Messing with Mediocrity

Rap battles serve as stepping stones for student to pursue larger ambitions

The bell rings to end sixth hour, and immediately the halls become impossible to navigate — even more so than usual.

Senior Charlie Williams practices rapping outside the school. Williams said he enjoys rapping outdoors because it gives him an excuse to wear his sunglasses. “I need to bring back that funky style — I feel like I’m funky,” Williams said. Photo by Molly Johnson.
Senior Charlie Williams practices rapping outside the school. Williams said he enjoys rapping outdoors because it gives him an excuse to wear his sunglasses. “I need to bring back that funky style — I feel like I’m funky,” Williams said. Photo by Molly Johnson.

Students flow curiously to a complete standstill at a massive clog in the senior locker area. The blockade is inevitable — within the ring stands two boys, the principal and a couple cops.

The disruption is a rap battle, and leading the standoff is senior Charlie Williams.

Williams said his interest in rap music began before his time and can be traced all the way back to his father, who was a DJ for a crew in Detroit.

“I’ve been listening to rap my whole life because that’s just what I know,” Williams said. “I like jazz and easy-listening stuff from the ‘50s, then I move on to soul music and the blues. I work my way up to ‘90s-era New York hip-hop. I take all those in, and then I just put me out.”

On SoundCloud, Williams posts audios of his raps under the artist name Mediocrity. 

“All the songs up right now are borrowed instrumentals from great hip-hop acts with myself over them, but those are amateur hour,” Williams said. “I recorded all those on an iPad in my closet.”

Williams said he gets practice outside of his closet, too.

“I like to just mess around with other musicians and rap over different live instruments,” Williams said. “I’ll go out in the city on rare nights to just sit around with musicians and mess around, but mostly it’s just jamming with whoever’s down for it. I just have fun and keep my mind open to new experiences.”

Through all this activity, William’s said his reputation has grown — although, the aspiring rapper doesn’t care all that much about his “street cred.”

“Credibility is just a byproduct of my success, so I have a little, but I’m on the path to getting even more respect,” Williams said. “I don’t go seeking it out or anything. That just has to happen on its own.”

Another way for Williams to expand his success was through the rap battles staged at Blue Valley. Up against him most recently was fellow senior Nick Nugent.

“Charlie has been rapping for a long time — since seventh grade — and it was just a fun competition to be able to showcase his talents,” Nugent said. “They actually began with some other kids doing rap battles, and then Charlie jumped into one of those battles and was like, ‘Hey, I heard [seniors] Jacob Bell and Luke Slagle did a rap battle, and Jacob Bell won. I can blow Jacob Bell out of the water.’”

Nugent said Williams publicized the battle “pretty lazily,” stirring the waters for new peer attention, which led to the concept that it would be beneficial to do another one.

“There was no one else to go against him, so I volunteered via text the day of the rap battle with Jacob Bell,” Nugent said. “Charlie promoted it on Twitter, and since we know each other so well, we were able to come up with some cutting stuff to say to one another. It was a good time.”

Nugent said his interest in supporting Williams was rooted in a long history of backing Williams and his raps up.

“When I was in seventh grade, Charlie posted a rap on Facebook, and I listened to it, thought it was awful and ended up basically slamming him,” Nugent said. “Charlie just shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I’m going to do it anyway.’ He ended up practicing it enough that I would give him a subject, like architecture or gardening, and he would have 30 minutes to write a rap about it. He came up with some really creative, clever word play for his flows.”

Nugent said over time, Williams began to improve as a rapper.

“Through his research of old style hip-hop artists, he was able to perfect his lyricism to portray a style that would allow him to say whatever he wants through the medium of rhyming and focusing on syllables,” Nugent said. “He just got better as we continued doing this.”

Though Nugent was intent on popularizing Williams’ skills, he said the battle was not rigged for Williams to win, though the lyrics were written beforehand.

“I spent a full three days trying to write my side, while Charlie spent probably half a day doing his because he was so confident in his ability,” Nugent said. “I practiced to compete, and I just wasn’t good enough.”

Free-styling is only one form of rap, and Williams said he was open about having written the lyrics beforehand.

“Show me a person that goes straight off the dome with specific rhyming and rhythmic lines, and I’ll show you someone good at memorization,” Williams said.

The day of the battle, authorities arrived at the clogged senior hall to break up the deadlock.

“That was legendary,” Williams said. “Mr. Bacon kept getting closer to me, telling me to stop over and over again, but I just wouldn’t. The crowd was behind me, and somehow I held more authority in that moment. He came within maybe four feet of me, and I yelled something really loud right at Nick and directly into Scott Bacon’s ears. After that, someone started clapping, and the entire hall filled with applause. So, it was done — no punishment, not even a talk afterward.”

Nugent said he was a little less excited about the break-up of the rap battle than Williams.

“I was annoyed because I wanted Charlie to have the opportunity to come back against me,” Nugent said. “It was causing a disturbance, but the school needs a disturbance. It was a great experience, and I’m glad we were able to lazily mobilize the entirety of the school.”

As for the future of Williams’ rapping career, he said his plans go beyond SoundCloud.

“It feels like the fulfillment of my predestination, like a prophecy,” Williams said. “I’m working with a real producer right now in an actual studio, making original mixes, so I’m kind of a huge deal. [It’s] nothing I’m allowed to legally talk about, but expect big things in the very near