Introducing Yartzi: The battle rapper from Ponce, Puerto Rico out to defend his title at Red Bull Batalla’s U.S. finals later this month
In the lead up to the national finals, AL DÍA spoke with Yartzi to discuss Red Bull Batalla, battle rap, and music in general.
The battle rapper Yartzi handles the art of freestyle with nuance and grace. He maneuvers competition with bite and grit, never sacrificing a particular sense of caution nor mutual respect for his opponent.
Yartzi carries an admirable sportsmanship, never letting a competition’s outcome — whether it be a win or loss — distract him from the lessons each battle has to offer:
“You can always use it to grow, because you learn, you study… study the circumstances,” he said regarding competition.
Later this month, Yartzi will compete in Red Bull Batalla’s U.S. finals, taking place on Sept. 18 in Los Angeles. The winner will go on to compete in the World Finals.
Red Bull Batalla is the largest Spanish freestyle rap competition in the world, and has surpassed 1.2 billion views on YouTube. The competition is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.
Red Bull Batalla provides a platform for the most inventive hip-hop improvisers from the Spanish-speaking world, and offers a place for these artists to connect and develop through competition.
The U.S. finals will showcase 16 battle rappers competing one-on-one. These 16 rappers were chosen from a pool of 36 after the vigorous qualifier battle.
Included amongst the 16 is Yartzi.
His aforementioned understanding of mutual respect distinguishes the battle rapper’s quick-witted and thoughtful approach to the art form.
When asked how a battle rapper accepts loss with humility, Yartzi elaborated on his belief that each battle — no matter the outcome — is an experience to be learned from:
“At the end of the day, in battle rap, if... you lose, it’s because the judges that day didn’t see you winning. It’s a very relative perspective that shouldn’t be taken personally… It’s not like you don’t have talent,” Yartzi told AL DÍA. “For me, it’s nothing personal, and I think everybody should take it lightly, too.”
Despite his modesty, the upcoming U.S. finals are far from the rapper’s first dip in the world of competition and battle rap. Yartzi is the defending U.S. Batalla nationals champion, having won the competition last year.
The battle rapper also holds the titles of International Champion of ‘7 to Punch’ and the second place winner of ‘Double AA,' two separate competitions.
Before he was old enough to compete, Yartzi would attend rap battles, often observing competitors who had freestyled in Red Bull Batalla before Yartzi himself was active in the sub-culture.
Even before getting into music and battle rap, Yartzi had a love for competition:
“When I was a kid — 11 or 12 — I was into a lot of different video games: Kingdom Hearts to Grand Theft Auto to Gran Turismo, but the one I was really, really good at was Tekken,” he said. “I was dope at it. I went to tournaments when I was a kid and beat everybody's ass.”
Yartzi is originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico. His stage name is meant to resemble a slight rearrangement of the word “artsy,” a quality that the musician’s mother would often use to describe him.
His older brother introduced him to hip-hop, while his mother had her own experience playing music. These factors secured a deep-rooted connection to the practice.
The battle rapper remains in-touch to his Puerto Rican roots. More often than not, he wears the Puerto Rican flag around his shoulders during battles. Yartzi ensures that his repping of Puerto Rico will never change.
When it comes to more direct influences behind his own musical pursuits, Yartzi found inspiration simply in the culture:
“Every reggaetón artist [and] every rap artist that came up from Puerto Rico when I was young, when I was starting to look into music… influenced me… From Tempo to Vico C to Joelle & Randy to Daddy Yankee,” said Yartzi.
The cultural impact of reggaetón and rap in Puerto Rico set the scene for the influence music has on the island.
Despite the differences that go into making reggaetón and rap, Yartzi believes the two are not to be separated. After being introduced to hip-hop by his brother at age 13, however, Yartzi fell in love with rap.
Yartzi’s connection to rap music led him to battle rap, which Yartzi appreciates as a “discipline” that unites two things he loves to do: compete and rap.
“Battle rap is more of a personal challenge… There are a lot of people who attack their opponent using low blows, things that don’t really relate to the main focus of the battle,” said Yartzi. “It’s more of a personal thing for me, when I battle... it’s challenging your own mind, it’s challenging your own wordplay... it gives you adrenaline, and I love it.”
The adrenaline that battle rap gives Yartzi is clear when he’s on the stage. He performs with bravado and an unrelenting flow.
On the competition stage, Yartzi’s swagger and showmanship is never out-of-place, nor a means for mutual respect to be overridden.
This mindset keeps the freestyler focused, allows him to attack opponents with accuracy, leaving no room for fluff nor baseless cheap-shots.
The rapper’s approach to battle is based on hard work. This reflects in Yartzi’s schedule, as he is planning big things going forward:
“Sept. 18th is the U.S. Batalla National… Right now, that’s my most immediate goal. I’m trying to get that third championship,” said Yartzi.
In addition to his focus on the upcoming Batalla U.S. finals, Yartzi is also planning a debut EP for next year. The EP will feature a song with the legendary Randy Ortiz of the Puerto Rican reggaetón group, Joelle & Randy.
The Red Bull Batalla U.S. Finals are set for September 18th in Los Angeles. Many eyes will be on Yartzi as he defends his title.
Information regarding the finals and live streams can be found here.