There used to be a notion floating around Hip-Hop that inferred that battle rappers could not make music.
Based off a few failures to translate from cipher to soundtrack, that narrative was pushed heavily in the late 90s and early 2000s by artists like Canibus and Jin who failed to put out commercially successful projects.
However, this new generation of competition lyricists has learned from the mistakes of others. Big time artists like Eminem, Joe Budden, Meek Mill, Drake, and Tory Lanez have all connected the origins of their rap careers to low-level rhyme competitions based on the age-old rites of passage of battling.
Now, emcees in battle culture are more polished, the sport is more structured and commercially viable. The artists have more access to technology to work on making music and are studying the game.
The divide between making dope music and verbally knocking someone’s head off is not as wide. This is evident by the huge fan base that these new artists have and their ability to connect via social media in ways that those “keeping it real battlers” from back on your block never could.
Check out the following projects that have dropped this year that are proof that battle rappers make dope music and are not just competitive on a league but can also bang alongside any joint on your favorite radio station or playlist.
Probably one of battle rap’s biggest luminaries, this project is an East Coast answer to the universal anthem of street-s##t. With all the charisma of Drake and the hood-social consciousness of Tupac, MSYKM pushes Surf further than his mixtape with Mozzy on Empire (Blood Cuzzins) and his hit 2019 album, Seven 25. His lead single “5’7” has inspired women to look at themselves, reconciling their personal pain with the assurance that a Black man sees them and honors them.
Shout out to the trappers! D.I. Da HennyMan takes the musicality and tone of Maybach Music’s head honcho Rick Ross with his signature Maryland cool to produce a solid project reflective of a grown-ass man taking his craft and life to the next level.
Videographer and businessman Avocado has taken his battle rap platform, Ruin Your Day, and produced a compilation mixtape with a few of the most popular guests from the show. The influencer has tapped artists from every part of the country to offer a richly diverse project with not only range but heart. The mixtape opens with Ryda and features heavy hitters like Hollow Da Don, Nu Jerzey Twork, Rum Nitty, Geechi Gotti, Bill Collector, MyVerse, Bigg K, Quban, Illmac, E. Hart, D.I. Da Henny Man, Lush One, and B Dot the God. He also gives shine to artists like Eddy I., Baby Franco, Death Dealers Anonymous, DJ Akoza, Reverse Live, ESEM, Bezzelz, Young Shame, Young Claybo, Chase More, Frak, Tony Madness, Spiff, and Fredo Algebra.
Shotgun Suge makes music for the car, for the club and for your favorite street playlists. The Newark rapper has a sound that hovers over the popular drill movement but has a unique groove threaded throughout the project that reminds you that he has a story originated from the streets that have molded him into the “G” that he is. Trust … all eight songs are blaze.
If I Had A Heart is a great introduction to the Island God as a recording artist. Within the album, Aye Verb masters storytelling in the way that legacy artists like Scarface and Andre 3000 did in a generation of lyricism long forgotten. His song, “Lining Straight” featuring Reason is intoxicating. His voice melts into the seductive orchestration like he is more invested in making quality music over something hot but will soon be disposable. The album, like the Tinman from the Wizard of Oz, shows why men lose the sensitivity of their hearts. BTW way… Aide Ade… she needs a project quick.
Highlighting battle rappers because they make good music is nothing new. Most rappers from the 70s up until the early 2000s built their careers on competitive emceeing.
Battlers Rakim and Big Daddy Kane birthed Nas and Jay-Z, who in turn fathered mad rappers styles in the culture. There would be no lanes to make money on a large commercial level if the Wu-Tang Clan did not cross over and all of them started battling each other from different parts of Staten Island (just catch Method Man’s battle with Math Hoffa).
Now, the world is all buzzing because monthly, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland have utilized this battle rap format, the back and forth of good music, to lift the energy that these new battlers have made hot.
The culture is widening and getting smaller at the same time. The divide between commercial and underground is closing with social media being the means to get dope music out.
And now … those gatekeepers who kept real lyricists out of the game are nervous. The true emcees and creatives in the culture got the formula and are staking their claim right next to those selected by suits to run the game.