© Daniel Zuliani
First time Red Bull Batalla judge Gabylonia is all about keeping it real
The Venezuelan rapper speaks on the evolution of competitive freestyle.
The thrill and rush of Red Bull Batalla across the world, and at home in the United States is unmatched. For Gabylonia, whose real name is Maria Gabriela Vivas Sojo, a beloved hip-hop artist who is experiencing it here for the first time but not at all a stranger to the scene – it’s an opportunity to inject some of Batalla’s original ounce of realness into its modern version.
The Venezuelan rapper is fresh off the flight when we touch base on the roof of a Miami hotel to discuss the experience.
Gabylonia didn’t prep for her first time judging Red Bull Batalla National Final, and her reason for doing so taking us back to our roots. She says, of course, things like flow and coherence are important but “the formula is for me is to see that what they’re doing, they love…. I have to feel it. When someone loves what they’re doing, you can feel it, you can tell.”
She went into Batalla unfamiliar with the MCs, and used that to her benefit. “It feels best to not familiarize myself with any of them and evaluate based on what’s real,” she explains,” what is flowing with realness, from the heart.”
Gabylonia was the first women host Red Bull’s International Batalla in 2007, which took place in her homeland of Venezuela. 15 years later, she joined us in Miami, Florida for 2022’s National Batalla, which yielded an unlikely winner to watch in Mexico City this year: Oner.
She describes Batalla’s growth since ’07 as having a snowball effect. “It’s a big wave of guys, some who are just starting—and even then, I see so much intelligence in them. They’re like geniuses,” she repeats. “Back then, [Batalla] was more digestible. Now, it’s digestible… but they leave you feeling crazy,” she laughs, thinking of all the dynamics that have been added–from pulling inspiration from bins to using word prompts. “You have to freestyle—for real,” she says. “It’s much more professional, without losing its realness.”
Gabylonia was the sole woman judge this year and when I recall the memorable moment from MC TKTK in Los Angeles, she smiles and says she hopes she keeps at it. “We don’t say ‘the guys who rap,’ you say ‘those who rap.’” She has a strong presence, and definitely wants to be noticed for more than her gender—which is her advice to women who are/will be a part of the space as well. “I don’t like being told ‘you make feminine rap.’ I rap,” she says. “And I can stand in front of another rapper and meterle [knock them out, rapping] same or better than them…. Humbly,” she laughs. “We’re all giving it our all.”
Relive the experience below.
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