Battle Rap has always existed as a sub-category of Rap. Battle Rap, taking it’s form from the Black cultural game of playing the dozens, is focused on dissing your opponent. The raps can be written and memorized or they can Come of the top of the head. They can be done over music or they can be done without it. The key ingredient is the diss.
One of the first well-known rap battles happened in the ’80’s between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee Starski.
Every battle rapper has their own style. Some may be more comical, some are more aggressive, some or more performance style (including facial expressions and gestures). They key to winning a battle rap is for the audience to be more overwhelmed by one rappers performance over their opponents.
Confusion and Clarity
Battle rap is sometimes confused with freestyling. The concept of freestyling has changed over the years but has still remains something wholly different from battle rapping.
In the book, “How to Rap,” Big Daddy Kane and Myka 9 discuss the original meaning of freestyle. Big Daddy Kane stated that:
“In the ’80s when we said we wrote a freestyle rap, that meant that it was a rhyme that you wrote that was free of style… it’s basically a rhyme just bragging about yourself.”
Myka 9 added:
“Back in the day freestyle was bust[ing] a rhyme about any random thing, and it was a written rhyme or something memorized.”
In his book, “There’s A God On The Mic,” Kool Moe Dee wrote:
“There are two types of freestyle. There’s an old-school freestyle that’s basically rhymes that you’ve written that may not have anything to do with any subject or that goes all over the place. Then there’s freestyle where you come off the top of the head.”
Many people think that freestyling has to come off the top of the head. According to rap OGs that’s not necessarily true. Rappers can compete with freestyles; however, that competition still isn’t the same as battle rap. The distinction between freestyling and battle rap is that freestyle doesn’t have a particular subject focus while the subject of a battle rap is the flaws and weaknesses of the rappers opponent versus the greatness of the rapper that is spitting.
Battle rap is still an underground culture in and of itself in Rap and Hip Hop. Although a number of rappers who have achieved mainstream success started in battle rap such as DMX, Jay-Z, and Eminem.
Hip Hop Dx has posted an Introduction to Battle Rap. Smack/URL’s Beasley, who has been a part of the battle rap scene for years describes battle rap,
“There’s elbows. There’s knees. There’s no rules. In the beginning, it’s going to take time for them to get in tune. A lot of stuff is coded. There’s a whole soap opera that’s attached to Battle Rap. There’s blogs that artists put out prior to a battle, where they say certain things about an individual, or they’ll say certain things about another individual or a battle they had prior. So, if you don’t follow the culture, things can appear to be coded, and you won’t understand certain segments of the rhyme. You need to be clear about that.
You have to understand when they’re aggressive and in each other’s face, they’re not gonna fight. It’s just a way of getting their point across, and it’s the nature of the sport. Both guys understand it, and they know what they’re getting into prior to the battle.
Also, when you’re judging a battle, it’s not just bars. It’s also performing. Everyone has a personal way of judging a battle. Some can be jokes. Some judge it off punchlines and lyrics. Some judge on a combination of performance, timing, comedy and so many aspects and angles that make up the modern battle leagues.”
Most battle raps are pre-written and include a performance element where rappers may wear costumes or bring props to enhance their performance. There are leagues of battle rappers who compete against each other that have created an unground world within Rap and Hip Hop culture.
Not every good rapper is skilled at freestyling or battle rapping and vice versa. However, there is room for all the styles of rapping and they should be celebrated. None of these styles are new, they are just extensions of Hip Hop history. It is imperative that Hip Hop heads know the history and appreciate the diversity of the culture. That is the only way we can own it for the future.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man