Voss Brings Us Behind BET's "Freestyle Friday"
This month, BET announced they're launching the second season of "Ultimate Freestyle Friday." What this means is more freestyle rap battle action will be hitting TV screens coast-to-coast, possibly launching new stars into the rap's collective conscience. But for a show that's been on the air for over a decade, little is known about what it's actually like to compete on the show. We spoke to Freestyle Friday Hall-of-Famer Voss, one of the names who has successfully parlayed his battle wins into the beginnings of a successful rap career, about how he landed on "106 and Park" and emerged victorious while still escaping the dreaded "battle rapper stigma" in the aftermath.
Reji Berrouet Voss
You're from the greater Philly area, correct?
Being Philly alone has so many different hip-hop scenes, were any of them your first exposure to hip-hop?
Not really, actually. When I was in junior high, when Nelly and Ja Rule and 50 Cent were popular, I was a lot more into old school hip-hop. I remember seeing a documentary on TV on hip-hop pioneers, and it had Big Daddy Kane's "Raw" in it, and I instantly fell in love with that song. This guy made a four minute song just talking about how he was the best, I didn't know you could do that! I remember buying the best of Big Daddy Kane for $4.99 used, and while I rock with most of his stuff, I just played "Raw" nonstop. I also remember seeing the Juvenile "Ha" video and really connecting with it. It was just so raw at a time when you didn't see a whole lot of that in videos.
When did listening to hip-hop translate into you beginning to rap?
After I heard "Raw," I thought rapping sounded like so much fun, I had to try it. It started out as a joke, but after the encouragement of friends of mine, I started to actually try it out. I got introduced to a lot of indie hip-hop, Def Jux, Rhymesayers stuff, and that was subject matter I could more directly relate to. I started directing my own experiences, figuring out song structure, I got pretty serious with it.
Did you freestyle prior to the battle scene? Do you think it helped you in that arena?
Yeah. As far as freestyling off the top, that was how I started. I say things over a beat, and if I liked it, I turned it into a written. Freestyling was a good pass time. Battling wasn't something I was after, it was something I had to do to be taken seriously at school. Dudes were coming up to me to try to battle me at my locker, and if I didn't defend myself, I'd look like a chump. It was a pride thing. At 8:00 or 9:00 AM I was battling people. I can't imagine that now.
How did the opportunity for BET's "Freestyle Friday" come about?
I'd never really thought about "Freestyle Friday" like that. I was a fan of Loaded Lux and what Jin did on there, but I never thought about pursuing that. I got an email from BET after they had seen some Grind Time battles I did, which I took for exposure, they reached out to me with a form to fill out. They gave me a date, May of 2012 and I went out there to New York.
Do you remember what the audition process was like?
I waited in line with 70-80 other cats, females as well. People from all walks of life, all types of rappers. I was in the second to last group. They bring you into a room with a bunch of judges and go "you and you battle." They throw a beat on, and it just happens. I beat the first guy and they brought two more people up immediately and I beat them too. They had me sit out, but kept me in the room. Then they brought in a new group of people and I beat two more out of that group. They said they were going to call me, and finally called me in September, telling me to watch who won that week's battle. I had my first battle in October.