Hip-hop Gladiators


Battle rap has been around much longer than anyone thinks. Before there was hip-hop, before there was brakes and beats, before samples, blues, jazz and rock n ‘roll – black people were making fun of each other rhyming. This is a story bunch of fans don’t know and it goes way back to slavery, darkest and most violent part of the US history.

KRS-One the teachah found best and shortest way to tell the story of how it originated (in the movie by Ice-T – Something from nothing). When slaves were sold, they were sold separately, one by one, except if one of them had some kind of injury like: missing limbs  or serious illness. They would gather those slaves together and sell by dozens. But even in such a harsh environment, black people found a way to laugh. They would laugh at each other’s shortcomings and have a good time. But that gave a birth to a culture that remained silent and got more and more complex with the time.

Time has passed and since Cool Herc introduced black community to what we now call hip-hop music, verbal fighters found their path. They were always there, but that special music which only belonged to them – brakes – gave them the opportunity to be more listenable and more complex. In the late 70’s battling was already a part of the culture, but it still remained underground until early 90’s.

All tough battle rap is significant part of the culture, it helped lots of rappers to gain recognition, but I think it’s a horrible tradition. Maybe, you can see good side of it in a way that only hardcore real rap heads survive that world and once they’re signed, you know they earned that. But barely any battle rap cat made it huge on the mainstream. Why? Because there’s a huge difference between writing rhymes that destroy your opponent and writing rhymes that people would pay to listen over and over again. Like Immortal Technique said: “Battle rap is a gladiator sport, nothing gets created in there”. I would have to agree with him on that one, but of course there are pros and cons to everything.

Last battle I watched was years ago: Canibus vs Dizaster. It surely was a disaster. Canibus, once a respected lyricist, got ripped apart in front of a crowd and a camera. Pros to this battle was that we enjoyed the show, cons: 1. after Canbius’s carrier experienced a major hiatus, he only had one shot (no pun intended) to demonstrate himself like “I still got it folks!” but Canibus dug out his own grave and buried himself alive when he pulled out that notebook and started reading. Even his friend was telling him in back “don’t man, don’t do it”. But he still did it and I felt pity for him. 2. All tough Dizaster won – he still lost. Like … what did he won? Couple G’s? Beating Canibus wasn’t hard at all, so don’t tell me he gained respect. He moved on to other battles and had many loses from what I’ve seen. In battle rap, even when you win, you lose. You go back home with nothing.

You constantly have to write, spend time figuring out how to destroy opponent and memorize lines that are meaningless in the longshot. That’s the saddest part about it – spending your time and creativity for a showoff. Who was the last rapper that made out of battle rapping and achieved something? Or had any influence on hip-hop? Even the most notorious battle rappers (like Cassidy) are still in the same swamp with Dizaster and others.

50 Cent said: “This battle rappers are crazy when it comes to writing rhymes, but they can’t write a song to save their lives”.


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