is hip hop in its rawest form. There’s four essential elements of hip hop; b-boying, DJ-ing, graffiti (this one most don’t know about), and emceeing.” He continued “that culture [of hip-hop] in my opinion has strayed away from that. If you hear the originals compared to now, back then they [rappers] were all talking about politics and how to organize social justice. Today it is mostly about partying and things like that. The rap battle showcases one of those raw forms and keeps it alive. That way people at Penn State can express themselves within that form.”
Louie, who is a hip-hop artist himself, takes a moment to allude to his own music. “A lot of what I try to do [in my music] is reflect how I see the world. People like to say that kids today only listen to music about sex and drugs, but that’s not really what I’m seeing. People like to listen to intelligent artists.”
Standing at the entrance of the rap battle was Evan Higgins, a member of Penn State Open Mic greeting people at the door. When asked why he values the Penn State rap battle he explained “events like this encourage people who don’t have other opportunities like this to showcase what they do. Not only that, but this is an opportunity for people who haven’t seen this kind of show to witness it live for the first time”
Unsurprisingly, the audience filled 105 Forum and two by two students came up to battle. The one ground rule, given by Louie Petrone, “don’t use the N-word.” The final battle resulted in a three-way match between rappers Mr. Mogley, Cane, and Mike. Mike came out the undisputed champion of this year’s PSU Rap Battle, winning $50.
After the winner was announced and the crowd continued to mingle, judge Christina Parle reflected on the rap battle, and its winner. “I was looking for someone who was actually very clever, and could avoid ragging on people’s identity or identities.” She continued to explain why the rap battle is an important event: “Rap is a large part of music that isn’t showcased enough both in mainstream culture and on campus”. Her thoughts on the winner? “Mike is the best.”
After winning and being surrounded by congratulatory peers and photographers, Mike Drozdowski, a senior Human Development and Family Studies major, reminisced on learning about this event. “My friend was in the bathroom, taking care of his business, and found an ad on the stall. He told me to try out, and the rest is history” he said with a laugh. “In my sophomore year I started messing around with rap, and my senior year (this year) started working on my freestyle rapping”. While his origins are humble, his purpose is extremely important to him. When asked what his goals are with rapping, he stated “to bring the word of God, and to not degrade anyone. God loves people, and does not want us to follow a religion, but to just know Him”. So what will he do with the $50 prize he just won? “I’m not sure yet, I guess I’ll pray about it!” he said excitedly.