Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV’s “Drink Champs,” which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly “Drink Champs” episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
In the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” battle rap veteran and podcast sensation Math Hoffa links up with N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, and delves into his backstory, the current state of battle rap, and its future. A native of Brooklyn, the Crown Heights rep gained a reputation as a formidably lyricist before infiltrating the NYC battle rap circuit during the mid-aughts. Forming the crew N.Y.B., Math dominated at renowned battle rap venues like Fight Klub, as well as on SMACK DVD, matching up against the likes of T-Rex, Serius Jones, and others.
Infamous for delivering the punch heard around the world, Math’s penchant for fisticuffs in the midst of a battle has stained his rep in some circles. However, he has managed to overcome that adversity and reclaim his status as one of the best at his craft. In 2019, he started the My Expert Opinion podcast, which finds him and co-hosts Knowledge and Mis.Fit giving their takes on high-profile battles, and the ins and outs of the culture.
To help give fans a recap of the conversation, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from the Math Hoffa episode of “Drink Champs.” Take a look at them below.
1. On Artists Transitioning Into Battle Rap
Over the years, a number of rap artists have tried their hand at stepping into the battle rap world. Math speaks on artists like Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’9” and, most recently, Cassidy failing to adapt to the terrain. “It’s just different from what it was before,” he explains of the evolution of battle rap. “So, if you’re thinking about, ‘Oh, 8 Mile…I can do that, grab a mic, rap on a beat.’ Nah, it’s not that. It’s just more of how you move, it’s how you perform, it’s what you say, it’s the cadence, it’s so many things that we see artists try to come and battle in this new era… like Cassidy was once a god of battles.”
2. On Meeting Buckshot As A Teenager
As the county of kings, Brooklyn has a track record for producing rap royalty unlike no other from Big Daddy Kane to The Notorious B.I.G. and JAY-Z. As a teen, Math once found the gall to approach BK rap legend Buckshot and announce himself as the best rapper in the neighborhood.
”When I started, I started on the street corners just like everybody else,” he recalls. “Lobbies, smoking people. I remember I saw Buckshot one day in my hood. He used to mess with my man Kev, old head, on Union [Street] and Utica [Avenue]. So, I’m a kid, I’m like 14 years old. I ride up on him on my bike and I’m like, ‘Yo, Buckshot.’ He’s like, ‘What’s up?’ I’m like, ‘Who’s the illest rapper in Crown Heights? He’s like, ‘I don’t know shorty. It’s mad rappers out here.’ I was like, ‘Me, nigga’ and I rode off on my bike. So, I always had that competitive shit in me.”
3. On His Rise Through The Battle Rap Ranks
Today, Math may be near the top of the battle rap food-chain. However, his rise to prominence was littered with a murderers row of opponents, which culminated in his infamous battle with Philadelphia battle rapper Dose. “I go through the Fight Klub. I battled Serius Jones for the first time,” he recalls. “I lost that battle, I was tight. Went home, came back, started smoking dudes. After that Grind Time emerged, everybody was flying to Cali or coming to New York doing these battles. They was coming down to Miami sometimes. Solomon battled E Ness in Miami, it was a big deal. Me and T-Rex, when I battled on the Smack DVD, I was supposed to battle Rex when I battled Dose.”
4. On Using Battle Rap As A Marketing Tool
Battle rap may now be big business with its top performers netting upwards of $20,000 per match-up. But, the money didn’t start rolling in for quite some time. The MC reveals that many battle rappers’ initial motivation to step in the ring was to use the exposure in hopes of securing a record deal, listing Jin and Serius Jones’ own trajectories as a blueprint for success. “No, there was no booking,” Math explains when asked about any financial compensation he received during his initial years in the sport. “We were doing all this for free. Everything was happening for free, every Smack battle you saw. T-Rex [vs.] Un Kasa, all that was free. Wasn’t nobody getting paid. Murda Mook versus Serius Jones? No money. It was all about the love back then, it was the love and respect. Everybody’s mind-state back then [was], I rap, But, I don’t got $100,000 to put in my project or my promotion. How can I get a name? Battle rap. If you remember, back then, battle rappers were getting deals. Jin got a deal off of battle rapping. Serius Jones, battle rapping.”
5. On Meeting Drake
Battle rap has become a worldwide phenomenon with fans from all over the world tuning in to see the top contenders go round-for-round, one of the unlikeliest being Drake, whom Math Hoffa recently had the opportunity to meet.
”I saw him out here, when the Miami Heat won the championship the second time,” he remembers. “I’m standing outside, they close the door at Mansion, we’re trying to figure out how we’re gonna get inside. Somebody else tap me on the shoulder, I’m like ‘What’s up?’ He’s like, ‘Yo, you Math Hoffa?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ He’s like, ‘Yo, I’m Dwayne Wade’s brother. We love you. Come with me!’ Took me around the block, we went in through the back way and all, come up in the V.I.P., I’m like, ‘Yo.’ Sanaa Lathan over here, LeBron [James], the whole team… So, I get a tap on the shoulder. I turn around, it’s Drake. And Drake is like, ‘Yo, what’s up? What’re you doing here? You’re going crazy this year. You should battle K-Shine.’ He was like, ‘Yo, what y’all do on that stage makes what we do look like child’s play.’”
6. On How Battle Rap Helped Him Reunite With His Daughter
For Math, battle rap has not only helped him improve his quality of life, but assisted him in bringing his family together. “What people that don’t know is I did a lot of these battles for the bag, so I could come out here and find my daughter, who’s half Colombian,” he reveals. “And I came out here, I was out here for a long time doing that. That’s another story. It’ll be in the movie, stay tuned. So, after not being able to find her, not being able to communicate with her moms to set up where I could see my daughter, I fly back to New York to battle Serius Jones. I’m not in the right state of mind, I’m angry at life at this point.” He goes on to explain how that frustration boiled over, leading him to assault Jones in the heat of the battle. But, he shares that his quest to reunite with his daughter resulted in a happy ending. “We battled again,” he says. “And the funny thing is, after the Serius Jones battle, I came out here and I saw my daughter after not seeing her for nine years.”
7. On The Rules Of Engagement In Battle Rap
Hip hop has pushed the envelope, which has led to some moments that were deemed politically incorrect or too far beyond the pale to go unchecked by the critics, fans, and artists themselves. In battle rap, the verbal jousting can result into the line between competitive fervor and outright disrespect has been blurred, which Math addresses during his interview. “The bad thing about battle rap is sometimes we cross the line,” he admits. “Sometimes, people will die, like the young lady that died in Chicago in the freezer. She was used in a bar and that drove people in Chicago wild, so the battle rapper had to do a video apologizing to everybody, like, ‘I’m sorry.’ Sometimes we get too thirsty for a bar. Sometimes a joke is too soon or it just shouldn’t be made.”
8. On The Lack Of Originality In Hip Hop
Opinions on the current state of hip hop is a constant talking point within the culture. When asked to give his own take on the topic, Math laments the lack of originality. “They study a pattern that they think is usable for everybody,” he says of aspiring battle rappers. “Just like hip hop right now, where DaBaby will come out with a song; there’s like 150,000 people that will come out using the same flow. One of them might hit and be like, ‘Oh shit, this is the other shit.’ But, the rest of them, they’re just seeing one thing and emulating it. They’re not understanding the culture is really about originality and that’s the problem nowadays because I feel like I hear one record, it hits, and then I hear another record just like it, and then I hear another record that’s just like it. Just like battle rap. A dude will have a classic battle and then I’ll hear somebody else come with the same shit. That’s what separates the legends — the vets from the rookies.”
9. On Foxy Brown’s Unreleased “Bang Bang” Verses
One of the greatest rap artists of his time, N.O.R.E. has been involved in some great moments, one being “Bang Bang,” his 2000 collaboration with group-mate Capone and Foxy Brown. According to the “Drink Champs” host, Brown, who delivered a scathing verse dissing rival Lil Kim, actually came equipped with two different verses in addition to the one we heard, but they were too incendiary to be put on wax. “I’ma be honest with you, when Fox spit her first two verses, we looked at each other like, ‘No,’” he reveals. “‘Cause she was… listen, the verse that y’all got is great, but there’s two [extra] verses. I have it on reel. I’m never gonna put it out.”