Bar Fight: Will Mainstream Hip-Hop Survive Its Return to the Battle Ring?


“Wooo!” “Ahhhhh!” “Tssssk!” said the scrunched up faces in the crowd of King of The Dot’s Vendetta main event on the night of June 9. All eyes and ears surrounded just two men in verbal warfare. One of them has a pair of dark shades, a black T-shirt, and a grin on his face as though he has his opponent right where he wants him.

“You came here healthy? You going to leave here injured/Real gladiators gotta to bleed in the trenches,” promised Canibus, who was brandishing a jet black sling for his injured right arm. His opponent and one-time fan, King of the Dot champion Dizaster, even chuckled a little at some of Canibus’ bars, as the crowd recites some of Canibus’s classic battle bars along with him.

But soon, the “what elses?” and “Talk to em’s” come to an awkward silence as The Source’s 44th Greatest Lyricist of All Time pulls out a large yellow note pad in the third round of the battle.

“Alright alright, listen to me, the boy can spit. I wrote so many f*cking rhymes. You can’t memorize all that sh*t. I’m not a good freestyler,” says the creator of the LL Cool J scathing, “2nd Round K.O.”. “I’m technical. Always been that way. You win, Diz, but I still want to spit my sh*t.”

Ugly faces turn into pure horror and disbelief as the first advertised Internet rap battle with a once-mainstream MC and a seasoned battle vet had been made into a recital. “I will always still be the best MC/ I’m just mad at you because I took all this time to prepare for you and you f*cking disrespected me!” said Dizaster, as the crowd clapped in agreement.

Since this battle rap “dizaster” took place, not only has Canibus’ ability to compete in a war of words with battle rap’s best been questioned, but any other MC who is more known for their music has not been necessarily deemed battle ready, either – regardless of how “lyrical” their music might be. Although many mainstream rappers like Drake and Jay-Z have expressed their love for the art of Internet/live battle rap (especially since the birth of S.M.A.C.K DVD and Fight Klub), there have been few that have expressed an interest more than just being a fan.

Yet, after witnessing the lucrative success of KOTD’s Vendetta and URL’s Summer Madness, many mainstream MCs have been flirting with idea of returning to their battling roots. Are mainstream rappers really willing to put their put their skills to the test? Or, are they just blowing hot air? And, if they do come back to battle arena, will their battle tactics be too outdated for today’s battle rap field?

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Maybach Music Group’s Meek Mill doesn’t see think so. Earlier this month, Mill took to Twitter to voice his interest in battling one of battle rap elites by bringing up his alleged “100-1” battling record after watching Summer Madness’ E. Ness vs. DNA. During his Twitter boast, Mill dug into the stereotype that battle rappers lack the ability to make a hook or a hit, which would make them easy opponents. In a true competitor fashion, battle rapper DNA posted a vlog on YouTube to explain why Mill’s battling style could not win against him, but he would have no issue in allowing the Philly MC to try.

“I’m interested to see on how you going to come and how you’re going to approach the battle. I think it would be interesting,” said the Queens native DNA, after viewing Meek Mill vs. Nagos battle from 2007. “I ain’t gon tell you that I can make a better album than you because that’s what you do. You just can’t jump the gun and say you going to come into something that I do daily.”

It’s true, mainstream rappers. The battle arena has some major differences than the music industry. There’s no beat. No label. No high-profile feature that might be able to pick up some lyrical slack. Although the some of the most commercial MCs like Jay-Z, DMX and, of course, Eminem have rapped circles around battle circuits in the ’90s, it’s a completely different ballgame now. You are only left with the delivery of your metaphors, structure, information, and context to break down your opponent in front of an audience. And those are just the basics.

Meek Mill’s upcoming opponent DNA

Rebuttals, freestyles, multi-sylllabics, and trends like the “slow-it-down technique” seem to change every year with every new generation of battle rappers. Search engines and social media have made the research on one’s opponent much more extensive making lyrical jabs much more personal and specific.“Recycling,” a battle rap sin that consist of a rapper reusing bars that were already used for another opponent, is now much easier to catch if the bars were said in a previous recorded battle on YouTube. This means that filler freestyles and vague pre-writtens are not going to scratch today’s grammar gladiator’s like Don’t Flop’s Charron or Grindtime’s Amzilla, who can come up with tailor-made freestyle on the spot. But, take it from Canibus, there is no harm in trying.

Mainstream rappers might see themselves as able in the battlefield, but some may be afraid to go fight in a word war. And that’s understandable. It takes a lot of courage to allow someone to tear apart the public image that you’ve spent years and millions of dollars building piece by piece. But there is an advantage to be gained by mainstream MCs who do successfully return to that battle ring. And, it is more than just street props.

Top battle rap company’s like URL, King of the Dot, and Don’t Flop have the eyes of more than 200,000 subscribers who are usually willing to pay thousands of dollars for a big name to headline a battle against their battle machines. In a time of declining music sales, this could be a perfect opportunity for the mainstream MC to make a couple grand, promote a new album, and gain some notoriety among underground rap fans along the way.

If mainstream Hip-Hop artists did partake more in battle rap instead of being mere spectators, not only would it expose mainstream Hip-Hop to an new audience, but more importantly, it would shed a worldwide spotlight on an element of Hip-Hop that is boiled down to its true essence.

Just don’t pull out your notepad.