When talking about hip-hop, the four elements of the culture are DJing, breakdancing, graffiti, and of course, rapping or MCing. For this article, we’ll concentrate on MCing, although battling isn’t exclusive to that element. You can battle within all four elements. When it comes to having rap battles, it has undergone an evolution alongside hip-hop as a whole.
This article is a brief overview on the the rap battle scene. There are going to be holes in the timeline because, well it would make this article much longer and this is suppose to be just an overview. If you want to dig deeper, feel free. Also, if you think I missed something or got something wrong that is important to mention, please say so in the comments.
Initially, as weird as it may sound, rappers would battle to see who could be the hypeman for the DJ. Seriously. During hip-hop’s infancy, the DJ was on the forefront, and for good reason. They controlled the party. So when rappers would battle to be the DJ’s hypeman, it was seen as an honor. Overtime, the roles began to switch. The rappers went to the forefront, with the DJ being related to the back. Battling, has been a natural phenomenon in hip-hop since the beginning. Now with the rappers on the forefront, standing in the limelight, it was only a matter of time for those rappers to battle.
One of the most influential battles to ever occur, was the battle with Busy Bee vs. Kool Moe Dee. During an MC contest around Christmas 1981, both Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee participated. Busy Bee, as your party MC, performed to the crowd, pandering to the crowd there. Then Moe Dee gets on the mic, and instead of spitting any ol’ rhymes, he concentrates his verse to attack Busy Bee. Was it unfair? Perhaps. But it was a contest. There was a trophy at stake. Hearing it today, its eerie. During Moe Dee’s verse, I think you can just hear rap battling evolving.
Now with Kool Moe Dee, the battle has now transformed into a one on one affair. People would battle from other neighborhoods, cities, where ever. If you knew two people who rapped, it usually resulted in them battling one way or another. For a long time, if a person were to come a battle with a written verse, it was frown upon. It was seen as unfair, as the opponent didn’t write and also a sign of wackness due to the apparent lack of freestyle ability.
But over the course of time, that stigma began to disappear. Then, with the rise of various of rap battle leagues such as King Of The Dot, Grindtime, Don’t Flop, Smack/URL, the fact was not only openly accepted, but expected. Writing allows for more intricate dissing and much brutal and more entertaining battles. But freestyle hasn’t gone away. If a rapper forgets what they wrote, they can freestyle to compensate, or if they think their opponent is trash, just freestyle the entire battle.The content of these battles, just like the music, anything goes. Fat jokes, racist jabs, personal attacks on someone’s past, it all flies. It gets rough, but it’s always been a part of the battle since the beginning.
Rap battles, in a lot of ways, keeps hip-hop alive. It brings rappers back to the roots of the culture. One of one, or even two on two battles, with both parties doing their best to embarrass and upstage the other. It’s raw, uncensored, unfiltered, aggressive, and done out of competition and the love of hip-hop.