Today Ed Sheeran came out with his No. 6 Collaborations project. It is a pop music masterpiece, with a suite of amazing feel good summer hits, featuring the biggest artists in the world. He is on top of the world. But there was an era right at the start of his career — before the rapper features, model girlfriends and millions of dollars — where Ed Sheeran was just a regular guy with a guitar on stage trying to make a name for himself.
At the same time, I was cobbling together the start of my battle rap career. I booked a show in England for a league called Don’t Flop, Europe’s biggest battle league at the time. Here’s the first dude I battled there.
It was a blast to rap there, I had repped for America fully, but to this day I can’t shake the story they told about when they booked Ed Sheeran to play the after show. If you watched Ed Sheeran’s early stuff he was (and still is in some cases) very aware of syllable patterns and was a complex, attentive rhymer. Those sensibilities made him a semi-logical answer to be the performer after a rap battle show. That an the fact that Sheeran was already a fan of the scene.
If you listen to his early radio stuff, Ed Sheeran was damn near rapping, so it seemed like a fit.
Shit, there’s even videos of him cyphering at parties. He can freestyle for sure.
So Don’t Flop booked Ed. He would play on the same stage the battles had been performed on directly after the show. Battle rap, meanwhile, was at an explosively aggressive point. It was a baggy jeans, homophobic, stabby bunch. So while the syllable patternings matched up with Ed Sheeran’s vibe, his shock of red hair, mixed with his saccharine love songs, mixed with his nebbish personality clashed with the insecure projected personality of the battle fan of that day.
Sheeran came through to the event and participated like any avid fan of hip hop would. He even judged a couple of the battles, the footage of which, now is shocking.
Like this clip is kind of grimy. At the end they’re talking about someone smoking crack in the background. It shows the level of filth we’re working with.
And while he was seemingly accepted during the day, when he got on stage the mood was different. Fresh off of letting watching the battlers wax poetic about fucking one another’s mom’s Ed Sheeran took the stage.
It did not go well.
From how it was described to me, some of the battle rappers took to heckling Sheeran. One of the main people heckling was one of the top dogs of the UK scene, a battler named Sensa. Just to give you a sense of who Sensa was, later in battles he was mocked for his five kids and his job at a cash register at a UK supermarket or clothing store or something. In short he had an extremely regular life, but that night he was letting future-platinum-artist Ed Sheeran have it. I’ve spent this morning furiously working the phones trying to get some exact quotes from what he yelled, to little avail. But, to ball park the quote, Sensa was yelling at Ed Sheeran “GET OFF THE STAGE YOU CUNT!” And if the entire audience could hear what he was saying, there is no doubt that the pale 19-year-old guitarist on the stage could hear it.
That’s what blows my mind about this whole story. Right now Ed Sheeran is that dude. THAT DUDE. In music, there is no one who is doing what he is doing in pop music at his level. No one. Not Bieber. Not Bruno Mars. He is the man. And I’m sure it’s part of every massive star’s story, but Ed Sheeran was just getting bodied by nobodies in public. He was getting devastatingly lambasted by strangers, for all intents and purposes was publicly humiliated, and he kept on going. He said “you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about” and at the end of the day he was right.
To his credit, Sheeran came back to Don’t Flop after the heckling. There isn’t video of the first incident, but there is video (with about 500 YouTube views) of when he came back for Don’t Flop’s second anniversary with longer hair and thicker skin. Here he plays an early rendition of “The A-Team” his first hit, then smoothly transitions a tasty beat on the looper. It was clear right away how immense his talent is.
I guess the point is to keep grinding despite what anyone says about you, but that might be tough advice to give anyone who isn’t Ed Sheeran.