Robert Purcell Community Center — usually buzzing with students on late night Nasties runs and aggressive quarter-carders — took on a different role Friday night as it housed the C.U. Cyphers’ and Cornell Community Center Programs’ annual Rap Battle.
Contestants were put head to head in a bracket of 15 emcees, with the amount of crowd noise determining which freestyler would move on to the next round. Most competitors signed up in advance, but hip hop club C.U. Cyphers invited the over 150 people in attendance to sign up on the spot if they thought they had what it takes.
“C.U. Cyphers puts on this event every semester with the goal of sharing our love for self-expression and encouraging members of the community to partake in it and enjoy it,” said C.U. Cyphers President Saarang Deshpande ’16.
This year’s competition differed from those of years past in several ways. The competition featured the beats of Ben St. Marc ’17, otherwise known as D.J. BenZ, and several experienced competitors from Ithaca College also participated.
“I’ve been rapping since whenever Notorious came out, when I was about 12 or 13,” said Damiano Malvasio, an Ithaca College freshman and winner of this year’s rap battle. “As soon as I saw it I started rapping.”
Malvasio’s freestyles focused on the cultural differences between Ithaca College and Cornell University.
“I wish there was more of a bridge between the gap so [students in the two schools] could collaborate more as musicians,” Malvasio said.
Patrons saw a break in the rhymes and disses when Benjamín Ortiz, assistant curator of Cornell’s hip hop collection, arrived and spoke about the importance of hip hop in the educational and cultural spheres.
“In the same way that an entire class is being taught about a particular work by Shakespeare or something from classical Greece, it should be understood that lyrical music is a form of literature,” Ortiz said.
Deshpande, Malvasio and Ortiz all said that hip hop should have a place in English classes around the country, but that the perception of hip hop has impeded its proliferation.
“American society has had a love-hate relationship with hip hop, at least in the last decade,” Ortiz said. “It used to be much more hate than love, but I’ve observed that in the last decade it has become more love because it has become more accessible.”
Ortiz said it is difficult to integrate hip hop into mainstream society due to hip hop’s association with certain communities.
“If there is a discomfort with hip hop in mainstream society, some of it, if not most of it, probably stems from the knowledge that it comes from poor, urban, Black and Latino communities, even though that is not the only place it comes from these days,” he added. “It is from an overall pervasive racism that does exist, either consciously or subconsciously.”
Hip hop fans at the rap battle said they are confident that their favorite form of music will one day become commonplace in schools across the country. The C.U. Cyphers are attempting to facilitate this goal.
“What I’d like to see is C.U. Cyphers continue to do what they do and push the boundaries of what’s possible,” Ortiz said.
In pushing these boundaries, some attendees acknowledged the importance of encouraging female participation in what has largely been a male-dominated field.
“A female emcee is something very important to creating something new and original,” Deshpande said. “For an art form as diverse as hip hop, it is very sad that females are not more represented.”