(I make $0.00 from this article. It is entirely a passion piece reflecting on a person I think is incredibly important to the culture that is battle rap. Rest in peace, Bender.)
I love battle rap. More than the competition of the sport and the production of the battles, I love those who make it possible. I love those who innovate and push the culture forward with what they do. I love those who test the limits of what’s been previously done to make new things possible for the culture. I loved when King of the Dot created THE BUNKER to harvest both international and local talent in a fixed setting. I loved when Aye Verb called Big Gerald and showed being personal didn’t mean a battler had to subtract lyrical content for personal impact. Most of all, I loved when Bender… showed up and performed.
There’s a stigma behind multisyllabic rhyme structures in the modern era. Any rebuttal to a multi sequence will have a 100.00% chance of ending with the words “Grind Time”. If you were to list the people who did the multi style (or even abused them at some point) the second best person to do the multisyllabics (which, in my opinion, is Illmaculate) is still so far from where Bender was because his writing was transcendent. When someone pushes three bars of multis on you in a battle now, the crowd is gassed. They’re worn. You literally refer to it as “abusing multis” when you talk about it. When it came to what Bender could create, you couldn’t even suggest that it was abuse of the style because it came across so natural. His method of using these rhymes didn’t feel contrived, or forced, or like it was pandering to a crowd. It was this mind of a genius spinning around in his head letting off nukes at his opponents bar after bar.
I think the best example of this happens in his battle against Syd Vicious (2012), linked below with a timestamp. (12:30)
Before I delve into the next point entirely, I’d like to point something out. In this clip with Bender, as he’s going (and going… and going… and fucking going) the crowd gets progressively more excited even though there’s no end in sight. By the time he’s at “Patrick Bateman business cards!” there is a person behind him (not in the host’s area, but behind him) literally bouncing up and down at how excited he is. On top of that, the crowd goes to react to a setup as if it were the final punch 4-5 times over the whole scheme but they die down just to let him build more. It’s this one-of-a-kind moment where everyone realizes what’s about to happen (even Syd) and lets it happen.
“I started battle rapping as a favor for Loe Pesci, who started up the Montreal Division. I never wanted to battle, you know; I used to battle in the freestyle days. Did alright, but you know… was never my cup of tea. I was always a songwriter. [Loe Pesci], you know, he asked me to get in it, start in his league, so I did it as a favor to him. Did that one battle and just… got addicted, you know?“
(referencing the above) In the series of battles by King of the Dot named Vendetta — which Syd Vicious vs Bender was a part of — all of the battles had pre-taped promotional vignettes filmed to promote the introduction and provide context to fans who didn’t really know certain cats. There’s striking similarity to the old promo packages they used for wrestlers walking through a nondescript warehouse-esque place that they’d place into match promotional videos to sort of showcase a talent a little. It’s a nice touch that a lot of people now use, but what’s really unique about Bender’s is the story he tells about how he actually got into battle rap.
Bender started by complete chance. If he’d never met Pesci, there’s a chance he’d have never gotten into King of the Dot. We’d have gotten more Flight Distance tapes and more music as a result of it, but his forte was battling. He started solely off of the chance Pesci needed someone for the Montreal Division in King of the Dot and from there, became an incredible force of nature within that scene (and worldwide) and that’s all from this one chance event. This one isn’t too important. It just feels right to talk about.
“I go for broke, so on the motherfuckin’ day I die,
tip your 40 bottles horizontal and just say goodbye.”
Bender’s work in battling is unrivaled innovation but as he says in the promo for the Syd Vicious battle, he is, at heart, a songwriter. Flight Distance was a group composed of MC Patience, Bender and DJ Calkuta that existed in Ottawa’s underground scene. While they never hit it big or charted to top 40, they made an impressive body of work that resonates within a lot of the underground and the more backpacker battle fans out there with their projects. Bender was one of the only artists in battle rap capable of making good music — it’s almost a meme at how bad most are — and that speaks volumes to his versatility and ability to stand out. Below are some of what I think are the best songs (or really, just my favorites) from Flight Distance/Bender.
I’ll be the first to admit that prior to his passing, I wasn’t familiar with Bender’s art. He was immensely talented at his portrait style in retrospect and because I didn’t really know anything about his art, I’ll keep it at that.
If you’d like to further look into his art, visit the link here to look at all of his work.
“See I was craftin’ my pen into a tactical weapon, while you were hangin’ with meth-heads waitin’ on a batch from your chemist //
Class is in session when the master is present, how do you think this is a mirror match? I don’t have a reflection //
You quit your day job? You better cash-in your pension, I start infernos, arctic circle turned to Galveston, Texas //
Came to leave a body, no Astral Projection, Julius Caesar gettin’ stabbed in the Senate; I’m back with a vengeance //
You can’t capture the essence with camera lenses, you been gassed since you stepped in, now you gas for this engine //
A massive percentage won’t catch ’til years after I said it // Even after I’m dead, that’s not the exit, they’ll travel for miles and trample the entrance while my casket’s embedded like Vladimir Lenin’s cadaver that’s kept under glass at the Kremlin //
God damn, that’s expensive.
I can’t write forever about Bender, but I can let his actions speak for themselves. I love his material, his delivery and even his short, bald demeanor that he used to intimidate opponents and shake rooms. This is the list of what I think is his best work.
Of course, there’s a lot missing — every performance by Bender where he didn’t choke (and even ones where he did; see: vs The Saurus) was a master class in how to be the best at what you do. You can watch any Bender battle and understand the appeal and that’s the beauty of who he was. He was king of that.
Long live the King.
Rest in peace, Bender.