A lot of queer stories are inspiring. They’re about how it gets better, about hope, maybe about romance. This is not one of those stories. This one is rated NC-17. Things are said in this episode that are very, very graphic. Stuff that made me squirm and I am not easily squirmed. So, this is a trigger warning for almost everything you can think of, including violence, sexual violence, and sexual violence against children. I promise it’s not a bleak story, but fair warning. Please take care while listening.
Meet battle rapper QB Black Diamond.
QB Black Diamond:
When you’re doing this battle you gotta live, eat, breathe, shit, everything has to be battle rap. I don’t wanna have sex, I wanna have sex with my bars. That’s who I wanna fuck tonight.
In the world of battle rap, QB Black Diamond is known as the Queen of Disrespect. She’s infamous for saying truly the most shocking shit in the ring. Here are a few examples:
QB (in her battle vs. Official):
I blow a hole in her stomach, the food’ll fall out, then I’ll make her eat it again
QB (in her battle vs. Don Ladyii):
I’ll tell you other son let’s play Call of Duty then I’ll shoot that little n**** in the face
QB (in her battle vs. Phara Funeral):
I’ll put that shotgun barrel in your daughter virgin pussy, I’ll let her get the cock for the first time
QB Black Diamond hasn’t battled in two years. But tonight, a brisk February evening in New York City, is set to be her comeback.
I’m Sarah Esocoff and this is Sounds Gay, a podcast about the intersection of music and queerness. And today, we’re diving headfirst into the world of battle rap.
Battle rap is both an art form and a sport. It’s a fight where words are your weapon and the goal is to injure your opponent psychologically. To shake them, to make them choke.
Whatchu wanna do man?
Make me shut up, n****! Make me shut up, n****!
That’s what I thought!
Make me shut up, n****!
It’s the opposite of tenderqueer. The opposite of a safe space. And we’re not censoring this episode, even though these rappers say some pretty fucked-up stuff. Because that fucked-up stuff, the stuff I warned you about earlier—that’s exactly why I’m interested in battle rap. And particularly the queer women of battle rap. I want to know: What’s it like to be in an environment where you can say whatever you want—but so can everyone else?
As QB Black Diamond’s comeback battle approaches, the stakes feel high. Personal, even. Because QB and her opponent have history.
Yeah it’s definitely hostile. Me and 40 got into it, I mean years and years ago.
40 is short for 40 B.A.R.R.S.—that’s QB’s opponent. And these are the two names you need to remember: 40 B.A.R.R.S. and QB Black Diamond. As I said, QB Black Diamond is known for her graphic, profane style in the ring. So when you hear QB, just remember: Queen of Disrespect. Then there’s 40 B.A.R.R.S.—B A R R S, which stands for Bitches Always Respect Real Shit. And 40 B.A.R.R.S. is known for just that—her bars. Her pen, as her fans say. She’s known for clever wordplay, unexpected metaphors, double entendres. Her rap is heady. And she knows it.
I've always kind of been a little bit arrogant with my intelligence. I'm not gonna hold you. Like, some bitches think they're cuter than everybody. Some bitches think they're better than everybody. I think I'm smarter than everybody.
QB Black Diamond and 40 B.A.R.R.S. have had beef for years. We’re not gonna get into it, but it started with someone talking shit about someone else’s girlfriend, and escalated from there. At one point, it even got physical. But, despite being two of the biggest battle rappers in the game, they’ve never gone head to head in the ring. Until now.
The night before the battle, 40 B.A.R.R.S. dropped a bomb. She posted a six and a half minute video digging into QB Black Diamond’s past. The video showed that QB Black Diamond had been charged with falsely accusing a man of attempted rape when she was 19.
40’s video got people talking—and wondering—would this come up in the battle? Would 40 B.A.R.R.S. use her notorious pen to force QB to confront her past? And how would QB Black Diamond, the Queen of Disrespect, respond? I had to be there to find out.
When a boxer enters the ring, she doesn’t necessarily have anything against her opponent. And the same goes for battle rappers. Usually. But 40 B.A.R.R.S. and QB Black Diamond really seem to hate each other. At least, that’s the sense I get talking to people outside the nightclub in midtown Manhattan where tonight’s battle is going down.
Which battle are you most excited for?
40 vs. QB. It’s a grudge match.
I really wanna see 40 B.A.R.R.S. and QB for obvious reasons.
It seems like it’s a lot of tension so I just hope that they don’t get physical ’cause it really seems like they want to fight each other, I’m not gonna lie.
This is an industry event, invite-only—I was pretty excited when one of my sources texted me with a hookup. It’s to celebrate the launch of the rapper Remy Ma’s new battle rap league, Chrome23. Of the four matchups, the hotly-anticipated battle between QB Black Diamond and 40 B.A.R.R.S. is third on deck.
When I catch up with QB before the battle, she’s feeling confident.
How do you think you’ll celebrate tonight if you win?
Oh, when I win? Nah, I think it’s just gonna be dope.
40 B.A.R.R.S., on the other hand, is racked with anxiety. She keeps rushing in and out of the dressing rooms with her entourage, looking stressed. And I’m sure I’m not helping by chasing her around with a microphone.
One thing I didn’t realize was just how long battle rap events can be. I’m told they’re notoriously late to start, and then each battle takes like 45 minutes. In this case, there are also long breaks in between battles. So several hours have passed by the time Remy Ma, who’s MCing tonight, announces that the battle I’m here to see is up next.
We’re gonna have a short intermission. Next battle up. QB. 40 B.A.R.R.S. It’s gonna be crazy. I’m ‘bout to go put my Timbs on for this one. We might need security up here.
During the intermission, I notice there’s an out of order sign on the door to the women’s room. I try to push the door open, but someone’s blocking it. Then, it opens a crack.
40 B.A.R.R.S.’s friend:
You don’t have the recorder on, right?
Oh, I can turn it off.
40 B.A.R.R.S. is standing in the middle of the bathroom floor. She still looks nervous, but she also looks amazing. She’s wearing a skin-tight cheetah-print bodysuit. Her hair is in perfect curls. Members of her entourage are sitting on the floor and leaning against the walls. And 40 is practicing her bars. I walk to the last stall on the left, close the door, and listen. She sounds good. Her friends laugh at all the right times, hyping her up. 40 says, “I need that reaction.” I try to wait a non-weird amount of time, then head back upstairs and find a spot in the crowd before the battle starts.
QB Black Diamond from Connecticut. Bridgeport in the building. Make some fuckin’ noise. Her return, QB Let’s go. Vs. 40 B.A.R.R.S. from Boston.
The club is packed. Most people are standing, but there are a few big couches in a horseshoe shape around the edges of the room. Pulsing, hot pink club lights play off the faces of the crowd. And—I don’t know if you could tell, but the crowd cheers loudest for 40. She’s already getting the reaction she said she needs. She and her posse are to the right of the stage. QB’s on the left. QB’s wearing a black hoodie, and sunglasses. Her Queen of Disrespect signature.
A battle usually consists of three rounds. One person raps, then the other, and that repeats three times. And, as you might have gathered from 40 practicing in the bathroom, in modern battle rap, pretty much everything is prewritten. Occasionally, a rapper will freestyle a few bars, but for the most part, they’re composed, and rehearsed, ahead of time.
And the intent when writing is to hurt feelings—which, sometimes means bending the truth. Things might be exaggerated, implied, or even completely untrue. In the ring, facts don’t matter.
40 B.A.R.R.S. loses the coin toss, so she has to go first. I’m excited to hear the intricate bars everyone’s told me are her trademark.
Yo, we ready. Anybody can say that they a queen but we gotta see how they conduct theirself. I mean y’all see how the master baited this pussy here for my pleasure, bitch you fucked yourself. You only got this shot cuz I wanted to get you fucked up in here tonight. What’s this bitch think? I wanted a second round cuz me and you been on the rocks like mixed drinks. The contract said no contact but I wanna still beat her ass and leave the rim all salty like a margarita glass. You shoulda known how Car comin. You shoulda known how Car comin, arm out the window, like a drive-through remind Q, keep them lines real short like a haiku, disrespect and try to check me? Disrespect and try to check me, is you stupid? You gon die, who? That smart mouth’ll make me dumb out, punch you in your eye, Q. I’m dyin to violate you.
40’s first round is fast, a series of schemes about how she’d kill QB, if given the chance. And her fans are right—there are so many puns I can barely keep track.
So then I slash, detach your limbs, attack, then attack again. I came for blood, Diamond, and I ain’t fuckin trafficking.
Detailed descriptions of maiming your opponent are pretty standard battle rap first-round fare. And the crowd is loving it. 40’s working the stage, getting in QB’s face. QB stands facing the crowd, chewing gum. Her sunglasses make her seem impenetrable.
Then, towards the end of her first round, 40 slows down.
Person in crowd:
This is crazy.
You’re not a threat. You’re just a sick bitch. You just rap about shit and the worst kinda stuff in rap. I mean, everybody in here done killed a kid or two, right? But she talks about them gettin fucked, yo what’s up with that? If you was a guy we would give you the side eye, like who discussin’ that? Child rape angles is always off the table, why you touchin’ that? That rose my suspicions, I ain’t jackin’ that, I don’t understand it, I mean Diamond’s always goin overboard like the Titanic. You in a dark place, she’s a pervert. You let it show off in your rhymin, let’s dig deep, how many minors have an issue with the Diamond? Bars, bitch.
Person in crowd:
That was unbeatable!
It’s QB’s turn. And the crowd is antsy. How would she respond?
I said well, well, well. Look what the fuck we got here. The coke-head low-life. Outside of battle rap you got no life. Old dyke get your dome sliced with a hoe spike. Chrome pipe, y’all better tell this slut walk cuz I’m giving hoes rights. Before I call up my big homie, I’ll have him wield the blade. Under that wig, I know you got them struggle braids.
That gets a big laugh. But it’s not long before QB veers from lighthearted hair jokes to the kind of material that made her the Queen of Disrespect.
I’m from the boulevard of broken dreams. It ain’t no good here. Her Aunty Betty died in 2019. Woo! That was a good year. Her aunty dead, her daddy dead, her mama’s a crackhead. But she wished death on my grandmother? You was out of pocket. I’ll go to the cemetery and dig yours up just to smack the maggots out her eye sockets. Drunk bitch.
QB’s not here to play. She’s here to hurt 40. And she’s just getting started.
You so hard to be around, that’s probably why your son went missing. I been diggin’ up dirt on 40, I’m gold mining. They only booked me for 3-minute rounds, I’m showtiming. The next time your son goes missing, you won’t find him.
Person in crowd 1:
This is disrespectful.
Person in crowd 2:
Got a battle! Got a fight!
I hope both your kids get kidnapped, then moments after a child molester stick a dildo up your son’s ass and make him suck it after.
Person in crowd 1:
That was the line that made me squirm. And the crowd is squirming too. I see people shaking their heads, shuffling their feet.
Guy in crowd:
Like a full-blown, stomach cramp. Like this shit is breakin’ a n**** down, I don’t like this shit. I’m mad uncomfortable.
40 B.A.R.R.S., though—the one whose son QB was talking about—is laughing. She makes eye contact with someone in the crowd and makes a face like, can you believe this bitch?
In 40’s second round, she comes for QB’s queer identity, implying that she’s a fake lesbian because she used to sleep with men. In QB Black Diamond’s second round, she continues to go after 40’s kids. There’s a lot of stuff about her daughter being taken advantage of. By the end of the second round, at least from where I’m standing, it feels like QB has lost the crowd completely.
Finally, it’s time for 40 B.A.R.R.S.’ third round. And, looking around, I’m positive that everyone in the crowd is wondering the same thing I am: Is she gonna bring up the video? Is she gonna talk about QB’s charge? Or was it just a fake-out, a tactic to get in the Queen of Disrespect’s head the night before the battle?
Jaquasha Mercedes Pitt. You salacious, shady bitch. You made up a lie about a guy tryna rape you on some crazy shit. I mean it’s all public record, you could check it, I mean it really had me mad as fuck. This bitch is talkin about a rape and the math ain’t addin up. Police investigated for two weeks, even them n****s lost patience. I mean this shit was a movie like Blue Street, why was Diamond in the station? She disgraced a man’s name cuz she didn’t get a call, investigation proved fruitless with Pitt at the center of it all. She don’t rap like that. You vilified then victimized, I can’t deny this bitch’s lies, the type to scream Me Too when it’s you who split your thighs. You woulda tried to send a guy to prison with a vicious lie. His image and his pride woulda died if he went inside, but you know what goes around comes back around, right? Karma is full circle? When you do some dirt, the way it works, somethin’s comin back to hurt you? And you gettin’ what you deserve too. For me bitch it’s like a fantasy. I mean you try to end one man’s life, then you lost three from your family. Right?
At this point someone near me walks out of the room, saying he needs air. But there’s more.
Fuck your brother. Fuck your cousin, nephew, uncle. They can rest in piss to the losers, bitch. I mean you can’t lie, they all died in vain for some stupid shit. To y’all it probably sounds like a tragedy and some of y’all will probably pity it. But your brother killed himself by accident, bitch he’s an idiot.
Guy in crowd:
Look at her face! Look at her face! Look at her face, though.
QB turns away. 40 beckons to her and says, “Come back, come back.” QB says, “I’ll rebuttal it. I’ll bring it back.” 40 says “Bring him back. Bring your brother back.”
My feeling at this point is shock. I almost can’t believe how rough it is. QB Black Diamond’s signature sunglasses are starting to look different to me. Instead of impenetrable, they look like a shield. I wonder if they’re hiding tears. But when it’s her turn again, QB addresses 40’s accusations head-on.
Let’s get one thing fucking straight. I ain’t lie about no fucking rape. 13 years ago I was sexually assaulted. That n**** violated me so bad I ain’t even wanna be me. I went to the cops for help. If I was a little white girl, they woulda fuckin’ believed me. I ain’t try to fuck that man’s life up! He fucked mine up! And I learned from my mistake. I ain’t been with a man since. That’s why I always got a pussy in my face. Fuck you talkin’ bout.
If you ask a battle rap fan who decides the outcome of a battle, they’ll say the culture decides. That’s a phrase I heard a lot: the culture. Meaning, the fans, other rappers—the battle rap community. And this community is big. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people.
In this case, the culture decided that 40 B.A.R.R.S., the heady lyricist, won the battle. I was shocked by what she said, but I was also impressed. Her attack was so strategic, so perfectly timed—it was a narrative that built over the course of her three rounds.
I also found myself worrying about QB Black Diamond. To lose a battle that was supposed to be her comeback, plus those bars about her brother, and the fact that the crowd was so clearly on 40’s side—it couldn’t have been easy.
But QB said some pretty nasty shit too. Remember those bars about 40’s kids? Both 40 B.A.R.R.S. and QB Black Diamond were ruthless in the ring. But I wanted to know what they were like outside of it.
My strawberry refresher religiously, like sometimes twice. Um—
What? What's a strawberry refresher?
I’m at QB Black Diamond’s girlfriend’s house in New Haven, CT. And QB is telling me about her favorite Starbucks drink.
So the strawberry acai is from Starbucks. It's like—they say it's the strongest drink in Starbucks? But it's like, you know, the tea—Teavan—is it like Teavana or something like that? It's their tea, but I dilute it with lemonade.
They say never to meet your idols, and yet here I am, sitting in front of battle rap’s Queen of Disrespect, hearing about how she cuts her strawberry tea with lemonade. I wanted to know how QB Black Diamond felt about that title: Queen of Disrespect.
I embrace it. I embrace it. I embrace it. ‘Cause at the end of the day, I've done battles before and they'll say, oh, QB, they might have got her cuz she wasn't disrespectful enough. Then when I'm disrespectful, I'm too disrespectful. So what the fuck do you want? You guys just hate me and you're just waiting to have something to hate on. So I do feel like, you know, It's like that they hate that they love me.
I do believe you, you seem very, like, calm.
QB did seem calm, though I’m sure that’s also the impression she wanted me to have. She said I’d had no reason to worry about her after the battle, despite the culture siding with her opponent, 40 B.A.R.R.S., and 40 B.A.R.R.S. saying that her brother died because he was an idiot.
What did she say that bothered you the most?
I wasn't bothered at all. This is—this is what we sign up for.
But like in the moment. You're literally—nothing is bothering you in the moment?
No. I done had some battles. Like I had over 20 battles, like, like really do you, like people done said mean shit. I done said mean shit. That shit really doesn't bother me. ‘Cause if it bothered me, I would react. Anybody else, I would've punched her in her face. I would've punched you in the face. Like—
She was like talking about your family and your brother and all this stuff.
Yeah, that's fine. That's fine.
I have a hard time believing it.
No, seriously. I rebuttalled it. I'm like, yo, if my brother was alive, he woulda did XYZ. Like I had a lot of battles and trust me, I say mean shit. So when I say this mean stuff, everybody—I have to have tough skin because everybody's like, we're gonna do it to her. So now they go digging up the deepest craziest—because they wanna like, yeah, let's do it to her. So I don't, it doesn't bother me. It really doesn't.
QB claims nothing 40 said phased her. One thing that surprised me, though, was that she was bothered by things she’d said in the ring. Not in her battle with 40, but other battles.
You know, I battle somebody and I told a girl like when her son grows up, he's gonna be a f*****. I probably should have never said that, that was so mean. But I used to say shit like that, like I'm fucking crazy. Like I used to say like that. That's not nice to say like, you know what I mean? So yeah.
Yeah. Wait, it's so funny to me that now, cuz that's like your whole thing is like, you'll say whatever the fuck, like you have a bunch of battles where you say stuff like that!
And then I just like—
And now you're like, I shouldn't have done that.
That’s fucked up, man. Goddamn. Yeah. But.
Really? Do you think that, like after battle you're like, that was fucked up of me?
Sometimes if I don't like you and I'm writing outta hate, I don't give a fuck. But sometimes I'll be like, damn, that was fucked was up. QB, stop it. Bad girl.
I don’t know if you can hear, but QB’s slapping herself on the wrist. And I just thought this was so funny. The queen of disrespect saying “bad girl” to herself?
I wondered if 40 B.A.R.R.S. had similar regrets about her battle with QB, so when I eventually met up with her in Atlanta, where she lives, I asked her.
Do you know what I really debated was saying that about her fuckin’ dead family members, cuz I've never spoken ill on any dead in my whole career. People say what they want, I don't disrespect the dead, I get it poppin’ with the living. I don't speak ill of the dead cuz what the fuck they gotta do about what you're doing? But guess what? I'm glad I did. And I don't fuckin’ regret a moment of it because I knew exactly what the fuck that bitch was gonna do. Take everything to the next level. She disrespected my Uncle Tony. That's my father. Bitch are you dumb? Fuck you and them n****s in your blood who died, straight up. That's how I feel. That's how it is. It don't have to be anything—fuck you and them. And that's what it had to boil down to. I didn't wanna say that shit, but I did. And I'm happy I did.
40 and I are on her back porch. It’s a beautiful day, and we’ve just come from lunch, where we drank spicy margaritas and talked about girls. She’s wearing a crop top and a backpack shaped like a heart. I notice there’s a gun in it. On the far end of the porch, 40 has a thriving flower pot garden.
I got spinach, I got lemon-thyme, I have rosemary, I have basil. I have collard greens because that is the staple of Black people. I have a knockout rose bush, which is—looks like she's fuckin’ knocked out permanently. I don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with this bitch, but—
Closer to the door, I notice four little toy foxes lined up on a shelf.
These are my guys. Don't they Look real?
These are your guys?
Yes. That's why there's four of them.
What do you mean that's why there's four of them?
Those are my guys. Those are my—they're holding me down. And somebody's like, in Japanese culture, foxes just mean like you're a sneaky bitch or something like that. I forgot which one of my friends said that to me and I just go, well, I'll be that. The hell?
Before we really get into it, 40 brings me inside to get water from her bubbler.
And they're like, why do you call it a bubbler? And I'm like, because it fuckin’ bubbles, as it dispenses water! It goes blu-blu, blu-blu.
What’s that, a smoke alarm?
That little chirping sound?
You hear it? I called them, that’s why I was wondering—they never come and change it yet. Do you know Kevin Samuels?
Oh my God. He just died. Right? He’s like a controversial YouTuber.
Controversial is maybe an understatement. When I looked into Kevin Samuels, I learned that he was known for preaching traditional gender roles and rating women based on their appearance. At one point, more than 30,000 people signed a petition asking YouTube and Instagram to ban him, saying he had, “galvanized a community of men of all races and nationalities in the outspoken hatred of women.” When he died, women tweeted that they were glad he was gone.
40 B.A.R.R.S., though, appears to be a fan.
He said that women who have that chirping going on, you can tell that they’re single women because a man would never allow that sound to be going off like that. That is like the single mother syndrome sound. Isn't that crazy? And the women were really upset that he said that shit, but it was fucking true. The truth hurts sometimes.
This was kind of a thing with 40. She kept being like, I know I’m not supposed to say this, but it’s what I think, so I’m going to.
Alright, let me tell you something, right? Alright. How come when Black women don't work, they don't have jobs, right? If a Black mother doesn't work, you’re like, damn, you're probably on welfare. You don't have a job. Right? How come when white women do it, they’re stay-at-home moms. Right? Now for me, it's like, I think that's funny. Like unfortunately, some of my friends who I know who are technically stay at home moms and I'm looking like, hey, what does this stay at home mom do? You know what I mean? You hold your household down, your house is clean, things are cooked, you're making sure you’re active in your kids' roles at school. Right.? I'm not gonna lie. When—when I look at my friends who are stay-at-home moms, they're not doing that shit. Nobody wants to say that. They're not. So like what the fuck, yo. Then if I say that, like, I'm a coon, I guess? Like, I don't know, I'm real. I'm way too real for like these kind of conversations. Like no holds barred.
This conversation is a perfect snapshot of my time with 40. She’s full of contradictions.
At one point, she said she didn’t like the word queer, because of its original meaning of like, weird. And then when I listened back to the tape, I realized that the day before our uber driver described something as queer, and 40 said:
Queer, I like that word.
I was starting to understand that the reason 40 B.A.R.R.S. is so devoted to battle rap is that it welcomes people like her, who have strong, sometimes contradictory opinions.
I can say what the fuck I want. And then I'm—not only just that, cuz we can do that right here on this porch. But I'm getting paid for it. And people are following me and loving me and fucking with me for it. So it's more than that. You know what I mean? It's like the ultimate high. Queen of Boston, queen of the ring, queen of the fuckin’ culture. Bars!
From the outside, it seems like 40 B.A.R.R.S. is being rewarded for saying whatever she wants. Her fans love her for it. One afternoon, we were getting a drink, and the bartender came over, looking excited.
Yeah my homeboy out there said that you’re a battle rapper. He said you’re somebody I'm supposed to know.
Homeboy who? With the locks?
Mm-hmm, he was like, that's a legend right there. He’s like, girl, you should know who that is.
Oh that just made my day!
His name’s Peezy if you walk out there.
Nah that's wild! Like when people be knowing like that makes you feel like—
Good! Interview working.
Thank you. Thank you! Like my hard work!
It’s called affirmations, ma'am.
40 said this interaction made her day. But remember how nervous 40 was before the battle with QB Black Diamond? She says that happens every time—anxiety, panic—and it’s only getting worse as she gets older.
Sometimes you don't wanna fucking hear shit about your fucking kids and your loved ones and people dead—you don't wanna hear that shit! Sometimes you don't want to fucking hear it and you might can stand it because it's work. But that don't mean that you, you wanna fucking, that don't fuck with you at the end of the day when you go home. I've dedicated the last 10 fucking years of my life to battle rap and I don't even know if I'm happy with that decision.
I don't have anything to show for it. Nothing.
Why do you say that?
Cause it's true.
I mean, you were talking earlier about like your fans and you've made so many friends through it and you moved down here with people from battle rap.
You could do that going to summer camp. Fair to say? You don't have to spend the last 10 years of your life to meet meaningful people, have good friends. So it sucks, but it's a harsh reality. I have nothing to show for this. Some people do. Some people have managed to buy houses off battle rap. Some people have managed to do certain things and I respect it. And I don't know if it's a matter of mismanagement of my finances. I don't know what the fuck it is, but I have nothing to fucking show for the last 10 years of my life. And it bothers me.
Do you like it?
Better rap? I did. I have like a—like, I love it. You know how you love something and it could make your balls itch one day, but like, you'll do everything you can for it the next day? That's how I feel about battle rap. You know what I mean? I feel like today it might be like, ugh, fuck this culture. I could list 10 things like how it's violating me and not made me feel as though like it's worthy of my fucking presence. But tomorrow, if it was like, hey, we're gonna cancel battle rap, I'd be outside with the motherfucking—with the signs like, no, we're not! You understand what I'm saying? It's like, it's weird. It's a part of me.
What's that part that you love about it?
Um, the ability to be creative, just say—in battle rap, I can say what the fuck I want. I can say anything I want and not just like, hey, now I got the balls to just be tough or anything. No, it's just like, I can—there's no limit to what the fuck I can say. Now whether or not some catch it, grasp it, understand it, that's a whole ‘nother situation, but there's no limit. And for me, that's like—you can't do that in the industry with music. You have to say, you know what I'm saying? You can't play certain songs on the fuckin’ radio. Has to be radio edit, right? Certain things can't go. Like, certain things you can't do. Battle rap? It's no limit. It's all on what you feel, you know, I guess with your integrity is okay, but there's no, there's no rules. And for me that is like the ultimate form of expression. There's nothing more freeing than being able to express yourself without any limitation.
That freedom is really important to 40 B.A.R.R.S. It came up over and over again. The smoke detector, the stay-at-home moms—at one point, she spent several minutes explaining why she didn’t think trans women athletes should be able to play on women’s teams.
I don’t agree with her on any number of things. But what I found interesting about 40 is that she embodies an attitude that I associate with the rich white people on Fox news. The people who talk about “snowflakes” and “cancel culture” and then end up with a book deal.
The difference is that 40 is actually experiencing pretty serious consequences of saying whatever she wants. Having people say hateful things about her, her parents, her kids, onstage. The anxiety that comes before that, every time.
Still, though, to her, being able to express herself freely is worth it.
A good example of this is something QB Black Diamond told me about battle rap contracts. She said that if there’s something you don’t want your opponent to talk about, you can add a clause to your contract saying that it’s off-limits. Even QB, the Queen of Disrespect, did that for a while, after her brother died, though she doesn’t anymore. But when I asked 40 about these clauses, she said they were corny.
I wouldn't battle somebody if they did that.
I'd say no. Yeah. What'd you here for?
40 Barrs is here to say what she wants. With everything on the table, she’s left to decide for herself if anything is off-limits. And that can mess with you, too. At first, 40 said she had no regrets about the battle with QB. But later on, she seemed disturbed by some of the things she’d said in the ring, especially about QB’s brother, and her other family members who had died.
Tragic. Not gonna hold you. Tragic. Like freak sh—like, those men in her family who passed away was—I didn't make any of that up. That's all stuff I got, like, online, like was true and tragic. So, um, I feel like—I don't fuckin’ know, Sarah. I don't know. I, don't know. I don’t know. I feel bad about some of that shit, because—but I also felt like it was something that had to be done. For work. I have nothing personal and it's not something that—outside of the ring, I'm not gonna hold you, like I ain't talking about nobody's people, I'm not like that. I just feel like, I know it's weird, but there's a certain like sanctity in the ring. Like you kind of can get away with certain stuff or say certain stuff here and outside of that, it's different. And that's what it was. I felt like, um, I was not only going to match the energy I knew she was gonna bring, but I was going to bring more. I'm not here to fuckin’ match you, bitch, I'm here to beat you.
Ultimately, 40’s decision to go all-out was inspired by QB Black Diamond herself.
You know, when I battled Imah X, right? QB was there rooting for me. If y'all watch the event, she was there rooting for me. And QB told me, when Imah X said that shit about my kids and it made me choke or whatever like that, like Kymahni and Rogelio have crack-baby names. That shit was like [choking noises]. You brought my kids in this? [Choking noises] What? I didn't know that’s how bitches gave it up. So all I kept thinking about—that bitch told me, “If you don't say it to them, they gonna say it to you.” That bitch told me to fuckin’ tell Imah X, like—cuz I had found out before that battle, Imah X's father had got like killed in front of her or something—something really fucked up that I did not mention. And when she said that shit about my kids, I wanted to Exorcist my head off like, bitch what? Do you understand? So, and when QB was like, yeah, yeah, fuck that. Because QB was the Queen of Disrespect at that time. She's like, yo, if you don't say it to them, they gonna say it to you. And when it was all said and done, when I asked a couple people, what you think about me saying this? When I was like, yo, I got a grand—a grand slam scheme for this bitch. I'm telling you, I'll put her family in back in the dirt. I'm telling you. And it was like, let that bitch have it. And I started thinking about it and her voice was in my head. “If you don't say it to them, they gonna say it to you!”
So that's advice that QB gave you a long time?
SHe told me that. Yes. Shout out to you bitch!
QB confirmed as much when I talked to her, back in New Haven.
I had a mentality that I'm gonna say it to you before you say it to me.
I’m gonna say it to you before you say it to me. This idea reminded me of reading in drag culture, where drag queens insult each other for fun kind of like a comedy roast. In a queer context, it feels like a way to develop a thicker skin, for the real world, where you might need it. If you get called a dyke enough times in rap battles, maybe it won’t hit as hard when someone yells it at you on the street. Because, while the QB-40 battle was a grudge match, most battles aren’t. And a lot of battle rappers are friends outside of the ring. It’s not uncommon for opponents to hug it out after the final round. So it’s a relatively safe place to build up your defenses.
I originally was interested in the story of QB Black Diamond and 40 B.A.R.R.S.’s battle because I wanted to explore queer negativity. There’s a lot of focus on positive queer representation. But I wanted to talk to 40 and QB because they’re queer and they fucking hate each other. And they say things you’re not supposed to say.
40 told me she’s not interested in being a beacon of queer inspiration.
Because I live my life as a lesbian woman, I'm supposed to agree with every single decision, struggle, or movement that happens in the LGBTQ community. And that's not fucking true. I'm still a human being. I'm an individual. I'm someone who has my own beliefs and outlooks on certain situations.
When I first starting watching battle rap, it seemed like a place where you could say anything. But I’ve learned that that’s not exactly true. QB Black Diamond has made a career out of being the Queen of Disrespect. But the crowd didn’t like what she said in her battle against 40. And there were consequences: She lost.
There were consequences for 40 B.A.R.R.S., too. She told me she’d never spoken ill of the dead before. When she decided to use those bars about QB’s brother, she crossed a line of her own. And she clearly felt conflicted about it.
Battle rap may seem like this kind of alternate reality safe space, where the safety comes from being able to say whatever you want without consequences. But there are consequences. It’s just that the consequences are decided by the crowd—the culture—and, ultimately, by your own internal sense of morality. And that has its own psychic weight.
Really, that’s true of every space, quote-unquote safe or not. It’s not that you’re not allowed to say what you want. It’s that some things will get you booed out of the ring, and some things will keep you up at night. It’s up to each of us to decide where the line is.
Sounds Gay is created and produced by me, Sarah Esocoff.
Our story editor is JT Green of Molten Heart.
Cass Adair is our consulting producer.
Additional editing by Gianna Palmer.
Original music by Kris McCormick
Mixing and sound design by Casey Holford.
Fact-checking by Serena Solin.
Our program manager is Sam Termine.
Sounds Gay is a Stitcher Studios prodcution, and is executive produced by Sarah Bentley, Bill Crandall, Jen Derwin, Mike Spinella, Kameel Stanley, and myself.
Special thanks this episode to:
Marion Lozano, who helped me record the battle. You can hear her work on The Daily.
I interviewed many rappers who didn’t make it into the show but who helped me understand battle rap as both an art form and a scene. I especially want to thank Young Gattas, and a huge shout out to veteran battle rapper Sara Kana, who let me hang out with her and her grandmother for hours, got me into the Chrome23 battle, and has answered endless questions from me since then.
Also, there are reporters who cover battle rap full-time. Knowledge tha God at hiphopisreal.com and France of the Let’s Talk Battle Rap podcast helped me out a ton.
You can find Sounds Gay on the SiriusXM App, Pandora, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. If you like the show, please rate, review and share so other people can find us.