Organik talks Grand Prix 2020, the future of KOTD & the impact of COVID-19
The battle scene is inherently an underground sub-culture, but the work of Canadian entrepreneur and visionary Travis “Organik” Fleetwood has made the battlesphere increasingly more mainstream and internationally celebrated.
While names like Maestro Fresh Wes and The Rascalz often come to mind while discussing Canadian rap legends, Organik—a talented emcee in his own right—has carved out a place amongst the greats and is arguably one of the most influential figures Canada has seen. Organik has been a true trailblazer in every sense of the word, bringing new elements to the field of battle rap, while making it more commercially viable in the process.
Where many other large battle leagues across North America have tried and failed, Organik and his team at King of the Dot (KOTD) have managed the league through a long run of prosperity and popularity. After starting off locally in Toronto on August 8, 2008—and then expanding by bringing international battle MCs to Canada and hosting events outside of Canada—KOTD has become one of the most recognizable rap battle brands in the world.
Organik has made significant sacrifices to get to where he is today. After leaving a job at a steel mill and even setting his own career as an emcee aside, Organik decided he had more to offer the scene with his idea for a battle league. In the mid-2000’s, Organik began using the web to share his earliest works, and was even an active member of the infamous HipHopCanada message board:
“HipHopCanada is what started my hip-hop career in battle rap,” Organik said in a recent discussion.
“I was 16-17 years old googling battle rap, I got invited and recruited to my first battle event after putting some audio of mine on the Internet. I use to look up battles on HHC and tried to find new ones like Proud to Be Eh Battle Emcee, Last Man Standing, a lot of crazy old events.”
Organik is in fact a Canadian rap legend. It may take some more years for him to sit firmly on the pedestal with others that came before, but it is inevitable as more generations grow up with YouTube and King of the Dot. For anyone looking for inspiration or proof that hard work does pay off, then look no farther then Travis Fleetwood who stuck to his vison through all the ups and downs and kept his league running.
There’s been obstacles along the way, but KOTD seems to push aside anything that’s slowing down their progress. If there were any naysayers left, they got quiet the day multi-Platinum selling artist Drake pulled up to a KOTD event in 2011 to co-host a battle between Dizaster and DNA.
Fast forward to present day, Organik and KOTD now have one more obstacle to persevere through as the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the battle scene. A ton of events and countless battles planned for 2020 were impacted by the pandemic, but despite all that KOTD still impressively managed to pull of one of the most epic tournaments in rap battle history with their Grand Prix 2020. A partnership with streaming service Twitch has brought the league to a whole new level of exposure and access.
“The ground-breaking agreement puts free Twitch battles at the heart of the streaming wars with exclusive access to all of the live events from King of the Dot’s newly announced Grand Prix 2020 tournament,” stated a press release issued in September.
It was an honour to speak with Organik recently, and run through some questions about the battle scene, his take on the current state of hip-hop, as well as KOTD’s past, present and future. He also took the time to reflect on his overall journey and shared some of his favorite moments. Check out the full Q&A with Organik below.
HipHopCanada: What’s up Organik! thanks for sitting down to chat with us today, how is it going man?
Organik: Can’t complain, staying busy.
HipHopCanada: What did you get up to during the first COVID-19 lockdown last Spring? How were you able to keep busy for the first few months?
O: Adjusting to the scenario like the rest of the world was forced to do. We had a few events in place that we had to cancel and re-adjust and stay patient for things to come back around.
HipHopCanada: Congrats on the success of the 2020 Grand Prix and bringing King of the Dot back into the forefront for the first time since the pandemic started. Were you surprised with the response and reaction you have gotten since the start of the tournament and the relaunch of the league?
O: No, not really. Battle rap is an ongoing thing and there are always fans and rappers around that want to participate in it so I wasn’t surprised.
HipHopCanada: What was the idea behind bringing King of the Dot back in the form of a tournament rather than to continue holding battles in the format previous to the lockdown (minus fans of course)?
O: The Grand Prix and a tournament was always something we planned on doing. When we were having constant events it’s hard to put a stop to things and focus on a pool of 32 rappers, however COVID-19 put us in a position where we weren’t doing multiple events at the same time so we were able to sit back and plan a full tournament. It’s not as if KOTD was dead before the lockdown, as we were about that have one of our biggest events to date on April 19th, but COVID-19 really put a halt on things but also allowed us to spend extra time on the idea of a tournament which we have wanted to do for a while. Also, the new partnership [with Twitch] really helped to highlight that.
HipHopCanada: Was there any apprehension at all on your team to having tournament take place fully in the USA given that KOTD is a Canadian based battle league?
O: No, I think given the circumstances, I think everyone is understanding to the situation and the realities of it. Most likely the North Division of the Grand Prix would have been held in Toronto if the borders weren’t effected by the coronavirus lockdown.
HipHopCanada: I saw that you yourself were able to make it down to a few of the Grand Prix events recently to do some hosting, how did you manage to travel down the States and how was the experience?
O: America is taking COVID-19 very seriously so I made sure to follow all the rules and guidelines while I was there. The experience was different and eye opening seeing how America is really handling the pandemic opposed to how everyone in Canada thinks they are dealing with it from watching the news.
HipHopCanada: Personally, I love the judged battle format as I have been a fan of rap battles way back since the WRC days. Do you think that Judged battles are here to stay in KOTD?
O: Yes I do, I think judging helps to bring a different narrative to the battles, creates new storylines and puts more on the line. The judging itself is an ongoing thing that we are working on as it has been almost 8 years since we have had a judged battle with the exception of the title matches. We’re going to continue to work on the process of nailing down judging and make sure it is as accurate as possible. That is the model we are working on right now trying to nail down any kinks that might still be there in the future but once we have a judging model that people can’t refute, I think it will open a lot of doors. When there is something being judged at the end of the battles it just feels like there is more on the line even if there isn’t.
HipHopCanada: Speaking of the now defunct Jump Off WRC league, could you see KOTD doing another 2v2 championship tournament in the future?
O: I’m not going to write it off but it’s very difficult to do when you are dealing with two rappers as you need to co-ordinate the preparation and the logistics of the whole thing as far as travelling and hotels which makes double the amount of work and expenses. It’s not something we are against as it’s something we’ve done before so I won’t say it’s not on the table but it’s just a lot harder to make it happen. Maybe once we get rolling more with the Grand Prix, we can revisit the 2 vs 2 format at that time.
HipHopCanada: Where do you see KOTD going next? Are there any plans for possibly an all-Canadian grand prix?
O: There are no current plans at the moment but I wouldn’t rule it out. We do have some plans for Canada that we want to do but nothing is set in stone. We do have plans to involve Canada a little more but when announcements are made, they’ll be made. It’s been difficult in Canada due to the politics of Toronto hip-hop which has hindered our ability to scout talent as people are not necessarily comfortable involving themselves in a hostile thing like battle rap, but there are things we are looking to attack and get approved in the future. Hopefully we can get the city and the country riding with it again as I think it’s a great way for artists to keep busy and stay off the streets while expressing themselves with this artform.
HipHopCanada: Would you ever consider returning as a competitor to battle rap or are you content with putting those days behind you now?
O: I would never like to say no to anything but it has been about 10 years now and if I was going to, I probably would have done it already. I’ll never say no because you just never know when you might get inspired with some excitement to do it but I don’t even think that is completely it. It’s more about having the time and devotion to really do it again, I think if I had more time to devote to it, I think I would but with running the league and all I would really be making a selfish decision trying to battle myself compromising the event and everyone that was depending on me to put my time into the events. Battle rap acts as a barrier that just shows all the fun and rapping but behind all that there is a lot of mental trauma that takes place whether its travelling and having to be away from your girl or your family which are sacrifices that someone has to make when preparing and making sure that they aren’t gonna go out there and embarrass yourself. It takes a lot to really do it and I don’t want to undermine that process until I am really ready to do and until then I don’t see myself jumping back in to the ring again.
HipHopCanada: What do you see has the biggest change in battle rap over the past 15 years?
O: Definitely, the most obvious change was freestyle to written. Battle rap was always freestyle back in the day when now its primarily written and from battle on beats to accapella which is clearly the more popular format now. I think the creativity and the wittiness of the artists evolve over time, the rappers now actually have a blueprint to follow as the previous rappers such as Many Styles, Jin, tonedeff and PH didn’t have blueprints to follow on how to be a battle rapper and were lucky just to see footage of themselves. Now we are at a state where artist can watch video of themselves rapping and make improvements on everything from mannerisms to body language and the whole nine with the goal of making them self a complete artist. Also, the technology aspect of it of social media and online video because when I was coming up you’d be lucky enough just to have someone show up to an event with a video camera and keep your fingers crossed the video would show up on a HipHopCanada forum so that is really what it was like in those days. Now every battler is guaranteed to have their footage up on YouTube where they have the ability to critique it as well have other people critique it and make adjustments while back then it was more of a privilege to have that ability.
HipHopCanada: Looking back at well over a decade of being the head of the biggest battle league in the world, what is something you’re the proudest of?
O: The unity, the fact that we were able to create a community of people across Canada is something that will never be replicated again in any form or genre of anything. It was a clean sweep of what was happening across Canada and the world with people trying to battle rap and everything you know? It formed some kind of bond and unity with people across the country as it didn’t matter if you were from PEI and you knew another battle rapper or fan from Vancouver you were automatically cool with each other and had that bond. It was the type of thing where if you walked down the street and you saw another person with a KOTD shirt you would walk across the street and fist bump that person, it was almost like a cult type niche culture that we created that would be very hard to replicate again and it was just pure and it’s the thing I’m most proud of. Look at the number of lives that was changed, how many people met their wives, how many people met friends, the networking, the relationships that were created at the events, the people that came there that were able to sell a t-shirt or met someone to engineer their audio, it was just such a big hub for Canadian hip-hop it wasn’t just a battle rap event it was literally a networking hub. So many people there that were involved with Canadian hip-hop and if they weren’t then they were a fan that was very supportive of Canadian hip-hop so that was something that I took a lot of pride in and still do. I still see people that have met at KOTD events and are now married and I just laugh and tell them I know they met at one of my events. haha! There are tons of amazing stories like that.
One other thing I am very proud of people that were able to cement their legacy, some of my friends didn’t make it here such as Bender. RIP. He was able to cement his legacy here, seeing how people were receptive to him after he passed that was priceless to me and something I am very proud of. We also broke a stigma around Canadian hip-hop and even Toronto itself as Drake was breaking out around the same time as a commercial artist so there was a lot of people looking up here just for him but then there were people saying ‘no haven’t you heard about that battle league up there too?’ it added another level of depth to Canadian hip-hop and people could see that it wasn’t just the ‘Drake’ style of rap up here and people can actually really rap hard so it brought a level of integrity to the Canadian hip-hop scene and for the people coming out of it no longer had that stigma. I don’t know if it was the Raptors, Vince Carter, Drake, Rob Ford or KOTD but I think the accumulation of all those things helped bring Toronto to the forefront of the urban culture.
HipHopCanada: Back in the early days of King of the Dot the HHC message boards was a place where a lot of discussion happened in regards to the battles, do you have any memories of the HHC forums back then?
O: Tons man, I use to live on the HHC forums when I was young are you kidding me! (Laughs) HipHopCanada is what started my hip-hop career in battle rap. I was 16-17 years old googling battle rap. I got invited and recruited to my first battle event after putting some audio of mine on the Internet. I use to look up battles on HHC and tried to find new ones like Proud to Be Eh Battle Emcee, Last Man Standing, a lot of crazy old events.
HipHopCanada: We have been watching all of the Grand Prix events on Twitch and I must say that the quality of the performances we have been seeing from the competitors has been next level. Can you provide any insight into why that might be?
O: $50,000 dollars is on the line; these are artists that are taking competitiveness seriously. I think anyone that will jump into the Grand Prix will need to be competitive by nature as it is something you need to dedicate yourself to. A lot of people are scared to commit to something like the Grand Prix that is three or four months long as no one knows what is going to happen in life. Especially during a time of a global pandemic, civil unrest and a presidential election… there is a lot going on. Some people might look at this as an escape. At the end of the day they are all really competitive people and that is what brought it out… you gotta prove yourself when it’s all on the line, no one wants to be the one who goes out first. Also, tournaments seem to remove the aura around someone’s character as we see with the Diz vs Frak situation. These are two people that normally would not be battling each other in a regular situation but they’re battling in the Grand Prix so their individual statures are no longer relevant. You have to be good or these new kids will come take your spot. You got to be good and you have to win.
HipHopCanada: Just to wrap things up, do you have any last words for your fans out there reading this?
O: I just want to say thank you to everyone and stay safe. It’s a global pandemic so stay safe, thanks for all the support and check us out on Twitch.
You can watch the remaining battles of the 2020 Grand Prix live on Twitch every Sunday and you can follow Organik on Instagram @OrganikHipHop and King of the Dot @KOTDTV for future updates on the league.
Written by Kyle McNeil for HipHopCanada
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