Though now the art form is widespread and much adored, battle rapping was, at one point, a serious venture. Immortalised in Eminem’s 8 Mile, the sport of battle rapping grew from the streets into a multi-million dollar industry. The idea of pitting one’s wits and rhymes against another is a challenge so gladiatorial that it was always likely to capture the hearts and minds of classic rappers in their infancy. In this instance, we see Q-Tip battling against Wu-Tang Clan legends RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Following the sudden and tragic death of Wu-Tang founder and chief creator Ol’ Dirty Bastard in 2013, countless stories arose from his past. While most are so filthy they needed to be disinfected with bleach, Q-Tip, another mainstay of the 1990s rap world with A Tribe Called Quest, shared his special memory of the rapper.
Q-Tip shared the story via his Twitter account, at first saying: “RIP to my n***a Ason a.k.a OL DIRTY BASTARD. I have a great memory to share coming shortly.” It left most people expecting a story of grotesque hedonism or wild antics to follow; however, Q shared a far more wholesome memory from their time back in the ’80s.
The event happened in 1987 and saw Ol’ Dirty Bastard and his cousin RZA make their way to Q-Tip’s high school to battle any rappers they wanted to put forward. Naturally, Q stepped up, ready to rumble. “In 87 ODB came 2 My HS w/@RZA 2 battle niggas n we had 2 rounds,” recalled Q-Tip.
Rather than finding an enemy in one another, Q-Tip, RZA, and ODB understood that, like gladiators, there was nothing personal about battling another rapper. Q confirmed: “We dapped up n stayed cool. We would always talk bout dat battle.”
When speaking to Math Hoffa, one of the finest battle rappers in recent memory, for his show My Expert Opinion, Q-Tip, who was then known as J-Nice, elucidated on the experience: “I must have been in 11th grade … At this time, I was pretty much known in [the battle circuit] … so n****s knew what time it was with me,” he remembered.
“So my man from my school said, ‘Yo, this n****’s gonna get you.’ So, my man Rob, we was in the lunchroom, it was seventh period, he was outside. He was like, ‘Where’s J-Nice?'”
“We go outside, right in the front, and it’s Ason, it’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard. ‘Where’s J-Nice at?!’ RZA was there. That’s when I first met them.”
Continuing the story, Q-Tip says: “So we battled. I went first. ‘MC J-Nice, that is my title/N****s know that I’m vital.’ Some shit, I just remember that opening line,” Tip recalled. “And then Dirty was like, ‘Aight, aight. I need my beatbox to go, though.’ And it was RZA [laughs].
“He hits some shit and… ‘Ason Unique! I’m not gon’ have it! Dagnabbit, you switch like a faggot!’ And ns was just falling out like, ‘Oh shit!’ I was like, ‘I took the L’… It was funny. It wasn’t venomous because the n‘s bars was just so ‘Rahhhhh!’ He was on that early.”
Summarising the experience, Q-Tip shared: “We just went one [round] ’cause we couldn’t get through his first shit. Then I went off, they came back with some other shit, and n****s just dapped it up. We went down by the basketball court, drank some fucking brass monkey and shit.
“We used to always to see each other after. That’s my n***a right there. RIP. That was heavy, man. All of that added to what Tribe was to me. All of those early experiences.”