Why Every Hip-Hop Fan Should Get Into Battle Rap In 2021

Don’t complain about the lack of lyricism in rap if you haven’t tried watching the modern day rap battle

It’s been a common refrain for my entire life as a rap fan: “rap is missing the lyricism of the old days.” That’s mostly rubbish as there’s more than enough lyricism in rap now and as much as there has ever been. But let’s just go with it. If you’re looking for a bar-heavy barrage of complex Hip-Hop, you might want to take it back to the essence and get into battle rap.

Now, I know you’re probably somewhat familiar with battle rap, whether that be Eminem’s 8 Mile movie or 106 & Park’s Freestyle Friday, but times have changed. There’s no longer the assumption that rappers are actually freestyling and, with the exception of the highly entertaining Verbal Warzone league, rappers aren’t battling over beats anymore. Rappers come prepared with three rounds of material that they’ve written, rehearsed and memorized. They sometimes come with props, partners jumping in and any array of theatrics. The beauty, though, is that it all comes down to lyrics, charisma and performance. Each rapper essentially performs a live EP of rhymes about their opponent. And it can get incredibly epic.

With that said, here is some primer material to get you familiar. A lot of notable battles this year are only available on the URL app, so the offerings below will be other leagues or older battles.

Let’s start with this: Rum Nitty vs. Iron Solomon. I’m putting this here because not only is it one of the best battles ever, it’s also an easy battle to just jump in if you’re new to the scene. They have two very distinct styles and it translates well for newcomers.

Rum Nitty vs. Iron Solomon is seriously one of the best battles of all time. If you don’t like this then maybe this whole article wasted your time.

This is an oldie moment but it’s incredible. Hitman Holla of Wild N’ Out fame is one of the more charismatic people in battle rap. This is a sign of how the performances can bend the idea of the bar into more loose flows to tell a story.

Sharing this here for a few reasons:

  1. Yes there are two-on-two battles. Rappers team up and finish each other’s lines. It’s sort of gimmicky sometimes but when it works, it works.
  2. B. Dot and Geechi Gotti are my favorite battlers out right now. Dot is like battle rap Kendrick, infusing all sorts of deeply-thought-out sociopolitical bars in the middle of his street knowledge. Geechi is west coast gangster rap personified in battle form. They’re running the scene right now.
  3. There are Christian battlers. Yes, this is a thing. And they’re really dope, too. A Ward and Loso are two of the better guys on that side.

Just like Hip-Hop in 2020, women had a stellar year in battle rap. The women often battle the men, too. But whenever they’re on stage they are stealing the show. If you’re looking for more, the Queen Of The Ring league is a fantastic home base for the female MCs.

The undisputed king of battle rap is Ultimate Rap League, headed by SMACK, whose name you might recall from the DVDs that bore his name in the early 2000s. They have a partnership with streaming service Caffeine and are backed by Drake. They also have an app that allows you to access all of their battles for $7.99.

Another major league is Rare Breed Entertainment, which has put on some incredible battles over the years. This battle between hilariously captivating Nova Scotian MC Pat Stay and Cali’s bar God Danny Myers is one of my favorite back and forth bouts ever. Pat’s second round is comedy gold.

Then there’s King Of The Dot, the Canada-based battle league that has been neck and neck with URL for years. While URL tends to lend more towards authenticity and the traditional gangster rap we’ve come to know and love, KOTD is a space for fans who lean towards more relatable topics. Here you’ll see more comedy, more willingness to delve into nerd culture and a scene reminiscent of the backpackers of yore. KOTD is putting on a tournament on Twitch with the winner earning $50,000. It also produced this incredible viral moment.

This should be more than enough to get you started, but here are a couple of more very dope moments/videos I think you’ll like:

Qleen Paper is just so charismatic and dope. Here’s some of his best stuff.

The greatest battle of all time. It’s a bit dense and full of backstory so I understand if it’s hard to get into.

I think this is more than enough to get you started with apologies to those battles and battlers I haven’t included. Maybe there’s space for a part 2 down the line. Hope this helps you pass the time over the holidays, too.

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us

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