West Side Snakepit III - Live in San Jose (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

West Side Snakepit III

Live in San Jose (2012)

live show

Although Oakland, Calif. to the north gets all the noise, San Jose has recently begun to develop a substantial underground of performance and battle-based emcees. Thanks in part to a small group of dedicated artists and promoters, San Jose has begun to feature more and more underground shows and battle competitions.

On Feb. 24, West Side Snake Pit III, arranged and promoted by the Silicon Valley's Sean Blak (who between his interminable string of mix tapes, weekly live shows and plans for a SXSW set is probably the hardest working hip-hopper in the South Bay), featured half a dozen emcee freestyle battles and too many live performances to count.

Much like a sports league, West Side Snakepit is a loose organization of battle emcees. Divided into a bracket, the emcees square off against one another in three one-minute rounds with a group of three judges deciding the victor.

Although the emcees were too numerous to mention, a few of the battlers stood above the rest. In the battle of Pure vs. Virg-ill, Pure took the ring by cutting Virg-ill down through a tactic in which he recognized the later emcee had stolen a line from a battle three years previously, and worked it into his own assault. The slash was so brutal, that Virg-ill, in his retort, stumbled on his lines, costing him the match.

Earlier, J-Squared the 2nd faced off against Maleko. In that match, Maleko got in some good digs at J-Squared, but J-Squared bested his opponent by remarking on Maleko's Hawaiian background and then stating that he would "chop him up like a pineapple."

The show was quite the contrast from more mainstream modern hip-hop. While performances by big name emcees are usually overproduced, glossy affairs, it was about as raw as raw could get. Timing wasn't always quite right, and not every rhyme connected, but when the verbal blows landed, they LANDED. Digs were nasty, sometimes resulting in hurt feelings, while other times, losing emcees congratulated the winner.

Apparently, West Side Snakepit is being absorbed into a bigger battle league collective. If San Jose keeps up the pace, maybe in a decade or so it will be mentioned along the bigger meccas of hip-hop and someone might have to cut a track along the lines of "South bay, south south bay!"