You know the old phrase…
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Battle rappers would beg to differ.
The art of battling has a long standing history in the chronicles of Hip-Hop culture. Emcees and fans alike congregating on street corners, each rhymer bringing their most hard hitting bars to the cypher in hopes of walking away with the title of Best Lyricist. Rap legends like Notorious B.I.G. made a name for themselves as freestyle aficionados, and the art form has continued to grow ever since.
Eminem, well-known for his cunning rhyme schemes and flow on the mic, brought battle rap to the mainstream with his 2002 film, “8 Mile.” Now, leagues across the globe represent a multitude of talented emcees of different backgrounds and languages. Unlike the film, many of the current formats have opted out of using a “beat” or instrumental to back the performers, instead electing to use strictly acapella freestyles more akin to spoken word poetry.
The rest of Hip-Hop has certainly taken notice. Platinum recording artist Drake is a marquee sponsor for Canadian/American battle rap league King Of The Dot, which has garnered success as a Pay-Per-View and YouTube Channel showcasing the leagues battle events. Hip-Hop pioneers including Wu-Tang Clan alumni Method Man and Raekwon, as well as Drake himself, are frequently ringside to get a chance to witness performances firsthand.
There are a few things that separate recording songs from your typical battle verse:
- With the absence of musical backing, a battler’s stage presence, wordplay, and delivery are his/her only method of captivating the audience.
- Battle verses tend to be heavily layered with metaphors, imagery, and personal attacks aimed at their opponent to express ideas and leave a lasting image in the viewers’ mind.
- The length of a round can be anywhere from a minute and a half to about 5 minutes. This allows more time for writers to be creative but also means there are more rhymes to remember.
Generally, due to the nature of “attacking” someone lyrically, the bars (lines in a verse) can be explicit and/or violent. Misogyny and Homophobia are not uncommon in battles, and it is a part of Hip-Hop culture that I am not fond of nor do I endorse. Although I enjoy the battles, I have been adamant about lessening said behavior when talking to other battle rap enthusiasts as well as its participants. That being said, I found it necessary to overcome the vulgarity in favor of clever word manipulation that I recognize is slightly lacking in mainstream music. Many of the rap artists I grew up with were masters of lyrical experimentation and battle rap has filled that void in recent years.
On August 16th, Hip Hop heads and beat junkies will take over downtown Durham to witness the 3rd Annual DURM HIP HOP SUMMIT hosted by Toon and the Real Laww. As part of the event, 16 participants will engage in lyrical combat on stage at the Summit as part of the day’s festivities.
In anticipation of the Hip Hop Summit, here are a few battles to get yourself acquainted with the culture. These are not necessarily the BEST battles (many recent battles have not been judged and winners are up to the viewers discretion), but they showcase the general presentation of your typical battle event and garnered high praise from the battle fan base.
- These are hand-picked by me, Justin Laidlaw, and any angry emails about language in the videos should be addressed to me.
- Each battle is affiliated with King of the Dot Entertainment. There are many other leagues but I generally lean towards KOTD for my taste in battle style.
- THIS MATERIAL IS EXPLICIT!
DIZASTER vs CANIBUS: West Coast legend and aggressive battle rapper Dizaster battles 90’s Hip-Hop legend Canibus. Rarely does a successful mainstream artist enter the ring against battle rap veterans. Known for being a character killer, Dizaster takes the opportunity at KOTD’s Vendetta to show why he believes mainstream rappers cannot contend with battle emcees.
THE SAURUS vs JOHN JOHN DA DON: TheSaurus is considered to be one of the original battle rap champions. The “Two-Time winner of Everything,” TheSaurus has won freestyle competitions at World Rap Championships and Scribble Jam including 2v2 competitions with partner Illmaculate. His opponent is up-and-coming Atlanta emcee John John Da Don, known for clever schemes as well as the similarity in his moniker and style to URL Battle League standout Hollow Da Don.
ILLMACULATE vs BIGG K: Hailing for Portland, Oregon, West Coast vet Illmaculate retuns after an absence from battle events to focus on his music career. Known for his brilliant imagery and complex schemes, Illmac stands tall (relatively speaking) against rising star Bigg K, who presents powerful punchlines with a southern twang. Bigg K and Illmaculate would go on to collaborate on “Know My Name” from Illmaculate’s recently released Clay Pigeons.
THE SAURUS vs BIGG K: “This is me vs Illmac revisited right?” would be a fair assessment of this battle, as Bigg K points out in his opening verse. Bigg K rides the wave of his recent success as he goes toe-to-toe with wordsmith and Illmaculate battle partner, TheSaurus.
CHARRON vs CRUGER: A meteoric rise to the top (with a little assistance from his friends at KOTD) pit Toronto emcee and winner of 106 & Park Freestyle Friday, Charron, against UK battle league Don’t Flop co-founder Cruger, who brings creative angles and humorous personal attacks to the KOTD’s WORLD DOMINATION 2 event.
For more, here is T.O. Battle Blogs list of “Top 10 Battles of 2013” for King of the Dot.