In the NBA, stardom as one of the first picks selected isn’t guaranteed. For every Tim Duncan and LeBron James who went on to surpass the sky high expectations placed upon them, there’s Andrew Wiggins or Andrea Bargnani, guys who had more than solid careers, but fell short of what scouts, fans and front office decision makers might have seen in them. Same goes for any guy drafted as a lottery pick. A lot of the time they hit and become the faces of the league for the next decade or more. But there’s plenty over the course of history as well who were fighting for roster spots or outright out of the league before they could even get a second contract. The reality is that when you’re evaluating talent, it’s all projection and speculation until the results are in. And in that process, you can skip over that talent who would go on to blossom into a superstar. A Jimmy Butler, a Kawhi Leonard, or maybe even a 2 time MVP like Nikola Jokic.
If you’re wondering how this ties back into battle rap, I’ve got you. As someone that has been iffy on Tru Foe in the past and was skeptical of him having a place in URL, I feel it’s time to wonder if Tru Foe belongs to that last category I mentioned. The superstar we didn’t notice until it was right in front of our faces.
In the last few years, after the initial Midwest Movement that took URL by storm, the Midwestern talent in battle rap had to get on the road to be noticed. We tend to lump the Midwest all into one pot, but these are all different states and cities with their own identities and histories and varying levels of battle rap success historically. Chicago (specifically the Northside), where Tru Foe hails from, doesn’t have a Gates of the Garden or iBattle where up and coming battlers can hone their craft. Not a Street Status or Black Ice Cartel either. Guerrilla Warfare had potential to be that, but ultimately wasn’t. So Tru Foe, with no stable scene in his own city, had to become a road warrior to get his name out there. Traveling all over the country, working to eventually get the attention of bigger platforms. Eventually in 2019, URL came calling and we got to see Tru in Proving Grounds battles against Chase Paper and Hillz. Some may say he was still a little rough around the edges at the time, but Tru’s potential was evident, so it wasn’t a shock to see him get a prominent spot on the Survivor Series DMV weekend of that year.
That weekend featured names such as Ace Amin, Don Marino, Jey the Nitewing, Your Honor, Eazy the Block Captain, Lu Castro, Gunpowder Patt, Squeako, Kid Chaos, Ru Bando, J Krooger, Big Hann and Brooklyn Hanz (who was Tru’s opponent that weekend). Essentially serving as a tryout for the eventual Ultimate Madness 1 tournament that took place in 2020. Tru once again impressed and even if I had my own skepticism of his style, he was a standout of that class and primed to take a leap. From Tru’s own words in multiple interviews, he was meant to be part of that first Ultimate Madness tournament. But in late 2019, Tru had legal troubles that not only prevented him from participating in a scheduled battle with Jakkboy Maine at Royalty weekend, but nixed his chances of being part of UM1. And this isn’t even mentioning an incident that left Tru recovering from multiple gunshot wounds. A couple of unfortunate and devastating setbacks that we’re all glad Tru has survived, but part of me wonders if he had been in UM1, if he would have stood out as much with that class. And that’s no offense to Tru, that’s more a testament to how special that group of battlers is. A lot of those guys have all gone on to do special things and plant their flag as one of, if not, the class of all time. But part of me also says that most people didn’t see Eazy’s stardom coming leading into UM1, so I can’t be so sure that Tru’s brand of street talk woven in with intricate flows wouldn’t have resonated with the fans at home.
Missing out on that opportunity, Tru went back to what he’s always done: grinding. All across the country, locking in on what people liked about him. The URL looks began to come back for Tru in 2021 and we saw him vs the likes of Quban, Ooops and Big Hann. A lot of really great material in these battles from Tru, but all 3 got tallied as losses for him as he stumbled through his rounds at points and it became a concerning pattern. Then UM4 was on the horizon. After both UM2 and UM3 were more filled with established talents, URL went back to the roots of the first tournament by making the UM4 field with a focus on lesser known battlers. Some coming from The Crucible, like Kyd Slade, Swervoo, and Elijah Strait. And some forgotten guys from the PG era, like Real Name Brandon, Stumbles and Tru Foe.
Tru’s first round opponent was J2. A battler that has been a target of attention since he started in battle rap, and not always for the most tolerant reasons, but nonetheless a guy who was no easy draw as an opp that early in the tournament. While Tru’s rapping ability has never been in question, the level of personality and funniness we saw from Tru in the face-off before the opening round kicked off was a breath of fresh air. It’s the kind thing that takes a battler from being good to being someone who’s must watch. To use a wrestling term, he “talked people into the building”, but in this case, talked them into watching the stream. The point being, a lot more eyes were on this battle now. This was a Caffeine stream, so that pressure already existed with it being the debut of most of the UM4 field on that platform (with the exception of NXT and Murda).
And with the lights brightest, Tru put it all together. An incredible 3 round display vs a J2 who was also great, which makes the win that much more impressive. The aggression, authenticity, flow patterns, and great writing finally met consistency. Tru wrote uphill (something I’ll circle back to) and captivated the people in the room and watching the stream. It was still early, but if you squint your eyes and look close enough, a star was there. Tru rode that momentum into the next round facing a favorite coming into the tournament, Sheed Happens. Sheed had a great performance in the previous round vs Murda and came into the battle with Tru as an overwhelming favorite on multiple polls. Tru, once again, sold the battle amazingly the night before at the face-offs. With his back against the wall, he shocked the audience as he beat Sheed and punched his ticket to the semi final round. More personality, more performance, and even if the pen might have been a little less potent and he had a bit of a stumble, he still earned a split decision victory and the total package was starting to form. In real time, it felt like Tru Foe was figuring it out, or maybe it was there the whole time and we just didn’t know. Either way, the breakout personality and skill on display was definitely reflected in the data.
The road gets bumpier at this point as Tru would be defeated in the semi finals by fellow Midwestern battler MVP. Tru’s career had already been plagued by stumbles and the two week prep time and whatever else may have been happening in Tru’s personal life caught up with him. It’s the kind of loss most fans hold against people, but the reaction felt more like disappointment, with fans wanting to see Tru finish the job and make it to the finals. The UM4 class is pretty much on ice for the rest of the year, with the guys having to go get it on smaller platforms if they wanted to keep learning. Tru’s next big chance was facing a guy part of the class Tru was now a member of, Royalty. Not a URL card, sure, but with The Riot having booked the highly anticipated rematch between Geechi Gotti and A. Ward, a hugely built up encounter of Snake Eyez vs D.I The Hennyman, there were plenty of eyes paying attention to this end of the year card. A golden opportunity to cement his spot as one of the faces of this class. And without mincing any words, Tru Foe fucked up. He fumbled here and gave Royalty a clear win. On paper this was a battle Tru should have won given the experience disparity and at worst should have been a debatable. It was a huge disappointment.
In preparation for this article, I pondered what it would have been like if Tru got to participate in the Banned Legacy events in the first 6 months of 2019, that were integral parts of the introduction of his 2019 class peers. With his style, I really think Banned Legacy would have been a setting and environment that catered to what Tru is best at. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Enter: Midnight Madness. In some ways the spiritual successor to Banned, but also its own imprint with its own distinct style of promotion and concept. Built on having no fear, believing in your talent and being willing to bet on yourself, the war ready Tru Foe was a hand and glove fit for the vision of this league. Midnight Madness was the talk of the battle rap world and with the lights on brightest once again and facing Drugz who had momentum on his side following a stellar showing vs Lu Castro, Tru delivered and became the inaugural War Dog Champion after a split decision and one of the best Midnight Madness battle to date.
Momentum was back on Tru’s side and he followed that up with a great, debatable battle with veteran Th3 Saga. People can downplay Saga now, but having a debatable battle with a guy who’s appeared on NOME and has arguable wins over people like B Dot and JC is extremely impressive.
This brings us to right now, heading into the 2nd round of UM5. A tournament that from the outside looking in, seemed like a mess to get organized and a field that didn’t make a ton of sense. Top tier battlers turned it down and people like Tru, Sheed Happens and Stumbles took advantage. In LTBR’s recap of the first round action, I broke down Tru Foe vs Geechi Gotti so I won’t get into a ton of detail on it here. You can also read France’s piece on the most interesting story lines leading to this weekend’s action. But with his first round stunner vs the 3x COTY, Tru got the highest total of reactions on the URLTV app out of any battler in the first round with 51k. This is something he also accomplished in the first round of UM4, having the highest total out of everyone with 29k reactions for his battle vs J2. The numbers tell a story here. When Tru is at his best, he stands out from the pack in a super notable way. The only thing stopping him is consistency.
I don’t believe Tru has to win this tournament to solidify his spot. Anyone who beats a good Geechi Gotti in a judged battle has earned a plate or two afterwards, period. Tru took some time to get here, but what people saw in him back in 2019 is beginning to make sense. I wasn’t sold back then, and I’m glad to admit that he’s made me a believer. Tru’s writing and rapping skill are excellent, he has an innate talent for pacing his rounds and going uphill during the course of a battle, he’s developed a knack for extremely quotable and memorable lines, his conviction and passion are matched by few and he’s learned how to harness all of that in engaging self promotion. Tru could be for Northside Chicago what Geechi is to Compton, Eazy is to Philly, Tsu Surf is to Newark. Those are huge names to mention him in the same breath as, but I mean Tru has some of the same ability and authenticity where you can close your eyes and see his hood when he raps with how he channels his pain into vivid imagery. And even if he doesn’t exactly achieve those heights, he’s more than talented enough to carve out a lane as a mid to upper mid tier battler who’s constantly in rotation. There’s nothing like Tru in battle rap and the only thing stopping him from becoming the Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard I likened him to, is himself. Tru isn’t going to get the same leeway for his fuck ups that a Nu Jerzey Twork or Chess got. He’s not supposed to be in this spot and he has to approach every battle knowing that. If going forward we can get a cleaner version of Tru Foe, the sky might truly be the limit for what he can achieve.