“Where’s the beef?” I scream aggressively as I head into the rap battle.
No one had told me beforehand that this was a vegan rap battle and that vegan rappers don’t beef, they tempeh. Embarrassed, I awkwardly mutter, “uh, where’s the effin tempeh, homies?” No one acknowledges. They see quite distinctly that it’s my first vegan rap battle and I’m clearly out of my element. Although a relatively experienced vegetarian wordsmith, I’ve admittedly not mastered the harmonious flow of the vegan freestyle nor honed my animal welfare vernacular enough to compete on the amateur vegan hip hop circuit.
MC Kale takes the stage and promptly calls the first contestants to the mic. I watch anxiously as Soyz ‘N the Hood drops a sick vegan flow on Lil’ Cauliflower. I instantly realize that I’m in over my head. These vegan rappers are hard and most of them veterans, highly seasoned, with nary a hint of dairy to be found. My heart races much like those of the swine before slaughter, or the bovine in steel-caged transport semis. I cower in the corner like a motherless baby cow, soon to be minced into veal on the mic.
MC Kale calls the shots. Rapper after rapper advances and soon it’ll be my turn. A novice vegan rapper at best, I’m merely a pawn in the plant-based rap game. A garden variety of experienced vegan freestylers have preceded me. Across the room, an honorary bust of the deceased Notorious FIG gazes my way. Tragically lost in the infamous red meat drive-by shooting outside LA many years ago, Notorious FIG still represents triumph and inspiration to much of the vegan rap community. My stomach turns as MC Kale calls me to the stage.
As I approach the mic, the crowd rains boos upon me. My stage name, Ludacrispy Tuna Roll, is inconsistent with vegan morals and the crowd reacts aggressively. I thought this was a vegetarian battle, where dairy products and seafood-centric flow would be welcome. I’m quite obviously an outsider here, as most of my rhyme book is laced with dairy-based insults and milk-chocolate-on-yo-momma rhetoric. Even my patented phrase, “leather-up, bitches” will not work with this audience. My opponent, Hay-Z, is one of the best known sustainable grain farmers on the underground vegan rap circuit. As Hay steps to the mic, he delivers a breathtaking beat down, exposing my lack of preparation and knowledge with slaughtering jabs like “you ain’t nuthin’ but edamame in my pod” and “just a brioche biotch”. I slowly disappear into the shadows, having been rapidly disposed of by a vegan rap assassin. Hay walks away victorious, the crowd throwing Hay’s trademark celebratory dark chocolate, sustainable almond cocoa nibs in the air.
I take my beating like a man yet still seek to vanish into the dark without encountering any haters. As MC Kale continues the semi-final round, I make my way towards the door. As I exit and turn the corner towards my environmentally friendly smart car, I see a silhouette of Notorious FIG step out of the shadows.
“You’re small time right now,” FIG asserts, “but you have the heart of a liberated Seaworld orca and the desire of a lamb scorned by the loss of his mother’s milk. Don’t give up. You have a vegan rapper inside you. We all do.”
Shocked by Fig’s assertion, I quickly turn to reply, but he’s already gone. Was he even there to begin with? Or was he a figment of my imagination? I’ll never know. As I drive home, I turn on an instrumental cut of Notorious FIG’s groundbreaking record “Born A-grain.” I start to conceive a new persona, something more consistent with wholesale animal wellbeing. The next vegan battle is the upcoming Friday at the organic farmers market. I’ll be ready.