Happy Birthday to Kool Moe Dee, Who Transformed the Nature of Battle Rap (Video)
On August 8, 1962, a man was born who would revolutionize the way freestyle battles operated, forever leaving his mark on Hip-Hop. Years before he would have that impact, however, he was already forging the path of a pioneer, finding success in the early days of a culture that many had dismissed as a passing trend not worthy of any deeper appreciation. A Manhattan, New York native, Kool Moe Dee (born Mohandas Dewese) began his foray into music in the late ’70s as a member of the Treacherous Three alongside MCs Special K (who replaced Spoonie Gee) and LA Sunshine (backed by DJ Easy Lee). Credited as being the first rapper to perform at the Grammys, Dewese was also one of the earliest Grammy nominees, but his influence didn’t begin or end there. His implementation of double-time flow earned him a permanent place as a fixture of Hip-Hop history but even that isn’t his most celebrated contribution.
In 1981, the Harlem World nightclub in Manhattan hosted an MC battle, much like it did on other nights. On this particular evening, however, there was something palpable in the air, an energy that manifested itself into a spectacle nobody had seen before. Kool Moe Dee, who was serving as the host, ended up being a contestant who took on Busy Bee Starski, an MC who had been making the rounds at local MC battles and winning them all. At first, the battle went on as others did, with the participating lyricists trading barbs about who gets the party started better, whose flows were better, and boasts about one’s own prowess. This time, the tenor shifted, and Kool Moe Dee began to diss his opponent, revolutionizing battle rap into a forum for bragging into one for insulting.
The specifics of that story are shared in great detail on Kool Moe Dee’s episode of “Unsung,” a television show which celebrates the achievements of artists whose legacies often go unmentioned or unrecognized. Watch the full episode right here, and take a trip back to the earliest days of the now ubiquitous diss track.