Red Bull BC One 2009 (c)David Lang/Red Bull Photofiles

Phil Waddell headed to the birthplace of hip-hop to witness the battle of the B-Boys at Red Bull's BC One... Here's his report for Red Bull Reporter.

Stepping out of a yellow taxi in New York City, outside the Hammerstein Ballroom, the location of the 2009 Red Bull BC One, the first thing I hear is the music coming from inside the venue; it’s Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind”. Add this to the fact that I’m here in the USA for the first time, and about to take my seat ringside at one of the most prestigious B-boy competitions in the world and you can see why I suddenly get butterflies in my stomach.

I make it inside and take my seat just in time to see the competitors take to the circle for the introduction, sixteen of the world’s best, picked for their uniqueness and dedication to B-boying, and definitely deserving of the deafening applause from the crowd. It’s certainly emotional for everyone here. The sixteen competitors form a ring running around the circle; standing in the middle is our MC for the evening, a certain KRS-One. It’s a powerful scene. KRS-One, the man who is hip hop, surrounded by the latest and greatest ambassadors of B-boying, united where it all began. Our DJ for the evening is DP One, a New York resident and B-boy.  If anyone knows the beats to spin this evening, it’s him.

B-Boys to the circle. The battles commence.

Calling these guys gladiators is no overstatement. Stepping into that arena and facing their opponent, each B-boy knows that victory can only be achieved with a combination of skill, quick wits and unswerving self belief. Minus the DJ, it’s a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in the Coliseum. The standard this year is first class, and each competitor is packing a huge number of complex moves into their battles. We get high flying acrobatic moves like corkscrews (superbly performed by Brazils Neguin in the first battle) and incredible power moves, air flares and head spins, from world renowned power B-boys such as France’s Punisher and Japan’s Kaku. Of course, each of the competitors is a dancer in his own right, and it’s invigorating to see sixteen different interpretations of the music. Particular crowd favourites include 2005 Champion Lilou as well as USA B-boys Morris, Cloud and Thesis.

Between the battles the crowd debates each B-boy. This feels different to any other arena or stadium event I’ve been to, because while I hear arguments on why a B-boy should have won, I can’t hear any arguments about why a B-boy deserved to lose. The B-boys are being judged not on their battle with one another, but with their individual performance under the circumstances. This seems to prove the words written on the back of B-boy Cloud’s sweatshirt; “The only person you battle in life, is yourself”.

Of course, any competition has to have its winner, and by the time we reach the final, which promises to be a battle of character and musicality from two of the most innovative B-boys out there, USA’s Cloud and Algeria’s Lilou, there have been the inevitable knockouts. Each B-boy battled hard and showed incredible skill, but it’s a testament to the difficulty of the BC One that such internationally respected and admired B-Boys have to be eliminated by the Judges, who are themselves active B-boys on the global stage. To come all the way to New York only to suffer an early elimination might seem like a waste of time, but, having seen these B-boys laughing and joking during practice, as well as soaking up the New York vibe during their stay, I’d bet that not one of them regrets the decision to take part.

We have our finalists. Lilou and Cloud. Unstoppable force and immovable object. By now I’m too nervous to leave my seat, in case something happens and I can’t make it back in time. Both B-boys are so captivating for almost completely opposite reasons. Cloud because he seems so distant, Lilou because he is so approachable.

A microphone descends slowly from the ceiling.

KRS One announces the final.

The challengers enter.

Lilou, 25, of Algeria and France, representing Pokemon Crew.

Cloud, 26, of the USA, representing Skill Methodz Crew.

“USA! USA! USA!” goes the chant from all around me. Lilou smiles.

DP One starts the track. Hold on tight, it’s about to go off.

Lilou is first in with a round off to whipped back somersault. His set is a combination of funky top rock, confident footwork, a crazy bit of beat killing while in a baby freeze and flares that come seemingly out of nowhere, all topped off with a stylish blow up. It’s a text book first round.

Cloud gets his turn and, with a slower start than Lilou, gets his dancing shoes on first and hits some great beats with his unpredictable top rock style. He equals Lilou’s power moves with flares that came from very little set up, and finishes with a swift knee spin. It seems like he fell on this last move, but, due to his erratic style, it’s hard to tell.

Lilou sticks to the explosives; his second round entrance being a variation of a lay out gainer (that’s a back somersault with forward momentum) followed by a series of baby freeze and head stand combinations, blow ups and air chair freezes. The man oozes confidence.

Cloud’s second round seems reserved. The style is there, but maybe he went all out in an earlier round, there’s repetition, maybe even some fatigue in his movement. Nevertheless, he battles on, and pulls out some hidden gems, performing a diving forward roll which finished in an aerial spin and gets a deserved “woah” from the crowd. As before, his finishing freeze might cost him though, it didn’t look too well held.

Lilou seems to think the same, mocking Cloud’s fatigue with his third round entry. In typical Lilou fashion, after all he’s been through tonight, he shows that he still has the stamina and his third round is a blur of flare and hand hop combinations, threaded foot work and a beautiful headspin variation as a finisher. Cloud needs to pull something special out now.

He does his best to do so, running, spinning, twirling and sliding his way across every inch of the circle. Cloud demonstrated his all round skills well in previous rounds, we saw him match other B-boys with style, technique and power. In his final round at the BC One, I feel he lost some of that all roundedness that lent those moments of magic to his previous battles. Having said that, as a dancer and B-boy, Cloud is first rate, his command of the music and interpretation of the moment is fantastic. Maybe, just maybe….

The final battle of the Red Bull BC One 2009 comes to a finish, both B-boys show the love and respect they have for one another with a smile and hug.

All of our eyes are on the judges.

Salah goes for Lilou. I’d have thought he would have gone for Cloud.

Cico goes for Cloud. I’d have thought he’d have gone for Lilou.

Float picks Lilou.

Katsu, Cloud.

It’s down to Ronnie now, the 2007 BC One champion grimaces, he knows what he is about to do to one of the two exhausted B-boys staring up at him.

Ronnie holds up a board, it’s the Algerian flag, and it’s Lilou.

We all go NUTS!

Lilou, winner of the Red Bull BC One in 2005, has become legend by being the first B-boy to reclaim the title for a second time, in 2009. His athletic ability, unique musical interpretation and complete mental conviction enabled him to become “The One” in New York City, the home of Hip Hop. Holding on to the title won’t be easy, but next year in Tokyo, he will try. Having witnessed his incredible talent tonight, I wouldn’t bet against him...

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