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[Editor's note: Click through Justin Langille's 17-picture photo essay at the top of this story to look in on Chilliwack's three-night rap battle.]

When a concert by Detroit rap group D-12, including Eminem, gets underway at Chilliwack's Industry Night Club tonight, the opening act won't just be warming up the crowd. He'll be taking his throne.

For the last three weeks, hip-hop heads from across the Lower Mainland have descended on the back alley bar to watch a pack of hungry young rappers tear each other apart for a stack of cash and a chance to share the stage with legit hip-hop stars. Dubbed the 8-Mile Freestyle Competition (in honour of Eminem's seminal pseudo-biopic), the contest was held as a promotional rouse for a rare Fraser Valley appearance by D-12.

The competition, judged by Vancouver hip-hop group Global Syndicate, was a three-round cross between Idol-style talent shows and the more traditional rap battle.

In the first round, mostly unknown young MCs faced off against one another in the conventional one-on-one battle format. In three a capella tries apiece (for the uninitiated, that's with no beats whatsoever), two rappers rhymed freestyle affronts filled with verbal assault meant to best (and in most cases humiliate) their opponent.

The second round provided one minute bursts of instrumental hip-hop issued forth from the DJ's pedestal while competitors rapped freestyle verse overtop, showing off their versatility and verbal dexterity.

In the third, those who still remained in the competition, and others who ventured to enter the competition mid-way, performed two songs from their repertoire of songs and pre-written material.

That was how it was supposed to go down anyway.

As tends to happen in most serious contests of rap skill, the ad hoc rules of hip-hop conduct were bent and the riot act was adhered to loosely. Rounds went overtime, people rhymed composed material (writtens) when they were supposed to be improvising. And no one could mistake these evenings for genteel explorations of the nuances of race, class, gender and sexuality. This was the unrepentant art of rhyming slurs and stories of survival as practiced by cooks, carpenters, young fathers, the keepers of an independent rap culture nearly invisible in local media.

When Metro Vancouver rappers and the Chilliwack's 7side crew competed, it was urban-rural class warfare, amped to the max. A division of labour ensured that only men performed while women danced and documented; in fact, women recorded the men's exploits on video and generally organized the entire show. Violent, homophobic insults were de rigueur for rappers during battle and garnered the biggest response from the crowd. When a winner was announced, at least one of the losers accused the judges of favouring people of one skin colour over others.

The stakes were high, especially for the Chilliwack rappers competing. Not only might they claim superiority on home ice, they could earn a chance to share the stage with rappers who have sold millions of records. One shot.

Who won? Click through the photo essay at the top of this story to find out.

Read more: Music, Photo Essays

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