Hip hop, as a cultural and artistic movement, has shaped the musical landscape over the past 50 years. Among its many elements, emceeing especially in what we find in today’s battle rap and battle rappers stand out as a critical component in Hip Hop, yet were largely left out of lists and televised celebrations. Here we will touch on the importance of battle rap and battling in the tradition of hip hop and make sure it is held in proper esteem in the celebration of Hip Hop’s 50th year.

Photo Credit: Instagram | St. Louis’ battle rap legends going to battle in Atlanta at Rare Breed Ent Max Out 3. Pictured left to right; Hitman Holla, Yung Ill, Aye Verb, and B Magic.

The Evolution of Battle Rap in Hip Hop

Battle rap has deep roots in the foundational elements of hip hop, emerging alongside other components such as DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti art in the 1970s in the South Bronx. Early battles were often impromptu; taking place in parks, on street corners, house parties and events.

This would eventually lead to the rise of organized leagues like the west coast’s Project Blowed to modern day leagues, such as Smack’s Ultimate Rap League, Rare Breed Ent, Street Status and others. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the rise of legendary battles, such as those between KRS-One and MC Shan, to Nas and Jay-Z, to name just a couple, which contributed to the genre’s growth and solidified the importance of lyrical ability in hip hop.

From the streets to the leagues, rap battles facilitated the art form helping it to mature and explode in every aspect. Organized leagues here in the United States like URL and Rare Breed Ent’s platforms generate millions of views with each event and continually showcase hip hop in its purest form, emceeing. Rapper from around the country step up to compete in local events and pay per views racking up large numbers. Battle rap leagues and battling period provide an even playing ground for artists who know they have what it takes to compete.

It is particularly note worthy that midwestern artists such as, Aye Verb, B Magic, Yung Ill, and Hitman Holla, who all proudly hail from St. Louis have been able to dominate and command attention. Other notable contributions from names like Eminem, Calicoe, Marv Won, Ill Will, A. Ward, and many others have carried a love for the art form and made it to what we enjoy to this day.

These competitions have also spawned other platforms who report on these events and broadcast the culture to the community. A couple of my favorites would have to be 15 Minutes of Fame, Hip Hop is Real, and Angry Fan 007. In a time when we have come to see hip hop as overly commercial or lacking substance this community does not play that and it is up in your face honest and intelligent, that is hip hop.

Battle Rap’s Contribution to Hip Hop Culture:

The importance of battle rap in the culture of hip hop and hip hop music is indisputable, as it has always showcased the raw talent, creativity, and authenticity of emceeing. Battles serve as a proving ground where emcees demonstrate their ability to “move the crowd”. Rooms literally shake at these events, so how can you deny it acknowledgment, by only celebrating one facet? How can we as a culture stand by and let it go unnoticed? Perhaps it is more to do with ignorance than self hatred but I would be remiss if I did not say my piece in Hip Hop’s 50th year.

The past 50 years have witnessed the evolution of hip hop, with emceeing standing out as a significant cornerstone of the genre’s cultural dominance. Battle rap is emceeing at its highest level. From its humble beginnings in the streets, to artists going after each other on records, to competitions and global events, battle rap has continually helped to shape and define hip hop’s identity. Before I heard Meek Mill chase dreams I saw him battling some cat in Philly, that’s hip hop.

As we reflect on the significance of battle rap in hip hop, it is evident that the art form has not only been a vehicle for lyrical competition but also a powerful means of self-expression, social commentary, and community building and that is Hip Hop, that is the culture.

Before I close out this piece and 2023 I would personally like to thank some people. First is Elvin ‘The Enforcer’ Chambers your friendship this year has been very important to me in times of counsel, celebration, and tragedy. I pray that the Most High will bless you and that you will prosper even as your soul prospers. Secondly, I would like to thank Scott ‘Lyfestile’ Woods, your love and care for Hip Hop culture is contagious and I thank you for sharing your passions. Last but not least, I would like to thank Nas. The latter part of this year was tragic for me and listening to Magic 3, especially helped me see through a very tough time.

DeWarren Smith