Battle rap

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Battle rap (also known as battle rapping or battle rhyming[1]) is a type of rapping that includes (bragging and boasting) content.[1] 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".[2]

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.[2] Battle raps are often written solely for the purpose of impressing people with technically inventive rapping,[3] and knowing a wide variety of rapping styles and a wide range of MCs is recommended.[4] Some MCs started out writing mostly battle raps and battling other MCs before they began making records.[5]


Historically, rap battles draw their roots to the Dozens. The Dozens is a game of spoken words between two contestants, common in Black communities of the United States, where participants insult each other until one gives up. It is customary for the Dozens to be played in front of an audience of bystanders, who encourage the participants to reply with more egregious insults to heighten the tension and consequently, to be more interesting to watch. Among African-Americans it is also known as "roasting", "capping", "clowning", "flaming", "ranking", "ragging", "sounding", "joning", "woofing", "wolfing", "sigging", or "signifying", while the insults themselves are known as "snaps".[6][better source needed]

Comments in the game focus on the opposite player's intelligence, appearance, competency, social status, financial situation, and disparaging remarks about the other player's family members—mothers in particular ("yo′ mama...")—are common. Commentary is often related to sexual issues, where the game is then referred to as the "Dirty Dozens".

According to sociologist Harry Lefever and journalist John Leland, the game is almost exclusive to African Americans. Both males and females participate, but the game is more commonly played among males of varying social status.[7][better source needed]

The modern rap battle is generally believed to have originated in the East Coast hip hop scene in the late 1970s.[citation needed] One of the earliest and most infamous battles occurred in December 1982 when Kool Moe Dee challenged Busy Bee Starski[8] - 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" thusly, rendering Busy's archaic format of rap obsolete, in favor of a newer style[8] which KRS-One also credits as creating a shift in rapping in the documentary Beef.[9]

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".[1] 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".[10]

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.[11]

Recent history[edit]

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.[12] 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.[13]

Battle Rap Leagues[edit]

Ell Oh Crew is the oldest website that has conducted and promoted battle rap since 1998. The site is still up and running to this day and was founded by battle rapper Robo Rob. In 1999, battlers Fam Nice, Axe, and Unseen who were members of Ell Oh Crew, branched out to create the forum style version of battle rap that is currently used today with their leagues New Jerusalem and Sacred Society. Those sites conducted battle rap in text, audio, and video. The most prominent battlers of Sacred Society competed in a yearly bracket style tournament known as "Pay-Per-View" with PPV 8 being the final tournament held by Sacred Society. Battlers were also ranked and competed for the top position known as the "Supreme Lyricist" on a monthly basis. The "Esco Award" was given on a monthly basis as well for the emcee with the grimiest, darkest content and style.

Due to the popularity of text battling and battle leagues, battle rap has been revived in the form of pre-written battles where battlers can showcase their writing skills as well as their freestyle rhyming ability. Don't Flop, Grind Time Now and King of the Dot all started in 2008, and furthered the popularity of battle rap via video hosting website YouTube, brand marketing, and creating divisions across there home nations and beyond, companies like Ultimate Rap League have also helped to expanded the movement.

Ultimate Rap League (URL) is a major New York battle league and it showcases some of the greatest talent in modern battle rap such as Aye Verb (StreetStatus), Conceited (LionsDen), DNA (GrindTimeNow) Hitman Holla (StreetStatus), Tay Roc (LionsDen), Hollow Da Don (GrindTimeNow) and many more. Some of URL's major events bring in thousands of spectators. These events include: N.O.M.E. (Night of Main Events), Summer Madness, and Rookies VS Vets.

King of the Dot, also known as KOTD, hosted a 3-day event known as World Domination 2 in August 2011 which had participates from eight different countries. In November 2011, Organik hosted Flatline, an event in which rapper Drake co-hosted the main event between Dizaster and DNA.

The first all-female battle rap league, called Queen of the Ring was founded in 2010. Although female battle rappers such as Mis Led and Drizz Mami existed in other leagues, they were significantly less prevalent in the scene. Queen of the Ring gained attention quickly, as well as an avid fanbase. It is now considered one of the "Top Five" big battling leagues (along with URL, Don't Flop, KOTD, and Grind Time Now). Many female battlers are widely known in the community, with female battles in the majority of big events held by any of the other "Top Five" leagues. As female battlers have gained recognition, male versus female battles have also become popular.

Don't Flop is the largest UK rap battle league founded in 2008, following a controversial judging decision in which co-founder, Eurgh, was denied a place in the finals of a tournament run by the then-dominant battle league, JumpOff.[14] Since then, notable appearances include Rizzle, Illmaculate, Mystro, and Harry Love. Don't Flop came to mainstream UK media attention in 2012 when one of their battles became a viral video, purportedly showing a teacher battling his student. Although the battlers in question, Mark Grist and Blizzard were not student and teacher, the narrative was enough to give the league a huge boost in exposure. Don't Flop also have the highest viewed English speaking battle in the world and have expanded by hosting battles in country's across the globe witch has made them an international battle league to be reckoned with.[15] In 2014, former Don't Flop performers and staff broke away to form King of the Ronalds as a reaction to Don't Flop's move towards a more sanitised version of the product[16] and sponsorship from the likes of Foot Locker.[17] King of the Ronalds presents a more raw ethos, with a philosophy that has much in common with the early punk rock movement. The league markets itself primarily using videos of tense physical confrontations between battlers,[18] something other leagues are keen to distance themselves from.

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.[19]

Major Battle Leagues
1998 - Ell Oh Crew (EOC)
1999 - New Jerusalem (NJ)
1999 - Rap Music (RM)
2000 - Rap Battles (RB)
2000 - The Chamber (TC)
2001 - Sacred Society (SS)
2003 - JumpOff TV (JOTV)
2005 - Let's Beef (LB)
2008 - Don't Flop (DF)
2008 - GrindTime Now (GTN)
2008 - King of the Dot (KOTD)
2009 - Ultimate Rap League (URL)
2010 - Queen of the Ring (QOTR)

Types of battles[edit]

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,in school or even online. 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.[20]

The live audience is critical to a battle as each Emcee (MC; Master of Ceremonies) 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 cypher 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".[21] 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.[22]

Battling is a prominent part of hip hop culture.

References in other media[edit]

  • Rap battling features prominently in the film 8 Mile.
  • 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 Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs or Terminator vs. Robocop. This was so popular, they made a new channel, and have gone through 4 seasons of the series, gaining over 12 million subscribers.


  1. ^ a b c Edwards, Paul, 2009, p. 25.
  2. ^ a b Edwards, Paul, 2009, p. 27.
  3. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, p. 28.
  4. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, p. 28-29.
  5. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, p. 29.
  6. ^ The Dozens
  7. ^ The Dozens
  8. ^ a b "Blow Average". 
  9. ^ Beef documentary, 2003, Peter Spirer, Aslan Productions.
  10. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, p. 26.
  11. ^ ego trip, 1999, ego trip's Book of Rap Lists, St. Martin's Press, p. 236-237.
  12. ^ Baker, Geoffrey. 2006. "La Habana que no conoces: Cuban rap and the social construction of urban space." Ethnomusicology Forum 15, no. 2: 215-46
  13. ^ AP Oct. 4, 2004. "Cuban Hip-Hop Reaches Crossroads: Artists Struggle to Meld Politics and Commercialism" CBS News
  14. ^ "Arkaic & Eurgh vs Frankie Wapps & Jaze Juce - World Rap Championships 2007". Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  15. ^ "The teacher who beat a student in a rap battle". Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  16. ^ "The Attitude Era of battle rap". Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  17. ^ "Don't Flop Roster Loses Battles To ... Shoes?". Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  18. ^ "Battle Rapper Gets Violated on KOTR". Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  19. ^ "Rap Grid Is The ESPN of Rap Battles". Frank151. Retrieved 14 December 2013. 
  20. ^ Johnson, Simon (2008-12-28). "Rap music originated in medieval Scottish pubs, claims American professor". Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 2008-12-30. "Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of "flyting". According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap. 
  21. ^ Chang, Jeff (12 October 2009). "It's a Hip-hop World". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  22. ^ Schell, Justin. ""This Is What Ya'll Don't See On TV": B-Girl Be 2007". 
  • Edwards, Paul (2009). How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1556528167. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 8 Mile. Dir. Curtis Hanson. DVD. March 18, 2003Larro
  • Alan Light; et al. October 1999. The Vibe History of Hip Hop.
  • All Rapped Up. Dir. Steven Gregory, Eric Holmberg. Perf. Eric Holmber, Garland Hunt. Videocassette. 1991.
  • Blow, Kurtis. Kurtis Blow Presents: The History of Rap, Vol. 1: The Genesis (liner notes). Kurtis Blow Presents: The History Of Rap, Vol. 1: The Genesis.
  • Brian, Cross. It's Not About a Salary. London; New York: Verso, 1993 [i.e. 1994].
  • Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme. Dir. Kevin Fitzgerald. DVD. 2004.

See also[edit]