Five years ago, the King of the Dot was little more than a few guys tossing rhyming insults at each other in parks and recording it for YouTube. Now, KOTD has evolved into one of the world’s most respected battle-rap leagues, getting shout-outs from some of hip hop’s most prominent MCs, spawning multiple divisions across the country, and giving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes over the years. This weekend, the organization will celebrate its fifth anniversary with an event called World Domination 4. The three-night rhymefest will be hosted by local rap hero Drake, and will feature MCs from around the globe duking it out for cash and bragging rights. KOTD founder Travis “Organik” Fleetwood calls it “the Olympics of Battle Rap.”
“I grew up battling ever since I was a young kid,” Organik says. “I’m just competitive by nature. And I’d been trying to get a venue to hold battles in, but I was like 18, I didn’t have a deposit, club owners wouldn’t take me seriously. So, the first event was done with a week’s notice, we did with about three days promotion and we got 50 people out in Dundas Square.”
“The first sign it was really blowing up was when got our first venue, in 2009. Doors were at 8 p.m. We were sold out by 7:50.”
Organik says KOTD and other battle leagues—like the American Grind Time Now, and the UK-based Don’t Flop—have helped reinvigorate the battle-rap scene. Previous generations of battle leagues featured MCs rhyming over popular instrumentals. Leaving a big variable like the beat in the hands of the DJ often put certain competitors at a disadvantage.
“It used to be freestyling over beats,” he says. “That’s what I grew up on and I loved, but it was also really unpredictable. You could travel across the world, and then DJ throws on a beat and it doesn’t mesh with your rap style.” To keep the competition fair, King of the Dot’s battles are a cappella.
World Domination 4 will feature MCs not only from Canada and the US, but also the Philippines, Australia, South Africa, and the UK. This diversity is clear evidence of how much KOTD—and battle rap in general—has grown.
“Every sport has their World Cup,” Organik says. “We wanted to do that for battle rap. We’re bringing the best from across the world and bringing them together. We want to see who’s the best, who’s improved over the last year…You get a little more competitive spirit when you have your country on your back.”
“Pat Stay is the People’s Champ,” he says. “Everyone wants Pat Stay to be the champion. Arcane is a heel, but he’s really good. It’s like you have a superhero against a supervillain, but right now the villain is the champ.”
Stay says he’s witnessed the growth of the league, and that the competitors have gotten both more vicious and more technically skilled over the years.
“When it started, it was just all jokes,” he says. “Now, unfortunately, a lot of those kind of jokey rappers can’t even hang anymore…There are so many different angles. Now it’s pure aggression and complex rhyme schemes. It’s just survival of the fittest now.”
He adds that he wasn’t even particularly interested in competing for the title until host Drake asked him to.
“I told him no at first, and I felt bad about it,” he says. “I was like ‘Fuck that. I don’t want the chain…’ I guess I wasn’t appreciative of the compliments he was giving me. And I thought about that and I thought that he was right. I should take advice from a dude who’s in the sort of position he’s in.”
Organik says that while there are a lot of battles he’s looking forward to, he’s most excited by the prospect of seeing international MCs do what they love.
“I’m looking forward to the overall experience,” he says. “People are flying for 48 hours from South Africa, with all types of layovers and everything, to rap for three minutes. People are so eager to compete and prove their worth. That’s an incredible vibe.”