Battle rap (also known as battle rapping or battle rhyming) is a type of rapping that includes a lot of braggadocio (bragging and boasting) content "combined with put-downs, insults, and disses against real or imaginary opponents". Battling can occur on recorded albums, though battle raps are often recited or freestyled spontaneously in live battles, "where MCs will perform on the same stage to see who has the better verses".
Battle rapping is described by 40 Cal in the book How to Rap as "extracurricular" and he compares it to the dunk contest in the NBA. Battle raps are often written solely for the purpose of impressing people with technically inventive rapping, and knowing a wide variety of rapping styles and a wide range of MCs is recommended. Some MCs started out writing mostly battle raps and battling other MCs before they began making records.
Battling is generally believed to have originated in the East Coast hip hop scene in the late 1970s. One of the earliest and most famous battles was in December 1982 when Kool Moe Dee challenged Busy Bee Starski - Busy Bee Starski's defeat by the more complex raps of Kool Moe Dee meant that "no longer was an MC just a crowd-pleasing comedian with a slick tongue; he was a commentator and a storyteller", which KRS-One also credits as creating a shift in rapping in the documentary Beef.
In the 1980s, battle raps were a popular form of rapping - Big Daddy Kane in the book How to Rap says, "as an MC from the '80s, really your mentality is battle format... your focus was to have a hot rhyme in case you gotta battle someone... not really making a rhyme for a song". Battle rapping is still sometimes closely associated with old school hip-hop - talking about battle rapping, Esoteric says, "a lot of my stuff stems from old school hip-hop, braggadocio ethic".
Some of the most prominent battle raps that took place on record are listed in the book, ego trip's Book of Rap Lists, and include such battles as the Roxanne Wars (1984–1985), Juice Crew vs. Boogie Down Productions (1986–1988), Kool Moe Dee vs. LL Cool J (1987–1991), MC Serch vs. MC Hammer (1989–1994), Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg vs. Luke (1992–1993), Common vs. Ice Cube (1994–1996), MC Pervis & Brand New Habits and LL Cool J vs. Canibus (1997–1998) - all of which include memorable battle rap verses.
Battling has been mostly an underground phenomenon since the early nineties, partly due to rap lyrics becoming considerably more complex in terms of rhyme scheme and meter.
In the early 21st century, freestyling (particularly freestyle battling) experienced a resurgence in popularity of sorts as successful freestyle battle competition TV shows were shown by both BET and MTV. In addition, Eminem's movie 8 Mile brought the excitement of the freestyle battle to mainstream movie audiences. Freestyle Friday is a watered-down battle segment on BET's popular show 106 & Park. Two rappers compete in a freestyle battle before the studio audience and three celebrity judges (the DJ sometimes acts as the 3rd judge). Each competitor alternates freestyling for 30 seconds in each of the two rounds (originally only 1 round when the segment first began). The rappers are not allowed to use profanities or sexually suggestive lyrics, punishable by disqualification. After the battle, the judges decide the winner, per majority vote also in Hackney, London, there is a competition called Jump-Off. Professor Green competed and he came up through Jump-Off.
In Cuba, freestyle battles often follow organized concerts and juxtapose composed songs with ‘flowing’ lyrics that are relevant to the present situation. Freestyling can allow audience members to integrate into the performance stage. This provides a forum for up-and-coming underground artists to engage in a musical discussion with already prominent underground Cuban rappers. Freestyle battles often turn political when artists incorporate perspectives on social disparities and issues plaguing the Cuban population.
More recently battle rap has been revived in the form of pre-written battles. King Of The Dot was a key player in this movement. The two most recognized battle leagues at the moment are the "Ultimate Rap League" and "King of the Dot.
In late 2011, Jump Shot Media released a mobile battle rap game, Battle Rap Stars that could automatically evaluate and score a users rap performance without the need of a crowd and majority vote.
King of the Dot, also known as KOTD, hosted a 3 day event which had 8 countries participate in it, called World Domination 2 in August 2011. In November 2011, Organik hosted Flatline, an event in which rapper Drake co-hosted the main event between Dizaster and DNA.
In 2012, Rap Grid launched the first website and online marketplace that organizes rap battles from battle rap leagues located worldwide and allows battle rappers to sell their own merchandise directly to fans.
Raw Barz is the first rap battle league of Nepal. It created a buzz among the Nepalese all over the world. Nepali rapper Yama Buddha has been hosting these battles. It gained its popularity in August through popular video sharing site Youtube. 
Types of battles
A freestyle battle is a contest in which two or more rappers compete or battle each other using improvised lyrics. Each competitor's goal is to 'diss' their opponent through clever lyrics. As hip-hop evolved in the early 1980s MCs gained their fame through live battles with other MCs. Freestyle battles can take place anywhere: street corners, on stage at a concert, or in school. The idea of such poetic battles, or jousts, has a long history that can be found in genres of poetry such as Haikai and flyting.
The live audience is critical to a battle as each Microphone controller (MC) must use skill and lyrical ability to not only 'break down' his or her opponent, but to convince the audience that they are the better rapper. Appointed judges have been used in formal contests, but even when no winner is announced, the rapper who receives the best audience response is viewed as the victor. In addition, it is considered by some to be an act of dishonor to recite written and memorized raps in a freestyle battle, because it shows the rapper to be incapable of 'spitting' spur-of-the-moment lyrics.
A cipher is any collection or gathering of rappers, beatboxers, or breakers forming in a circle in order to jam musically together - the term has also in recent years come to mean the crowd which forms around the battles, consisting of spectators and onlookers. This group serves partly to encourage competition and partly to enhance the communal aspect of rap battles. The cipher is known for “making or breaking reputations in the hip hop community; if you are able to step into the cipher and tell your story, demonstrating your uniqueness, you might be more accepted". These groups also serve as a way for messages about hip hop styles and knowledge to be spread, through word-of-mouth and encouraging trends in other battles.
Battling is a prominent part of hip hop culture.
References in other media
- Rap battling features prominently in the film 8 Mile.
- In episode 22 of The Cleveland Show, "Brotherly Love", Cleveland Brown, Jr. engages in a rap battle against a character voiced by Kanye West.
- There is a skit in an episode of Robot Chicken in which Elmer Fudd competes in a rap battle against Bugs Bunny.
- Musician and YouTube comic Nice Peter attained massive attention by creating the series "Epic Rap Battles of History." In the webseries, Nice Peter, EpicLloyd and his friends act out rap battles between famous historical and fictional characters, with pairings such as William Shakespeare vs Dr. Seuss or Dumbledore vs Gandalf.
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- Baker, Geoffrey. 2006. "La Habana que no conoces: Cuban rap and the social construction of urban space." Ethnomusicology Forum 15, no. 2: 215-46
- AP Oct. 4, 2004. "Cuban Hip-Hop Reaches Crossroads: Artists Struggle to Meld Politics and Commercialism" CBS News
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