Battle rap is becoming more prominent in the hip-hop world and is giving rap fans an exciting alternative to a mainstream rap industry that’s losing its creativity and originality.
This rap subgenre that started in parks and on street corners has evolved into an entire subculture of hip-hop. Venues are filling up with hundreds of fans while millions more watch online.
The Ultimate Rap League, based in New York City, recently held its sixth annual Summer Madness event, selling over 1,000 tickets at the famed Irving Plaza.
Instead of freestyling over a beat with little to no preparation as depicted in the movie “8-Mile,” modern battle rap consists of emcees using pre-written material acappella and having weeks or even months to prepare.
The confrontational nature of battle rap offers another layer of tension and excitement to the genre, something hip-hop lacks because it’s more of an artistic medium. Regardless of format and time period, battle rap has always revolved around conflict.
Almost every battle is between two emcees. This type of direct confrontation means battlers will have to craft their rhymes and performances for a specific opponent. Using generic bars is seen as a weakness, while personal angles pack a heavier punch.
Thanks to events being booked in advance, emcees have ample time to do their research and create original verses. This gives the audience an experience unique to that event instead of going to a rap concert and hearing the same radio hits that everyone has heard.
And to add to the engagement factor, the audience is the judge.
In battle rap, if two emcees have differences with each other, they can settle their issues on stage and let fans decide the winner. These matchups are often the most explosive and impactful in subculture.
Also, acappella performances showcase battlers’ versatility more than their mainstream counterparts. Many of today’s artists rely heavily on catchy beats to mask the shortcomings in their lyrics.
Battlers don’t have such handicaps. If anything, acappella allows battlers to express more creative freedom without being constrained by a beat or rhythm. Battle rappers have free reign over their material and can use whatever flow comes naturally to them.
Their stage performances also benefit from the creative freedom. Performance is the nonverbal tug-of-war between two opponents. Everything from stage presence, delivery and body language is encompassed by performance, and it is a sight to behold for the fans.
Battlers often take on a more conversational tone to connect with the crowd, a level of interaction hip-hop fans won’t get from listening to an album or from seeing a mainstream artist performing live.
Because battlers are always facing new opponents, they have to create new content every battle. This promotes better shock value and a sense of unpredictability for the fans because they are experiencing material they have never heard before.