By Marlena Chertock
Published first in The Writers’ Bloc.
A crowd of about 100 sat in bleachers, circled around three male students with microphones at James Madison University Saturday. They insulted each other through rhymes for 30-seconds each.
The crowd chanted, “Fresco Sounds, Fresco Sounds,” the judges nodded their heads and Fresco Sounds won $300 for the MC battle at Circles13, a break dance, hip hop and rap competition that brought several colleges together for a day at JMU.
Fresco Sounds, or sophomore Matt Soares from the University of Maryland, felt like he was living in a glorious moment.
“When people you don’t even know are saying your name, it’s really inspiring,” said Soares, who is also a member of Undergrounduates, the on-campus rapping and hip hop group. “It’s the very first stages of really developing your own brand. It’s really what I want to get across; making my name a brand, something to be remembered.”
Circles13, hosted by Grind Time (the world’s largest hip hop battle league according to the website), is the first large rap and freestyle battle Soares attended, and won.
“I look forward to doing it again because I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be,” he said.
The competition covered three mediums, including graffiti, rap and break dancing, according to Ari Goldfarb, the president of Undergrounduates.
“I was happy that (Soares) won and that he and (Porter) made it to the finals,” he said. “It’s nice to win when you work at something for so many hours a day.”
Soares has been involved in hip hop and rap music for five years, first writing music when he was 13. He just released a mix tape in March called “High Hopes, Drunk Faith” .
“Undergrounduates really gave me a lot of opportunities to experiment, to take a challenge to battle, which is normally something I don’t do,” he said.
Paperboy Prince of the Suburbs, or David Porter, another Undergrounduates member, won second place in the battle.
Porter used his opponents’ clothing, likeness to “Family Guy” characters or Mark Zuckerberg and shoe color in his raps.
Soares also used people around him as inspiration.
“I never think of words to rhyme first,” he said. “I’m looking around, in the crowd, a guy’s lip ring, calling him out on that. You look for inspiration around you that you can go off of.”
Being able to freestyle on the spot is important, according to Soares. “When you’re able to express yourself with anything that’s around you, people know that it’s really coming off the top of your head. With writing too; when I write lines I think about the story first or what message I want to get across. Then I get into the technical aspect of the word or lyrical structure.”
In the car ride down to JMU, Undergrounduates members Goldfarb, Eric Owusu and Soares beat-boxed for each other and freestyled to warm up.
Soares said that was a challenge but also motivated him to do better than those rappers.
“I wanted to give off the impression that I’m very serious about this,” Soares said. “It’s more than a hobby; it’s a career that I pursue.”
View more videos from Circles13 on The Writers’ Bloc Youtube channel.