Battle Rap As Theatre

“This is battle rap, 2 MCs hit the stage/With no beat they compete, with rap schemes and displays/Though shit might sound real, really mean full of rage/At the end of the day, they don’t mean what they say.” – Math Hoffa.

By: Andrew Barnett
Auburn University at Montgomery
Department of Communication & Dramatic Arts

[I] don’t think I could describe battle rap any better than that. Often seen as an aggressive, disrespectful, and brutal sport; battle rap is much more sophisticated than some think.
In fact, it is one of the most intricate forms of rap that you can find. The sport originated from rapping against someone on a street corner, at a high school, randomly in a corner store or pretty much anywhere.
These were the earliest days of battle rap that was mostly freestyle off the top of the head. It eventually turned into “keystyling” on the Internet and then evolved into a YouTube craze in the early to mid-2000s.
Battle rap came from raw beginnings and has evolved into something much more. Today’s battle rap is much different and can be easily categorized as a performance art.

We can start with the fact that most organized rap battles occur on stages. Some even happened in venues as big as Webster Hall in New York. Leagues such as URL and King Of The Dot have big name sponsors and guests that support their battle events.
Battle rappers are given months to prepare for battles most of the time. During these months, the rapper must first write about 9 minutes of material, which translates into about 200 bars, or rap lines.
These rappers often use this time to research their opponents and cater their lyrics around this person. After they are done writing, they must then work on memorizing these lines and performing them in a captivating way.
This takes much skill, diligence, and composure. Being able to write your lines, memorize them, and perform them, in the most entertaining way possible requires immense talent.

Battle rap can be compared to things such as acting, or even wrestling. Battle rappers put on an entirely different persona when they step on stage to battle each other.

Many times their content involves committing violent acts against one another or saying extremely disrespectful things. Some battlers are very good at making their words sound believable. Most contestants mean no actual harm, which is clearly visible because they always shake hands after battles.
Battlers often use poetic devices. Metaphors, similes, wordplay, rhyming, imagery, syllable variation, and alliteration are just a few of many poetic techniques that are used in battle rap. Not all battle rap consists of violent lyrics. Some battle rap artists like Murda Mook or Loaded Lux are just excellent at breaking their opponent down to a science.
In all, battle rap should be taken as much more than just a fierce form of aggressive rapping. Battle rappers are doing something that a small percentage of people can do, and they get paid to do it.
As battle rap continues to grow, more people will appreciate the skill and talent that is required to be a battle rapper.