On April 1st, at the age of 38, I did my first rap battle, for Don’t Flop, which is like making your football debut in the Champions League. I can’t tell you what happened in the battle itself, but I can tell you how it feels, before and after…
I’m not going to lie to you – in the run-up to the battle I was more terrified than I have been about anything in my life, and that includes a time when I flew into an active war-zone. I was completely beside myself with fear, and yet was completely unable to do the one thing that would have helped me out – in other words, go and have a couple of stiff, large drinks. No amount of people telling me that I was going to be fine helped me in the least, despite the fact that most people had, I would assume, pretty low expectations of what was to follow. When the first round of battles – both of which, to compound matters, were utterly sick – were out of the way, and Rowan announced that me and Alex were going to be on next, my guts started turning somersaults. These weren’t butterflies, these were the kind of giant-ass moths you’d expect to find in the King Kong remake.
I went and necked a Diet Coke to keep my mouth moist. Then I immediately found that I wanted to go to the toilet for a wazz. Incredibly, as soon as I had finished, I found that I wanted to go again, and had to turn back from the toilet door and re-wazz. So you might say that I was literally pissing myself. After I washed my hands, I took a moment to just go through a few of my rhymes into the mirror, for the simple reason that I wanted to have my cheesy Eight Mile moment.
Outside the toilet, I ran into Pamflit, who asked me if I wanted to go through my bars with him outside. I more or less wanted to do anything that would have gotten me out of there, so I ran through my first verse, with him doing one of his little “wooooo!” noises every time I did a decent punchline, and once I had negotiated the whole verse without a stumble, I settled a little. A very little. And then it was time to go.
I got to the centre of the room first and the circle began to form – a very tight one indeed. And then Alex was there, and then all of a sudden I was calling the flip, which I immediately lost. I hoped that Alex would ask me to go first, mainly because my first verse wouldn’t have really worked if I needed to do flips. Weirdly, as we were about to go, Rowan’s preamble got us both a rapturous round of applause, which I was not expecting. And then the first round was on me, and in an instant, my mouth went as dry as the Sahara to the point that I was struggling to get my words out. And then I got my first word out. “Alex.”
I finished my bars first, having had the honour of going first, and to be honest, I don’t remember too much of what Alex said in his final round, although I did crack up laughing at least twice. The relief was overwhelming – I’d had one minor choke, had said the wrong word twice and forgotten six bars (on of which I considered to be my best on) but overall I had gotten through it roughly on time, had even played up to the camera a little bit, and the response had been pretty positive from what little I could remember – when you’re delivering your own rhymes, you tend to retreat into what I believe is known as “The Zone.” When the verdict had been given, I just wanted out of there as soon as I could get out through the crowd – Concrete is a basement bar, indeed a very cool one, but I wanted sunlight, space and oxygen, three things of which I had been denied for the previous 15 minutes. I have to admit that I all but missed the entirety of the Suus-Bowski-Evileyz triple-header, even though I’d been looking forward to that one. I was still uncomfortably amped, heart racing, eyes darting, waiting for a comedown that would not happen for a good hour and a half.
But at least I had some wine with me. And at least there were people outside who I knew, who could give me their cigarettes. Slowly but surely, the twitchiness began to turn to elation, as it became apparent that, far from disgracing ourselves, Alex and I had been equal parts of a battle that people thought was pretty bloody special. The general consensus was that we both “went in hard” – I don’t think most people could believe it. A foggy-eyed O’Shea told me that it was better than most of the debuts he’d ever seen, although I suspect that this may have more to do with his short-term memory function than anything.
All I remember of the next half hour was hugs from friends and strangers alike as it became apparent that I had successfully negotiated something which I had only ever before considered doing in the event of my contracting a terminal disease. It was an incredible feeling. Which is why, if Eurgh will let me and doesn’t think I’ll embarrass him too much, I hope to be doing it again.