On the offensive

Hip-hop wannabes now have a chance to show they've got the mouths to match their basket-ball tops and baseball caps.

Rap battles are freestyle verbal contests held under tournament conditions and judged by the crowd. Opponents take turns trading rhymes, which can be as witty as they are rhythmically impressive. The format has proved popular overseas, but is only just starting to take off in Hong Kong.

'This show is for all the people who love hip-hop,' says MC Battle Night organiser and host Elmar Torrents - aka El J. 'I've been rapping all of my life and have been able to experience many sides of the culture. I want to share that with others.

'In places like the US, these battles take place all the time. People have seen [rapper Eminem's film] 8 Mile and heard about rap battles. We want to give people the chance to try.

'So many people in Hong Kong are into this kind of music,' Torrents says. 'You see them on the streets, wearing the clothes and listening to the music. We just thought, 'Why not bring everyone together in one place to battle.''

The battle will be held in Pebbles Bar in SoHo. 'We want to give people an outlet to really express what they're thinking and feeling,' says manager Jimmy Monico. 'Rapping is a great way to do that. This is the first one, so it's very much an experiment. If it goes well, then we'll host regular battle nights - maybe once every two weeks.'

Each contestant will get an initial 15 seconds accompanied by the bar's resident DJ. Their opponent takes the next 15 seconds, as the battle continues. Each rapper will be given three 15-second slots with the winner, judged on crowd support.

The first prize is $1,500 and a trophy. The runners-up will also receive prizes. Hopefuls can register by calling. There's no entry fee and no need to submit demo recordings.

'So far we've had lots of inquiries, but we're still looking for more contestants,' says Torrents, who will rap in between bouts.

'We want contestants from everywhere. It doesn't matter where they're from, as long as they enjoy hip-hop.'

And there's no policy about language or style. 'They can rap in English, Cantonese, anything,' Torrents says. 'Some people like to prepare material, some just like to freestyle. We welcome all approaches.'

Typically, the lyrical content focuses on the opponent. Baiting and provocation are the norm - the more humorous the better. 'We don't want anything below the belt though,' says Torrents. 'It's more about having a good time, and it's important that everyone knows it's all in good fun and for a laugh. Everyone shakes hands at the end of the battle.

'It's really about taking part in the experience. You'll always win if you're not afraid to lose.'

Entry is open to everyone. 'We absolutely welcome beginners, as well as people with experience,' Torrents says. 'These events give new rappers confidence, and that's what we're trying to encourage. We aren't so worried about standards at this stage. That'll develop in time. Right now, we just want to open the scene up to everyone who wants to try this out and give it a go.

'I'll be happy just to see so many people in the same place, all there for the music and a good time. We want to build this venue into a house of hip-hop.'

MC Battle Night, Mar 26, 10pm-1am, Pebbles, G/F 75 Wyndham St, Central, free. Inquiries: 6354 5845