There's rappers, and then there's battle rappers. It's an important distinction to make when talking about the Riot, an OC-based battle-rap league started by Santa Ana MC Kevin Parx. If you think of mainstream hip-hop as analogous to the WWE—a well-choreographed, entertaining spectacle filled with pyro and catchphrases—battle rap seems more akin to the UFC. Bruises, broken bones and spilled blood are its main currency. Underground MCs step into a ring of riled-up spectators who expect vicious bars that cut deep. When a rapper gets destroyed by the right line, the crowd knows the carnage is real.
"These dudes will sit in their rooms and write about a guy for six months until they have their bars ready to kill the guy without ever touching him," says Parx. "Sometimes they'll dig deep and bring up something personal, like talking about someone's retarded mom or some shit."
As the thought escapes his mouth, Parx smirks, but he shakes his head full of medium-length dreads in disgust. "I'll be sitting there going, 'Yo, this dude doesn't really have a retarded mom.' Come to find out he does. . . . So disrespectful." Obviously, the thin-skinned need not apply.
While sipping a cold beer at Proof Bar, the equally chill Parx is the last guy you'd expect to be at the center of the madness he creates, hosting, promoting and officiating quarterly battles for the crowd and YouTube. But beneath his calm demeanor is a savvy businessman and talented MC. As part of the Santa Ana hip-hop collective Get Money Boy$, the towering, husky, 26-year-old Parx has more than half a dozen albums under his belt. However, it was the lack of a solid local hip-hop scene that inspired him to start the Riot about five years ago, intending to put a competitive fire in the belly of local rappers.
"But OC didn't really gravitate toward it," he admits. "LA was so quick to jump on it. San Diego, the IE—they were quick to hit me up. At the end of the day, I don't care what an OC rapper thinks or feels about hitting me up to get on the Riot—it's business. If you want exposure, I can help you in that sense. I'm not here to build people up and tear them down."
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The independent battle league videos typically clock thousands of views. Inspired by the surging popularity of national battle-rap leagues including King of the Dot that gave the decades-old art form major clout in recent years, Parx's league is an opportunity to bring shine to dedicated MCs such as LA rhymeslinger Geechi Gotti and Santa Ana cypher-slayer Chubbs Sinatra, both of whom have garnered a number of career opportunities through their Riot Battles.
"When you start winning and you start getting love, it's a different type of love than regular music love," Parx says. "People will come to watch you rap with no music involved. Like, 'I came to see him; this guy got bars. I will ride for him.'"
Parx is focused on making OC an unlikely hub for battle rap, which is finally starting to happen right under everyone's nose.
"Whether it's wanting to invest money in our product, invest time in our product or invest in our culture, period, those guys aren't here [in OC] yet," Parx says. "I'm still trying to become that guy. And once I do, it's a wrap."