Battle rap has come a long way in hip-hop. Ever since the days of Kool Herc’s Bronx block parties, rap battling has been one of the most authentic parts of hip-hop culture. Some may say that rap battles are the backbone of the entire culture because of how crucial it was to shaping modern day rap music. At one point in time, it was the only thing that set rappers apart from each other. Being the best battler automatically gave you local celebrity status. With no Internet to help take a rapper to the top of the game and no album sales to reinforce relevance, battling was damn near the only thing that made a rapper “hot in these streets”.
As hip-hop culture quickly gained popularity, the music exploded onto the mainstream for good reason. The music brought rhythm, flow, meanings, messages and feelings that battling couldn’t deliver. Emcees then weren’t too concerned with battling one another bar for bar on the streets – but instead wanted to battle each other on the charts. As rap music became more popular nationally and internationally, battles really took a back seat. Obviously the act of “rapping” was still very visible in the music, but the actual art of battling seemed to fade away.
However, in recent years the battling subculture has taken more of the spotlight than usual. The formation of rap battle leagues all over the world coupled with the increased creativity and skills these battlers possess has re-energized this sub genre; propelling its gradual crawl back into the mainstream. Now in 2015, battle rap has hit new heights and shows no signs of slowing down. Here is everything you need to know about battle rap in 2015.
For starters, you need to know that there are rap battle leagues everywhere. The days of local street corner skirmishes are over. Rap battling, just like hip-hop in general, is a worldwide phenomenon. Everywhere from Canada to the Philippines have thriving battle leagues with top tier rappers spitting top tier rhymes. Just like in UFC, boxing or any other combat based sport, battle leagues have structured events every couple of months where rappers will be matched up with an opponent and proceed to out rap eachother. These leagues are getting bigger and bigger every event. There is tons of cross-league matchups, big sponsors and massive sold out venues. For example, this past summer there was a battle event at NYC’s 2500 person capacity Hammerstein Ballroom. Can’t catch a battle live? No problem. These leagues use state of the art camera equipment to capture every bar in 1080p and then post the videos on YouTube shortly after. Some leagues even live stream or Pay-Per-View their events for maximum audience reach. These leagues are only gaining more momentum and more reputable infrastructures. Below you can check out a battle that happend in England’s premiere battle league Don’t Flop, between Manchester’s Shotty Horroh and New Jersey’s Arsonal.
Battle rap these days is much more evolved then it was back in the day. The bars have become way more clever, the punchlines hit harder and the delivery is unrivaled. Most of the battles in today’s day and age are all acapella. Although criticized by those obsessed with rapping on a beat, rhyming acapella gives a battler so much more to work with in terms of intricacy and emphasis. Words can be slowed down, schemes can be stretched out and most of all, rappers can’t hide behind a beat. This puts priority on the quality of the rhymes and not the ability to find the beat’s pocket. It also helps that the rhymes are pre written and memorized. Each battler is given around a month to write for their opposition so that when battle day comes the rounds are perfectly polished and rehearsed. They can do research on their opponent, review their past battles and basically do whatever it takes to make the hardest three rounds. This premeditation obviously hinders the amount of freestyling that happens but helps the amount of chokes in a big way. But really, any way you look at it, battle rap in 2015 really does highlight hip-hop at its purest. These battle rappers try effortlessly to come up with new ways to clown, diss and out rap their opponents while still maintaining a level of camaraderie. A perfect example of this lyrical prowess can be seen in the video below. The battle is from Canada’s King Of The Dot battle league and features Virginia’s Bigg K and Portland’s Illmaculate.
Another major advancement battle rap has seen is the mainstream endorsements and participation. Mainstream rappers like Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Drake and even Jay-Z openly support the battle scene. These co-signs work in bringing mainstream hip-hop fans to the sub culture in an organic way. It has even gone so far as mainstream rappers stepping into the ring themselves. Rappers like Joe Budden, Madchild, Ab-Soul, Cassidy and recently Mistah FAB have all stepped into the ring to duke it out with the sub genre’s finest. This brings huge attention to the battle rap world and gives mainstream validity to its importance in our culture. To further this point, this past year’s BET Awards featured a plethora of battle rappers in both the pre-recorded cypher and live on-stage cypher. One video below shows a few of URL’s finest spitters showing what they got live at the BET Awards while the other is the recent clash between mainstream veteran Cassidy and battle rap kingpin Dizaster.
Whether you like it or not, battle rap is becoming ever more prominent in today’s hip-hop landscape. The impact, skill and pure entertainment that come from this new age of battling in unmatched anywhere else. Don’t be surprised to battle rap come to the forefront more and more over the next few years.