Reverse, 19-year-old Cuban battle rapper from Orlando, crowned champion at 2021 Red Bull Batalla U.S. National Finals
AL DÍA was in attendance at the event, and had the chance to speak with the champion and Red Bull Batalla judge, Snow Tha Product.
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The Red Bull Batalla National Finals took place this past weekend on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Los Angeles, California.
All of the sixteen MCs came sharp-minded and well-equipped, ready to duke it out with one-another in an enclosed setting.
The defending national champ, Yartzi, sought a third championship, while 18-year-old rapper Klaze represented Miami as one of the battle’s youngest competitors.
Red Bull Batalla plays an important role in the intersection of Latin and American culture.
With Spanish-language hip-hop’s rising prominence, reggaetón’s consistent influence, and no shortage of international stars from Latin America, many performers from Red Bull Batalla are ones to watch as the next big names in the mainstream.
The National Finals were a testament to the sixteen MCs: determining who moves forward into December's World Finals.
Red Bull Batalla is a global freestyle rap competition that started in 2005, making 2021 the belated fifteenth anniversary of the competition.
Throughout its 15 years, “Batalla” has provided a platform for the best hip-hop improvisors from the Spanish-speaking world. Within the past few years, Batalla became the world’s largest international freestyle competition, gathering talent from across Spanish Latin America and Spain.
Batalla’s origin is deeply rooted in hip-hop. Aside from its much-noted influence, the competition has evolved into a style distinct from Western hip-hop and battle rap scenes.
Not only did the U.S. Nationals take place amid Batalla’s fifteenth year, but also during Hispanic Heritage Month. By Batalla connecting cultures around the world, the battle taking place during this timeframe is just another signifier of Hispanic heritage and its global presence.
Red Bull Batalla being the largest international battle rap competition is no small feat. The title showcases the immense power Hispanic communities have to build up culture and share it with the world.
The competition’s recent National Finals saw the sixteen MCs — decided by Red Bull Batalla qualifier days — come face-to-face to determine who will brace the world finals
The lineup was not short-staffed. Batalla continued its tradition of uniting Hispanic MCs from different regions and coasts. The Nationals zeroed in on the best Latino & Hispanic improvisers and freestylers from the U.S.
From around the North American region, three MCs came from the East Coast including Eckonn and Reverse, both of Orlando, Florida, and OG Frases and Klaze of Miami.
New York and Texas had a massive presence at the U.S. Nationals, comprising about a third of the competitor’s home states.
El Dilema (NYC), Adonys (Long Island), and JAYCO (Yonkers) represented New York, while Cuban (McAllen), G.I.O (Houston), McBetho (Irving) and Jordi (Austin) hailed from Texas.
Los Angeles-born rapper Boss was there to represent the competition's location; RuRa came from Las Vegas, Nevada, and El Poeta arrived from Phoenix, Arizona.
From Puerto Rico, LinkOne repped the island along with Yartzi, the aforementioned reigning champion.
There were five judges present for the competition: El B, Cacha, Jony Beltran, Cabra, and Snow Tha Product.
AL DÍA also spoke with Snow Tha Product — who began freestyling in high school — and was a judge at this year’s competition. She is a Mexican-American musician, label owner, actress, and entrepreneur.
When asked what makes someone a good freestyler, she equated them to a fighter.
“A sharp brain… That hunger to be good… You have to sharpen your weapon,” she said.
In high school, Snow remembered how she “wanted to beat whoever was in front of [her] at rapping.”
When asked about highlights from the night, the bilingual rapper recognized the diversity of both the competitors and those judging it alongside her.
“Just being able to partake in something as cool as this. I think we’re all from all walks of life. The judges were champions of the battle, to a producer, to me being an artist,” she said. “Being able to have everybody that does different things within hip-hop in the Latin community. Put all together, and have, kinda, a lens put on it is awesome, because we don’t always get the attention.”
The five judges watched diligently as the 16 MCs unleashed their improv game.
Miami’s OG Frases has been freestyling since 2006 and went up against Reverse in the competition's first battle.
The freestyle veteran fought hard against the young competitor, but was ultimately eliminated after this first round of ‘Octavos’ — the first eight battles of the competition.
As soon as the first battle, the MCs were surrounded by head-nodding beats. The competition was DJ’d by DJ Del’Alma, who told AL DÍA that, despite the chaos that can come with the gig, “in the moment, you figure it out.”
The hardcore MC El Poeta from Phoenix, Arizona went on to beat out LinkOne, followed by a RuRa win over Klaze. El Dilema — who began freestyling in the Dominican Republic — was also beat by Cuban.
In his return to the stage, Yartzi outperformed the Houston-based G.I.O, allowing the reigning champ to move into the ‘Cuartos,’ the next four battles after the opening eight.
G.I.O. found hip-hop through the Venuzulean artist, McKlopedia, and gained experience as a freestyler through street battles and underground recordings.
McBetho wowed throughout the competition, and his introduction against Adonys was no exception. Adonys has a long history as an MC, having participated in freestyles in high school and college, but bowed out to the former.
Boss, a Los Angeles native, received much support from the crowd, but was knocked out by Jordi. In the final Octavos battle, Eckonn, a 23-year-old singer, songwriter, and freestyler from Venezuela, defeated JAYCO.
JAYCO came onto the stage with undeniable energy, reciting a version of the famed “313” bar from 8 Mile. In 2007, he won second place at the international Red Bull Batalla finals.
After the rigorous Octavos battles, half of the MCs were eliminated from the competition.
Going forward after the Cuartos, El Poeta, Jordi, and RuRa were eliminated alongside reigning national champion Yartzi.
Eckonn was determined as the third place winner after a match against Cuban, ensuring Reverse, McBetho and Eckonn will automatically advance to the 2022 U.S. Finals without having to participate in a qualifier round next year.
As for the 2021 U.S. Finals, from this point onward, it was a back-and-forth battle between McBetho and Reverse for the rest of the night.
Having gotten his start in Tijuana, competing in battles across North, Central and South America, McBetho was the competitor to watch at the start of the battle.
He and Reverse kicked off the final round with a true test of their improv abilities, and moved onto their final back-and-forth trading blows with the vigor Batalla is known for.
After their final round, the judges voted for a rematch — and then once again for a second rematch — before voting Reverse as the 2021 Red Bull Batalla U.S. National champion.
Reverse will advance to the 2021 Red Bull Batalla World Final in Chile, where MCs from 10 countries will meet and battle.
The 19-year-old MC, whose real name is Marcos, is a rapper and musician of Cuban descent.
AL DÍA spoke with Reverse after his win to discuss musical influences and what he enjoys most about being a musician.
“I inspire myself… I listen to a lot of rock… a lot of trap, Juice WRLD, Nirvana, Metallica,” he said.
Reverse arrived at the battle sporting sneakers customized with images of late American rapper Juice WRLD, mentioning he has another pair with Travis Scott depicted.
“I try to inspire myself from big people, and turn it into Spanish,” he continued.
Reverse cited music as the “love of his life,” and as the songwriter and creator spoke more about his win and connection to music, it became clearer he wasn’t exaggerating.
Immediately after his win, Reverse spoke directly to the viewers and audience members:
“After having competed in both Latin America and the U.S., I was able to learn about the challenges of a Batalla battle, and how to compete more strategically against my opponents. Everyone’s energy from the crowd and competitors will stay with me forever. I am so, so happy.”
For the sake of convenience, Red Bull Batalla has made the 2021 USA National Final and the Red Bull Batalla Qualifier Battles available for viewing post-streaming. Visit Red Bull Batalla on either Twitch, YouTube and Facebook.
Additional info on Red Bull Batalla, upcoming battles, and December’s World Finals can be found here.