Red Bull returned to ATL with a sold-out competition for their high-energy 2018 Red Bull Music Culture Clash to close out the month of August. The summer staple event celebrates sound system culture, with its leading inspiration being Jamaican music battles, which originated in the 1950s.
Atlanta-born visual artist FRKO, best known for his work with hip-hop mainstays such as Gucci Mane, commemorated the evening with a one-of-one spray paint mural. To add to the animation, Culture Clash featured four elevated stages. Each hoisted the performances of its competitors above a mosh pit of rowdy attendees. Crews Zaytoven with Zaytown Global, Fuego with Fireboy Sound, Kranium with Frequent Flyers and Mija & Kenny Beats with Don’t Think all brought their best diss records, lively guests, trash talk and stage ramping antics.
Georgia’s homegrown trap was at the forefront of the competition, but not without Red Bull paying homage to dancehall, Latin soundscapes, hip-hop and electronic music, too. Notably, a barrage of Atlanta MCs and personalities such as Pastor Troy, FatMan KEY, Gorilla Zoe, Trillville, Archie Eversole and a phone-in from Gucci Mane supported the festivities. Under the direction of Power 105’s co-host of the Breakfast Club, Angela Yee, a track-for-track genre feud began.
Local contender Zaytoven is boasted as a godfather within trap music, one revered for his well-charted production with artists such as Migos, Lil Uzi Vert and Future. Screams pervaded as Zaytoven launched his Culture Clash performance by playing “Icy” by Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy. Accompanying his musicality was Zaytown Global, DJ Babey Drew, OJ Da Juiceman, Lecrae and others.
To the scratches of DJ Roots Queen, a mix of Atlanta-based records blared before Zaytoven interjected, “There are a lot of Caribbean people in here right now. Make some noise!” A Zaytown Global flag waved to their rhythmic blend while cueing up the stage for Lumidee and her “Never Leave You (Uh Oh)” classic. Zaytoven was the act to beat, and there was an array of surprise guests en route.
Soon, sparkler machines set off as Drake smash “Trophies” rang as a counteraction. Fuego’s voice commanded attention: “Shout out mi gente! Big up Latinos.” The Dominican Latin trap influencer appeared to much fanfare. Even so, the virally-beloved Pio signaled a dembow mix, building applause. The Fireboy Sound spectators were forced to dance. Although bite-sized, Pio proved his stage presence to be larger-than-life. Soaking in the set’s pulsating praise, DJ Happy Colors kept the crowd enthused with reggaeton and bachata smashes. Fatboy SSE, DVLP and Luyo served as his hypemen until the Red Bull show timer chimed.
Nevertheless, the Caribbean music matchup did not cease there. Montego Bay-born, Queens-raised artist Kranium lit the dancehall circuit ablaze. Frequent Flyers banners stretched across his podium, and he barked, “Zaytoven and Fireboy Sound, are you dumb? What the f–k was that?!” Mixed reviews ensued, but a Wyclef Jean co-signing voiceover brought temporary peace to Kranium’s controversy.
Jean’s hit, “911” featuring Mary J. Blige, caused an uproar, as Majah Hype, DJ Self, Masicka and Noah Powa joined forces. “If you are proud to be West Indian — sing!” DJ Polish announced while playing Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me.” Under tuneful hypnotization, he appropriately closed with street anthems including C-Murder’s, “Down For My N—-z” and Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck.”
In light of the hype, Mija & Kenny Beats came prepared to brawl with Don’t Think. The crew debuted clad in wrestling attire. Each member pounced on Waka Flocka Flame’s “O Let’s Do It.” Fittingly, their stage was roped off as a fighting ring. The electronic elite DJs understood #CultureClash was not the time for festival-like flower-crowned ditties. With the assistance of Rico Nasty and Zack Fox, earworms such as Future’s “March Madness” and D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” brought in-your-face drama. This collective was the first to garner participation with current radio tracks thanks to YG’s “Big Bank” featuring 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Nicki Minaj, which capped off their hard-hitting round.
Yee returned to her high-rise platform to explain rules to onlookers and those with aspirations of becoming a Culture Clash Champion. While dubplate specials were expected, duplicate records from a contender would result in disqualification. Culture Clash was to be controlled by hosts solely, and competitors must end their set at the completion of Red Bull’s timer. Lastly, the cheers of the audience would be calculated by a decibel reader to determine who wins a round.
Zaytoven and Zaytown Global took notes and swept back-to-back rounds titled The Selector and Sleeping With The Enemy. They went for gold by bombarding the opposition with appearances from Paul Wall, Young Dolph, F.L.Y., Demarco and more. The final round, named, The Decider, was worth double the points. Again, all EDM selects, dancehall riddims and Latin trap songs were welcomed.
Mija & Kenny Beats returned with Archie Eversole banger “We Ready” and Don’t Think amped their momentum by spraying water guns. Fans threw themselves towards the stage, aiming to grip the ring ropes during a splash-filled trap exit. Nonetheless, Zaytoven’s eyeing demeanor seemed unbothered.
Gucci Mane appeared on a jumbotron with a video warning that urged competitors to “Save Yourself” when going against Zaytoven. To the beat of Too Short’s “Blow The Whistle,” DJ Babey Drew snatched the mic to talk smack about not relying on dubs. Speedily, Fabo of D4L charged out in his signature white sunglasses to finger-snap over a “Laffy Taffy” verse, and the audience followed suit a second time. The commotion continued as Young Dolph took center stage to rap “Preach.” Zaytown Global’s rivalry was formidable prior to their assemblage running out of time.
Sporting blue Fireboy Sound bandanas, Fuego and his gang lept into the spotlight for “Reconoce.” The track itself was well-received, but Fuego’s stage was jolted with admirers when Beanie Man’s voice chimed in for a Culture Clash memo. Pio did not miss a beat. The first-rate hypeman lifted his shirt and winded down to “Dude” while sandwiched between two dancers. A thunder of laughter followed. Filled with pride, Fuego signaled towards his backdrop. The words “Dios, Patria y Libertad” (God, Homeland, Liberty) were illuminated, a throw to the Dominican Republic’s national motto etched on its coat of arms.
Kranium professed he felt cheated in a prior round, but used the bereavement as fuel. T.O.K.’s tune “Footprints” inspired mournful singing, yet the sentimental moment lasted all of an instant. Rupee’s “Jump” was a tumultuous hint of what was to come. “Weh Dem A Do,” looped on speakers, and Mavado himself became the tug-of-war’s most climatic stunt. His reggae medley featuring “So Special” and “My League” was seamless as a Kingston sign was shaken vigorously by a Frequent Flyer. Cleverly, Kranium unleashed siren’s for his immaculate final number, Beenie Man’s “I’m Drinking/Rum & Red Bull.”
The moment of truth arrived: Yee asked viewers who the final round belonged to, and the response was blatantly Kranium with Frequent Flyers, which tied up Culture Clash. Attendees were tasked with determining who provided the best show overall. Surpassing Zaytoven with Zaytown Global’s hometown advantage, Kranium broke the Culture Clash decibel meter hand-in-hand with Frequent Flyers.