Video tapes of an international rap contest with a $50,000 grand prize were stolen this weekend, and are now being held ransom, according to the organizer of the two-year-old contest, who sold his home in London to raise the prize money.
"There’s a $10,000 reward for the safe return of the tapes. So, someone did steal the tapes. They weren’t lost, they were stolen," Harold Anthony, founder of Jump Off’s World Rap Championship, told The Observer Wednesday night when reached by cell phone.
"We’ve been contacted by a few anonymous sources claiming to have the tapes and offering to exchange them for money. So, we’re just validating to see if any of those are genuine."
The contest, which featured pairs of highly skilled, amateur rappers from New York, Melbourne, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, Houston, and other cities, was held on Dec. 1, at a music studio on West 25th Street. (You can watch a video of the trailer for the event above.)
"We’re definitely not independently wealthy," said Mr. Anthony, who runs the British-based company with his brother, Ara.
"I sold my house earlier this year, which is where a majority of the money came from," he said. "That was my house in London … I’m renting an apartment in New York now, in Hell’s Kitchen."
"Our idea was things don’t have to be live events solely. They can be something that is done live," he said, "you can do it in open field or deserted warehouse, as long as you tape it.
"Then you just broadcast it on the Internet."
Mr. Anthony declined to say publicly how much of the nine-hour championship is missing, but he did say he does have the finals and enough tape to include performances from all the participants. That includes last year’s undefeated champions, Illmaculate of Portland, Ore., and The Saurus of Monterey, Calif.
The competition, shot with hand-held cameras and judged by radio DJs and others in the industry, has grown since its debut last year. In one battle in Houston, a moderator laughed so hard at the lines rappers were saying, his gold-plated grille fell out of his mouth.
The theft of the tapes creates an unusual situation for Anthony and the rappers who thrive on a culture that is suspect of, and often openly hostile to, police.
"We’re hoping that it can be resolved without going to the police because, obviously, it’s a closed kind of community. We don’t want to have to start pulling up all the rappers as suspects."
Anthony added, "This has kind of taught us that maybe $50,000 is too much money for a rap battle. Maybe we should just keep the prize money on the same kind of level as normal rap battles, which is two grand, or three grand."