The Scene – Epic Battle on Insurgentes

Dateline: La Glorieta de Insurgentes, CDMX

Many talk, few rhyme; only the best improvise.

There’s literally never a dull moment here. Just walk out your door. Something interesting is surely happening. That’s “The Scene,” and Mexico City has it in spades. Yesterday, after a fairly quiet day at home, I decided to walk up Insurgentes toward “La Glorieta.” Alive with people of all kinds, it’s a great place to hang out. At a bare minimum, it’s a heavily-transited plaza and the gateway to gay Mexico City, with hordes of handsome guys walking past. Some amazing gals too. At it’s best, it rivals Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California for weirdness, “interesting” people, and the kinds of things you’d only see in the largest cities.

When I arrived, it was in fine form, with loads of folks there. As I got closer to the metro station, there were four young men, probably about 20, battling it out. A portable speaker was playing a “beat,” and the four were divided into two teams, freestyling rap. And what exactly were they rapping? Well, it was one large insult fight. Man, they left nothing sacred. One of the guys was a little chubby, and they simply nailed him with almost every fat joke in the book, along with some new entries. But as probably the best rapper of the bunch, he punched well above his weight, so his assailants took some real body blows as he fought back.

But none of this was truly nasty. Sure, oh yeah, the words were cutting, abusive, and quick. But every supreme insult was laughed off by the victim, and there were a lot of fist bumps between the assailants just reminding everyone that it was all in good fun. In fact, the victims would frequently burst into laughter when a particularly good insult was landed.

But wow! These guys were simply amazing. Each one managed to spit out intricate, rhyming insults and comments, all improvised on the fly, all perfectly timed to the beat. No, I didn’t understand it all. In fact a lot went right over my head, what with the rapid pace and heavy street slang. Never mind the fact that a lot of it wasn’t exactly totally coherent sentences either. But I did understand a lot, and it was hysterical. Every possible topic was explored, from the victim’s weight, his sexual proclivities, (or lack thereof), to his girlfriend (who was actually present, hehe), to even being compared to a particularly disgraced politician or political party.

From time to time, one of the guys would change the beat and shout a new theme. The most absurd? Baroque art! I’m not kidding. I laughed my head off at the thought of these 20-something, urban kids aggressively rapping insults to each other with a theme of Baroque art. “This, they’re not gonna pull off,” I thought. But man, they surprised me. Turns out “Arte Barroco” rhymes with “loco,” and other, more insulting words. As they continued, I was downright astonished as they threw in references not only to Baroque art, but to rococo, neoplasticism, neoclassicism, and a host of other things that I simply did not expect. All while continuing to insult each other to a pulsing, rap beat.

I must have spent about 45 minutes watching them, laughing hysterically, along with a medium sized crowd. After a while, it looked like their energy was flagging a bit and the novelty was wearing off anyway. So I walked away. But about a half hour later, as I passed them again on my way home, they were still at it, full force.

Amazing. I can barely keep my voice going for a half-hour at a noisy party. I can scarcely imagine rapping at full volume for hours in a public plaza, with no microphone. My hat is off to these guys, for their stamina, their chutzpah, and sheer creativity. Now that’s cool.

Here’s a YouTube video I found with one of the guys I saw yesterday. (In the thumbnail.) Take it for a spin and see what you think. If you can make any of this out, you get an A+ in street Spanish. Kudos.

Meanwhile, I’m off to watch my favorite, aging transvestite (transsexual?) bass player strum out some wicked chords. Saludos!