In Los Angeles, on the night of October 15, two rappers, an American and a Russian, collided in a battle that is already considered historical by the followers of this cultural phenomenon. By now it has reached more than 7 million views on YouTube, making it the most-viewed rap-battle in a 24-hour period in U.S. rap-battle history. What makes this battle historical is not the viewership numbers, but its context, the opponents’ background, and what they had to say. It is worth watching for both those who enjoy rap as well as a much broader audience, because this time the battle is not about insults and, as one of the opponents said, “Battle rap could be more than just punch lines and rhymes”. Both rappers raised serious and often controversial questions about culture, politics, self-identity, and the need to sometimes choose between nationality and ethnicity.
Dizaster (Bachir Yagami), America’s veteran battler, stood against Oxxxymiron (Miron Fyodorov), one of the most popular Russian rappers and battlers. For the latter, it was his English language debut, but according to both Russian and American viewers and Dizaster himself, Oxxxymiron won the battle. (Traditionally for the KOTD league, which held the event, there are no official judges.) What is surprising about the winner is not only that he beat a native English speaker while for him English is only his third language (Fyodorov and his family moved to Germany when he was 9 and lived there for 6 years), but also how little experience he has in comparison to his opponent – for Oxxxy, the battle with Dizaster was his sixth one; while, for Dizaster, who has been in battle rap for 17 years, it was his 98th battle. In Russia battle rap is still new, but already extremely popular – the most viewed battle is Oxxxymiron vs Johnyboy which reached more than 40 million views in two years – ten times more than the highest-viewed battles in the US.
The opponents talked a lot about their background in the battle. Oxxxymiron was an Oxford student in Balliol College. He graduated with a degree in Middle English literature. This fact is often brought up by his opponents in battles, who try to show Fyodorov as someone pretentious and privileged and this battle was not an exception. However, other factors played a much more important role. Oxxxymiron, for example, is a Russian Jew, and Dizaster is an American Arab, which caused a lot of heated lines about “slowly dying Jewish-Arab, Russian-US relations”.
Dizaster mentioned the Soviet Union and communism, the situation in Ukraine and Crimea, made jokes about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, Putin and his politics, and, of course, stereotypes about Russia: “At first I was surprised you were so synchronized when you came out/ Then I realised the obvious: you’re all communists/ so you’re probably all living in the same house”.
Oxxxymiron went deeper and asked Yagami how he could be patriotic when “the G.I.’s are blowing your cousins away” and accused him of supporting Trump and then changing opinion only because Eminem criticised the US president. He also mentioned enmity between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, and in the end of his last round showed how although battle rap may seem harsh, but it is still a way for people of coming together: “But in times of war, look at today, the sport evolves / ‘cause if you hate someone, you don’t trade dirty jokes / I’d rather every Arab told every Jew “your mother”/ and vice versa everyday than let them shoot each other”.
Despite all the jokes and harsh lines, the battle had an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect. Both rappers posted a lot of friendly tweets after the battle saying how happy they were about it and how unified they felt. This battle has already made it into hip-hop history by bringing together such strong opponents with interesting backgrounds who were able to raise and almost debate about serious socio-political topics, make a difference and bring the attention of millions of people to this discussion.