Justice for Charlie: Real Deal talks becoming KOTD champion & his battle with the American health care system

Back in 2008, the battle rap scene was evolving as new tools like social media and online discussions forums completely changed the competitive landscape and access. Several leagues had previously seen success in the battle rap business—Smack TV, the World Rap Championships (WRC) and Fight Klub, to name a few—but demand was surging for a different, more consistent approach. Fans were craving an organized league where they could routinely see new battles with a consistent schedule and a judging system that could be depended on.

Towards the end of that year, those prayers would finally be answered when two new leagues formed including King of the Dot (Canada) and Grind Time (USA). The new leagues would open the doors to a surge of battle rappers from across the world.

Sadly, Grind Time, which was primarily based out of Los Angeles but had sub-divisions in NYC and other locations, would close its doors in the early 2010s. This allowed King of the Dot even more room for growth, and they stepped up to serve the market Grind Time left behind. Slowly but surely, more and more Grind Time rappers would join the KOTD ranks, including some of biggest MCs the league had featured. One of those rappers was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s own, Real Deal, who released his debut album, The Renaissance, in 2007.

Like others, Real Deal, born Trevor Weller, first got involved with the art form after being inspired by videos he watched online. He eventually stepped up to join the competition, and would compete in his first battle in his hometown.

Shortly after, Real Deal would go on to compete in his first major tournament, the now defunct Scribble Jam. This would serve as the lead up to his discovery that Grind Time was preparing to launch a new division in his area. It would be his official intro to the acapella format, where he would thrive for years to come. With his aggressive and in your face style, Real Deal made his way through the ranks by travelling across North America and battling the best in the world, often winning. One of the biggest accomplishments in his successful cross over to the URL/Smack stage in New York, which was notoriously harsh to non-street rappers.

Even after his first few Grind Time battles in the Midwest Division, Real Deal felt confident about his ability to compete, but he never imagined he would one day be the title holder for a Canadian-based battle league. Much has changed, including Real Deal’s overall status on the battle scene. He currently sits as the King of the Dot World Champion, coming up on two years officially.

One of the most amazing things about Real Deal has got to be his longevity in the game, as he continues to be named one of the top battle MCs in the world. As time went by and the scene changed, Real Deal adjusted. We witnessed him modify his flow from a direct, single syllable approach to a slower more lyrical style that incorporates a lot more word play then he did back in the late 2000s. If I had to summarize what has made Real Deal so successful in the battle game for so long—beyond his talent level as a rapper—it’s the authenticity of his style as he doesn’t attempt to portray something that he isn’t. He doesn’t pretend to be a thug, and has always been totally transparent of his occupation as a school teacher outside of music. Despite that, his opponents still try to use it against him, but it doesn’t seem to faze him.

In recent years, Trevor Weller has waged war on the American healthcare system due to the tragic and untimely death of his father Charlie. Real Deal and his family had the unfortunate and painful experience of not only having his father pass away from sepsis while in the care of qualified medical professionals, but also being left in the dark during the entire process. It was only later that that they find out a medical error could very well be at play.

Now, Real Deal is doing something that has never been done before in battle rap, which is using the fame and recognition that he has earned over the past 12 years to help fund his legal battle with the health care system in Pennsylvania. His campaign is appropriately titled Justice For Charlie which is selling hoodies, t-shirts and tank tops with his father’s face on it to generate funds for his legal fees, as well as spreading awareness of medical malpractice in North America. We can be sure that Deal will use his platform as King of the Dot champion to get that extra edge in the fight and help get some justice for his dad and for his family.

We recently had the chance to connect with Real Deal and got the low down on his past, present and future. Check out the full question and answer session below, and consider signing the petition Real Deal has launched with the aim of getting changes made to the medical system in Pennsylvania.

Q&A: Real Deal

HipHopCanada: What’s up Real Deal. Thanks for chatting with us today! How has 2021 been for you so far?

REAL DEAL: It’s been busy. Started off on a high note in January with the KOTD title, had a medical issue with my knee that I needed some work done, doing virtual school, watching my son complete his freshman year of football, and now he is getting into basketball. The main thing of course has been the stuff with my pops but just super busy everyday has a task list and my album dropped at the end of 2020, so 2021 has been the push.

HipHopCanada: Congrats on recently retaining your King of the Dot title against Ottawa city battle rapper Charron. Do you have any plans for another title defense in the works?

REAL DEAL: First off, I appreciate that man, Charron is an absolute legend. Currently not, I know COVID-19 really complicates things so King of the Dot hasn’t been able to run as many big events, so I am really just waiting to hear who the next person will be. Nothing concretes as of yet.

HipHopCanada: It seems like you have been the KOTD title holder for quite a while now, how long have you had the title for?

REAL DEAL: So, I got it in August of 2019 so we are closing in on the two-year mark, I want to say it was around August 17th or 19th of 2019 to be exact. That would tie me with Pat Stay in terms of longest title run so as of right now I am currently second overall, I think I also need one more title defense to equal his title defenses.

HipHopCanada: King of the Dot as recently announced a new presentation for the league in 2021 which will be taking on a more competitive seasonal format, any idea what that will mean for you?

REAL DEAL: I think they just announced that recently so I feel like things are in their infancy so it might be too early on as they haven’t rolled out anything crazy yet. But, to be completely transparent, I don’t know 100%. I know it would make sense for me to defend the title soon even though, like we just discussed, I have had one of the longest reigns in KOTD history and I really don’t want to be the top home run hitter in a dead ball era as COVID has already thrown a wrench in some things. So, I wouldn’t mind something before we hit that two-year mark.

HipHopCanada: What is it about battle rap that is compelling to you and how did you first start rapping? and how long ago was it?

REAL DEAL: I started rapping around the year 2000 and very unprofessionally like just writing raps and rapping over beats, stuff like that. I started really trying to pursue it at the age of 18 and then tried to get more professional from there. In terms of battle rap, I’d say it started out around 2006 when I started battling locally in Pittsburgh and I was regularly winning this competition called Rhyme Calisthenics. From that, it branched into making it into Scribble Jam and I battled at Scribble Jam twice and eventually that tournament fizzled out. That was around the time when I first got introduced to Grind Time and the acapella format. Once the Grind Time shift took off there was really no turning back at that point. It has been a long, long road but it has been very rewarding.

One thing that influenced me in battle rap was when I lost this battle locally to a rapper by the name of Ron Noodles, who had previously competed in Scribble Jam as well. He smoked me in the battle but after he told me he thought I was really dope and he would put me down for somethings in the future. Which was really dope as he didn’t have to do that. At the time, he was also trying to get the WRC tournament to come to town as it was 2006-07 at the time and he ended up booking me for a battle with a dope emcee called Ajax. I didn’t even know what WRC was at the time and back then I didn’t even have a computer yet, so I was going to the library with my headphones to watch the WRC battles online… and I was hooked. Then I found out on the WRC website (JumpOff.TV) about the Scribble Jam tournament. So, I did research into the tournament and then I went down the rabbit hole. So that was the beginning of it.

HipHopCanada: It’s no secret that you work in education outside of music. Did you ever see a conflict while working as a teacher and a battle rapper at the same time?

REAL DEAL: No, man to be completely honest there has only really been one time when the two have crossed paths and it was really positive. One time there was a principal working at a school where I was teaching and I didn’t really think she liked me. But one day, she called me into her office and told me she had seen my battles and she loved them. She said she thought they were incredible but not something she would share with the students, but she thought they were something else. I was like “Thanks!” I have always been like, “you’re not going to tell me I can’t do this,” as long as I don’t intermix the two it’s not like I am bringing in mixtapes for the kids or anything. When I am working in the school I am doing a damn good job, you know what I mean? There has been times where I watch what I post on social media as I am friends with other teachers and some staff… But as far as battle rap and music goes, it’s my vice, its my escape and what I love to do so there is no way I would let a school board tell me it’s time to move on. In terms of the school situation, I always say this, what kind of educator would I be if I tell my kids in the class to follow their dreams but I don’t go and do it myself? That is the way I look at it anyway.

HipHopCanada: You are currently engaged in a battle with the American health system due to an incident that occurred with your father while he was in hospital which ultimately lead to his unfortunate passing. Would you like to give us a brief summary of what transpired and what you are now doing to try and make changes in the health care system in the United States?

REAL DEAL: I’m going to try to be as brief as possible. My father went in for lung cancer so they were looking at his lungs but he also had an aortic stent. First, they said it was leaking, then they said it wasn’t and then they said it might be. So they did surgery, opened him up and in their words, “tightened the plumbing.” Within 24 hours, he got an infection after he was sent home so he went back in the next day and there was a grueling decline and a cascade of delays on they’re part. Just like I said, it was filled with questionable decisions, one after the other, then hesitancy and pursuing the wrong thing again and again. Ultimately, my father passed away after about a month and, since then, I have been attempting to get legal representation and have been peeling back the layers of an absolutely disgusting malpractice… and how limited your options are in this country. One thing we were taught as a kid was that doctors are there to help and see a cartoon picture of a doctor giving someone a needle or something like that. And I’m not saying doctors are bad, as their heart is in the right place most of the time, but it’s about accountability and responsibility. Medical error is the third leading cause of death in this country behind heart disease and cancer. As a kid I never knew that, I never knew that only 2% of medical malpractice is filed, I never knew that 80% of the time the hospital wins in court and I never knew the cost of it all as well as the formula they use to determine the cost of what your loved one is worth.  

HipHopCanada: Has there been any recent developments or updates with your “Justice for Charlie” campaign that you would like to detail?

REAL DEAL: Currently where I’m at is that I have been turned down 25 times to the point where I am just trying to get money together for it all. In the States, and Pennsylvania especially, I can’t just go sue them. I need a doctor in the field to look at my records and say that they see something wrong and go to court with you. So, just to look at my records it costs 3 to 5 grand on the low end which will get me something called the certificate of merit. The things I am trying to change are, One: the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania in my fathers name, it’s actually two years(for medical malpractice) but for stolen property it is five years. Please someone help me make sense out of that. I understand how someone could sue me in four and a half years over a stolen TV from Walmart but the father who died and had to take care of all the costs on his own only gets a maximum of 720 days to file? So, what I am doing is that I put out my latest album which is called Charlie. It’s dedicated to my father and every song title is something he would say. The campaign is called Justice for Charlie and I am selling t-shirts and hoodies and also tank tops are coming in. So, if you buy a shirt or buy a tank, whatever extra money in the sale goes directly to the cost of paying a doctor to look at the medical records. Ultimately, if I don’t make the two year statute which is September 1st, I still have my goal to change the length of the statute of limitation to four years as other states allow this such as Minnesota which allows a four year limit. Although I don’t know why that is the only state to do this. But if not four then three, but the amount of lives that my father could affect by giving the average person an additional 360 days to file, you really can’t put a price tag on that.

And the other part is that I think there should be a middleman agency, so if someone like you or me suspects a medical malpractice case we can call them and don’t have to go directly to lawyers. Lawyers only take slam dunks and get paid very well for cases like this and I found out first hand that they look for gross negligence cases such as a doctor operating on the wrong leg or something like that. So, I just think there should be a middleman agency with people that actually care that will give you an honest opinion on whether to pursue a case or not without considering dollar signs in the back of their heads. I really think something like that would be great to do in my father’s name and I will be releasing a new music video on the KOTD YouTube channel and also trying to get a petition going out to some government officials. I guess it’s a war of attrition, you know?

HipHopCanada: It has been over a decade now that battle rap has become more mainstream and commercialized, is it surprising to you in hindsight to see how a American league like Grind Time could fold and a Canadian league like KOTD could take the place as the most popular league in North America?

REAL DEAL: Yeah man, the demise of Grind Time was a very odd thing. The league initially had everything that would make you feel like it was a Disney movie story. Three battlers from the WRC that loved it so much that they all got together to create history. But in the end that was also the thing that sunk the ship as we had three rappers that had no business experience trying to run league with a sea of rappers with their hands out saying “gimmie gimmie gimmie.” So, it’s really hard to cope with it all. Not to say all battle rappers are greedy. I think there are a lot of artists that deserve a lot more, but I think that Grind Time hit a point where they started caving in and reaching out to some bigger artists to attend the events such as the time they had the rapper Freeway at an event and I’m sure that costed a lot to have him there. I know he didn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart but I didn’t understand why they would book an artist like him to attend. I mean, he’s a legend and all but people are showing up to see the actual battles. It was around that time when battlers slowly started asking for a little more in payment each time they battled and I don’t know if the management of Grind Time had the means to get in touch with sponsors and all that stuff.

What I think Organik did so well was that as he built it slowly, he brought people up from the States but he didn’t try to do it all in one shot and consistently created good material. Once Grind Time started to go down, the fall out happened really quick. GT was on top of the world over 2008, 2009 and most of 2010. Looking back on it now, I am not really surprised and a good thing that Organik did was that he tried to incorporate a lot of the battlers and some of the division managers from Grind Time like Lush One, Poison Pen… and he did some stuff with Drect so he let the people that were interested and passionate get involved with KOTD. It was also amazing to see how Organik and his team were able to find a new outlet with Twitch to keep the league going through the pandemic as COVID-19 really could have been a death sentence for the organization as a whole.

Real Deal and Organik

HipHopCanada: How do you feel the battle rap game has changed since 2008 and how have you adapted your style to maintain your spot at the top after so many years?

REAL DEAL: Sometimes people will approach me and say they miss the Real Deal from old times… but the problem with that is that I was yelling so much back in the day that I was losing so many other things that I could have been doing like humor and actual rapping. Also, because I’m cool with these people (opponents) outside of battle rap that it started feeling a bit unnatural after a while. I think it depreciated what I was doing as a writer. So, as the years went on, rounds were expanded and were no longer 60 second verses so it was like, what am I gonna do? Yell in this person’s ear for 3 minutes? So, I really moved more into the art form of it such as playing to the crowd, laughing and sarcasm things like that and adding them to the resume rather than just delivering bars aggressively on 4, 8 and 12. I’ll still do that if I feel passionate about a point I need to drive home, but I think it makes it feel more authentic. It depends, you gotta know your crowd as you might get a different Real Deal at iBattle event versus a URL or Don’t Flop crowd.

HipHopCanada: In 2012, you made your debut on Smack/URL being one of the first non-street emcees to battle there. Did you feel you were breaking new ground at the time?

REAL DEAL: You know, it’s funny but yes and no at the same time. Looking back, I should feel like that as I got to skip the PG (proving grounds) and I had this iconic battle but at the time I was insulted by the way B-Magic was so dismissive of me. And that’s my guy to this day, but I was like I gotta be dope and I gotta address the elephant in the room which is that I am a white dude battling on URL/Smack, or whatever.

I remember seeing B-Magic the night before at the Proving Grounds event where I came to see Big K and Chilla Jones battle. I ended up speaking with B-Magic and he told me how he was going to kill me tomorrow night and how he can’t believe that they think I am going to last out here in this league. So, after that, I kinda had a chip on my shoulder for the battle. Looking back, I think it was pretty iconic, when you think about the previous URL battles with non-street battlers you think of guys like Soul Khan and Iron Solomon, so I think I was the first white dude that wasn’t Jewish. So it’s a little bit different for my battle and the reason is because Jewish people are seen as people that have had hardships in history, versus myself who is a typical white American of European descent, which is viewed differently. But the crowd was super dope and super receptive. So I had always kind of rolled my eyes when people used to tell me that I could never do it on a URL/Smack stage and I was like, “Why not?” URL crowds like dope bars and good performances. I always gotta give credit to Cortez because it was my battle with him back in 2009 at Grizzlemania that actually caught URL’s eye as Cortez started doing Smacks battles shortly after so it all worked out very well.

HipHopCanada: I personally got to witness you battle Loe Pesci in Toronto at World Domination 1 way back in 2010, is there a favorite battle that you have done or a favorite event that you attended?

REAL DEAL: The Loe Pesci battle was so funny to me for so many reasons. I love Loe Pesci by the way, he’s my guy and he still has bars that hold up to this day. As far as favorite battles, I think people underestimate that for battles to be great it’s not just one person’s performance it’s gotta be a perfect storm. Let’s say I battle someone and I do great and I hear some people say, “yeah that was cool but I wanted to hear the B-Magic Real Deal tonight,” and you have to understand that there are things that happened in the battle on both ends that could have made it sound flat. My battle with B-Magic on URL was a perfect storm battle that worked out great for me and it’s one I love but there are some smaller battles that I have been in that I enjoyed the most… such as the one recently with Charron. Even though it was a smaller crowd, I really did love that battle. The Ex-I battle on Grind Time out west is one that I really like and it was a perfect storm battle, the Sno battle was cool but I also felt he was at an extreme disadvantage coming in. My battle against Thesaurus at Grizzle 2 is one that I liked a lot, Scotland against Soul was one that sticks out as well. The main concern for me is that I don’t mess up, my stuff is well received and all the angels hit properly. I am around 40 or 50 battles deep and there are some performances that I have had where I think this is incredible but I wish the crowd was better or I wish I didn’t stumble as much or the audio wasn’t picked up well. The battle I did with Rone was a great battle but the audio was very rough. I don’t know why, but like I said it’s perfect storm battles that we remember.

HipHopCanada: Thanks for chatting with us today! Is there anything else you would like to say to Canadian fans out there?

REAL DEAL: I really appreciate everyone and be on the lookout as we are going to keep this belt moving! I’m not trying to be a champ, I’m trying to be the champ which means I got work to do and I am one title defense away from Pat Stay’s mark. But other than that it’s Justice for Charlie. If you see it anywhere, hashtag it and get familiar with the story and just know it’s not an isolated incident. So I really appreciate all the support as it gets me up and motivated and moving. I can’t tell you how many shirts and hoodies I have shipped to Canada and have had people take a selfie with the shirt on and send it back to me. My father was a man of simple things as he wasn’t really out here all like that, but I’d like to think if he could see how many people out there rallying for him it would really mean something special to him. Thanks so much, I appreciate everything!

You can follow Real Deal on Instagram @RealDeal_TrevorWeller for future updates and to purchase Justice for Charlie merch.

Written by Kyle McNeil for HipHopCanada