The Curious Case of Battle MCs

The battle MC is an interesting character. While freestyle battles are a good way to get your name out there, more often that not, these rappers don’t break much ground. The careers of some of the more recent battle artists have gone nowhere fast – Jin, Poster Boy, Murder Mook, Serius Jones (who I really think just talks, not raps, in his battles)… And did someone win the 106 & Park Freestyle Tournament yet? I stopped watching.

I thought Jin had great potential and while he did make a little splash, “Learn Chinese” didn’t exactly top the charts. When he accepted that Ruff Ryders chain on 106, that was pretty much the height of his career. “At the end of the day,” he didn’t have the right formula and I’m not sure he was capable of making great songs even with Swizz Beatz production. Sometimes it’s hard for the battle rapper to break out of their tit-for-tat style of rhyming, but there are some success stories. Guys like Cassidy and Eminem (maybe the biggest success story) were able to make it big after breaking in on the underground battling circuit. But it’s hard to find an artist who can diss you and then turn around and make a great radio record and then turn around and also make a solid album.

Serius was signed to Disturbing Tha Peace for a while before that deal fell through. I’m sure the labels just don’t know how to market these guys. The main problem/argument is that just because you can spar on the streets doesn’t mean you can make a song with the right arrangements, production, hook, melodies, etc, so many battle rappers tend to be one-trick ponies. Is battling still what it used to be? Can new rappers still break in this way? -clovito

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  • Pierzy

    Eminem was able to craft actual songs and hooks with concepts that led to well-rounded albums and a major part of that was his honesty and openness. Combined with his wordplay, sense of humor and ability to battle, he was the complete package.

    Canibus, on the other hand, was totally one-dimensional. To this day, I’d love to have ‘Bis rip the final spot on a posse cut (like “Beasts From The East,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Horsementality”) but what other depth does he have? Through his rhymes, you learn nothing about him, so you don’t get to know him. “I Honor U” from his first album was the closest he came and even that wasn’t on par with a song like “Stan”

    • Max Profit

      I never liked battle rappers to me they don’t rap. It’s just two dudes playin the dozens. Eminem just used batttle rap to get noticed but he was always a good musician.

  • DJ Daddy Mack

    Speaking of Eli, I just read on DJ Drama’s wiki page that he’s working with Eli who got an album dropping this summer on Koch. :-O WTF?


    • venemez

      Dont Trust Wiki

  • venemez

    Eminem is a genius

  • My Effin’ Opinion

    Battle rapping is an art within and art … it is the truest form of rap there is. It’s not about getting on the radio or making people shake their ass at the club. It’s about gaining the respect of people who do what you do. Any true lyricist can appreciate a good battle rapper.

    Battle rap is to hip hop what street ball is to basketball.

    … and another thing. KRS-One may be the biggest success story. Both he and Em came into the game off the battle circuit, but KRS-One’s first few songs were straight dis/battle tracks.

  • General

    Battle rapping is definetely a great way to get noticed, but all too often these MC’s are completely one dimensional. While the battles are entertaining, no one wants to listen to an entire CD of it. Unless they can learn to craft actual songs that do more than just throw out constant punchlines, they will never succeed. Eminem is obviously an example of someone who learned to use what they learned in battle rapping and grow into a recording artist, but he just seems to be the exception instead of the rule

  • dolo

    canibus wasnt in mc battles, people always make that misoonception.. Immortal tech rocked the battle circuit and we can say hes had success on the independent circuit.. Serius jones is too early to tell i think. Its hard to make that transition.. rhymefest has had a lil success u can say .alot of the battle mcs went the indy circuit. Then again battle mcs make their money in battles. Im sure jin has made more money from battling then puttin out records..

  • Avenger XL

    Battle rappers are a part of a certain niche in hip-hop. Their fans are mostly guys and often wanna be rappers/producers. The uninitiated public are often not interested in this inner sanctum of hip-hop because it keys in on a kind of techincal love of the art of rhyming mixed with playing the dozens against somebody. That is great for a live experience and you can even collect a series of classic battles and punchlines and experience it like that but it just doesn’t transilate on wax too well. It is something you have to experience to enjoy and the fans are mostly hardcore heads.

    Another problem is that many of the rappers place so much effort in being technically ill they forget the human emotion and their albums don’t connect well with the buying public outside of the heads. In music folks need to see your passion and be able to connect with you on some level to get into you also they sign contracts with horrible vanity labels like disturbing the peace which is one of the largest career graveyards in the southeast or Ruff Ryder when they were on their decline. They would be better served on a indie label and creating kind of a year round battle circuit like breakdancers have and that way the hardcore heads could get their fix and they could get money.

  • EmCDL

    I love watching those battle rap videos from time to time, shit it gets me hyped enough at times to do it myself (even though I can’t rap for shit LOL). But its true; most battle rappers stay in their lane and usually have trouble shifting to the other aspects like how to write other types of songs and having an album with different material other than punchline after punchline. Like Avenger XL said, its a niche in hip hop. Its more of a cult following in this than anything.

    By the way, isn’t Poster Boy doing Christain Rap now? Thats what I heard anyway…

  • http://xxl All Dae

    Battle rap is to hip hop what street ball is to basketball.

    Tru tru. Battle rap is fun and does move the crowd. It’s not for everyone just real heads.

    Why does a battle rapper need to be forced to create a radio hit or pop album. If you know yr lane stay in it. I don’t expect Young Jeezy to win a battle but I know he can craft a radio hit. Can Young Jeezy bring it to the cipher…never, he’s out his league messing in cipher circles.

    Now I belive Ludacris can bring it to the cipher and drop radio hits. Jadakiss can bring it. I’d better never see Slim Thug anywhere near a battle unless he’s hosting it.

  • OG Matt Herbz

    That’s sort of my dilemma, you see? I mean, the Herbz comes with that hot fire in the comments section, but when it was time to write my own blog, I have to admit, it took longer than I originally thought it would. I had 3 or 4 ideas, but in the end, I had to choose one and tweak it until I had like 5 paragraphs. I mean, my shit in the comments section is banging, but how do I get a longer, supposedly more coherent blog to exhibit the same exuberance? Yeah, it’s tough.

    But Herbz ain’t no one trick pony, beliedat.

    Ya mama’s a trick, ho.

    –OG Matt Herbz–

  • capcobra

    how come xxl don’t dedicate a section of the mag or website to these battle mc’s?…they’re a part of this hip hop culture…people buy all type of hood dvd’s to see these dudes..they hunt down they mixtapes to hear ‘em..they log on to watch ‘em…the next generation study ‘em to win they lil high school junior high lunchroom battles…so why not show ‘em love…niguz know murda mook.loaded lux.head ice.arsenal.goodz.iron solomon.math hoffa.t rex.fight klub.seriusjones.joey jihad.cyssero.shelliano.foxx5.and whoever else….fuck if they gon sell records..give ‘em credit for what they do..if niguz wasn’t so bias and money motivated then hip hop would be still be prospering…cause if you promote these guys while they unsigned and on indie labels then we would have alot more successful young brothers out here…but then the jimmy iovines would be mad cause these brothers shortstopping the money…which explains why the battle mc gets no exposure..less exposure = less money..real simple…it’s all a plan to keep hip hop fans programmed…instead of talking bout the problem xxl we should fix it…give these dudes a section…it’ll pay off…if not worldstar and youtube gon get the traffic and another magazine is gon profit off it…you already put 10 no name freshman on the cover..surprise the streets and internet by putting 10 top ranked battle mc’s on the cover…do it before you on ya last leg looking deseperate…you’ll gain a fan and educate a fan all in one.

    • El Tico Loco

      Co sign

      Even Slam another one your publications have a streetball section and had a Streetball special issue why not for battle rappers.

  • Incilin

    Cassidy aint really a success story. He got lucky off a R Kelly feature and then slowly faded into obsurity.

    • clovito

      lol, damn. how quickly we forget “I’m a Hustla”… I hated that r kelly song

  • avon

    what about snoop he has said in interviews that he used to battle all the time and how about hurricane chris he said he was a battle rapper as well

    • Tony Grand$

      Nobody wanted to tell a 7 ft tall, wanna-be gang banging ass nigga that he couldn’t rap. That’s what that was. He’ll probably tell you that he never lost a battle. Gtfoh Snoop, neither has my great grandfather.

      Cats thought they might get jumped @ lunch in the C-building bathroom. His battles were more like the bully who wanted to play B-ball with everybody else; pick him for your team or get fucked the fuck up.

  • El Tico Loco

    But crazy enough most battle rappers that make decent music are not undefeated or in some cases have lost more battles than have won. Eminem or Immortal Tech have had their asses handed to them on a few occasions. Ludacris is a different story you hear stories about him just killin cats in cyphers when he went to Banneker on the south side and here is not hard to stand out when you’re nice and you’re grinding which is what a lot of battle rappers don’t do as far as puttin music out they will battle for days but no time in the booth and just like you put time into perfecting battling it takes time to perfect songs and the problem people have is that they think it can carry over

    • LB

      U make a good point at the end man; that many battle rappers don’t put the time into perfecting a song as they would perfecting their battlin’. In sayin that, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we still have artists who have enough passion to seek perfection in an artform without seeking fame and fortune for it. Also, the Underground is raw and uncut. When majors seek to commercialize dudes so they can push the music to a broader market, their credibility with the Underground or, the actual streets, immediately comes into question. Most battlers ain’t trippin off the fame part. I liken it to the quest of a martial artist: they want to be respected as one of the best, but don’t neccessarily equate that with bein the most paid and most publically known. And as for the question, “Is battlin what it used to be?” It’s probably better off now more than it’s ever been with all the technology. Shit, with th web cams and all, a dude from London can battle a cat from Atlanta with a intercontinental audience checkin in on’m. It ain’t goin away and there’s still hella opportunity for the “right ones” to make it that way.

  • Ron Mexico

    “I’m sure the labels just don’t know how to market these guys. The main problem/argument is that just because you can spar on the streets doesn’t mean you can make a song with the right arrangements, production, hook, melodies, etc, so many battle rappers tend to be one-trick ponies.”

    it’s much more the latter than the former.

    • El Tico Loco

      But I like was saying you still gotta work on it, just like you can study your opponent before a battle you can study your target audience.

  • macdatruest


    Imagine a nigga thats good at writing songs and choruses and making music, crossing overto be a battle rapper. Laughable right? well the same can be said about a nigga who make a career out of writing raps specifically about one individual at a time, with no beats, no choruses, no real rhythm to follow, ready made recylable metaphors, the proverbial phony works.

    As a rapper, I think battle rapping is a cop out sport. Its a way to gain some (ahem) respect in the (local?)rap game without putting your artistic talents on display. All you gotta do in a battle rap is criticize the next guys talent.

    With creating an album, you have to present yourself intimately to the public, with no greazy ass nigga in a hoody to draw the attention off of you. I would like to think the better a battle rapper you are, the worse you prolly are at writing songs.

    Not a rule of thumb, but look at Cannibus-Pure Battle Rap styleand hella lyrical. Man that nigga album was boodie. Nigga was rappin’ in that tough guy battle voice when he was talking about bein in his moms stomache, just mind blown on battles an shit. Shit nuts dawg

    • El Tico Loco

      I would like to think the better a battle rapper you are, the worse you prolly are at writing songs.

      That may be true for these times, rappers from class of 94 and prior that are still droppin albums had to battle local cats before and during their careers because no true mc backs down from a battle. Fuck platinum sales getting in a battle after coming home from tour beats getting robbed. I get your point but at one point you had to do both but a line has been drawn between the battle rappers and rap performers. At one point the whole package was required.

  • Ali

    You don’t think of Em as a battle rapper 1st, but with Cassidy you do….I still like Cassidy he’s ok, but u could tell he had a battle rap background even hearing him for the 1st time…….They can’t paint pictures, tell stories, let you in on their life, show vulnerability, they can’t do none of that good stuff……they just can talk shit lol

  • gkid12345

    Honestly to make a hot club record is 100 million times different than making a hit record. with all that being said I’m sure those battle rappers can also make hot club records, but nowadays its all politics. A record could be the hottest shit but without payola its almost impossible for it be a hit.

  • dolo

    I never seen cassidy in an mc battle.. that shyt vs freeway was mad corny too

  • Tony Grand$

    Battle rap is like a street fight. Making good albums is like a WBA bout.

    I can sit & watch two dusty niggas windmill punch each other for only so long. Laugh, giggle, I’m over it. It takes little to no training & a well timid rabbit punch will lay a dude down. But, an actual pro fight, where cats can size up the competition, train, prepare mentally/physically/spiritually, that’s where the pay off is. That’s what an audience is willing to pay to see. & that’s the difference.

    A battle rapper knows that, nowadays, if they lose or win, they “live” to fight another day, whereas an MC/rapper trying to become known/successful has only a limited time (more or less) to make his mark. You’re either hot, or you’re not. It’s kind of like “as long as I don’t try to succeed, I won’t ever fail”, not realizing that “crossing over” is the ultimate rap battle. Against a worldwide community of rap dudes.

    That probably won’t ever change. In Eminem’s case, he is to battle rap what Rafer Alston is streetball. The exception. Cass actually had potential to make good songs, but didn’t he get caught up over some legal shit or something? Distractions kill careers quicker than bad music.

    Seems like battle rappers (usually) get so caught up in their own personal hype that they forget that the art has to be bigger than the artist. You see them dudes, rapping to themselves on the train/bus/walking down the street. They couldn’t care less who feels them; fuck an audience. That’s why they can never elevate to the eschalon of making legitimate music for a fan base.

  • oskamadison

    Y’all forgot about the great KRS-One. Dude came in the game, broke his foot off in MC Shan’s ass, dropped 2 back-to-back classics, brought consciousness to hip-hop (along with Chuck D) and 23 years into his carreer is still one of the top 5 best live performers that ever did it. Em might have sold more records and dude is retarded with that pen, Culturally, KRS is the biggest success story as far as battle MC’s go.

  • My Effin’ Opinion


    Check my earlier post homey, ain’t nobody forgettin’ KRS-Ichiban ’round these parts …

    • oskamadison

      I did a quick scan to see if anyone mentioned Kris, somehow I missed your post. My Bad.

      • My Effin’ Opinion

        I was happy to see that at least someone else knew their hip hop history …

  • latino heat

    everybody forgot about Supernatural. dude is like the illest off the head rhymer ever, but his carer has been nothing but a novelty act. i heard he rhymed for 3 hours straight or something like that at Rock The Bells in L.A. last year. it’s not just battle rappers that have a hard time making songs though. a lot of people are only good for 16 bars on other peoples songs. i used Jadakiss as an example of this a few days ago on the “Rappers Worst Albums” blog.

    • $ykotic

      I was just gonna go in on Supernat!

      Anyone remember “Pain”? Supernatural’s first(and only) release?


      There are even streetballers who cannot transfer their game to play NBA style.