Six Legendary Rap Battles From The 1980s & 1990s
Earlier this week, Tony Touch blessed the Internet with a previously unreleased clip of Busta Rhymes and Ol' Dirty Bastard rapping together. Although the clip wasn't a rap battle, it got XXL thinking about some of the more legendary battles that we've watch from that era and even the previous era of the genre.
Now, here's a list of six of our favorite legendary rap battles from the annals of hip-hop history.
Lord Finesse & Percee P
One of hip-hop's most celebrated and earliest record battles took place in 1989 between rival Bronx rhymers Lord Finesse and Percee P. Prior to the battle, both Finesse and Percee had gained a reputation in their respective areas of the borough for being supremely skilled rhymers. Inevitably, the two caught wind of each others' prowess on the mic, prompting them to meet up in Percee's native Patterson Projects to deliver what Finesse described as "the number one battle" of his career. While the battle is remarkable for both MCs' deft lyrical abilities, what makes it stand out in the lineage of hip-hop is the fact that it was filmed—a rarity in this era of rap.
"When them lyrics came outta [Percee's] mouth and he started spittin’ I was like, what the fuck I just got myself into?" Finesse recalled. "I was fucked up. Like, wow. I never heard a style like that. I never heard a flow like that. I was stuck for a minute. It didn’t take away from what I was capable of doing. But it’s like you’re in a boxing ring and somebody throws a jab at you, and you feel the power of the jab without it hittin’ you, just the way the wind around that boxing glove felt when it was close to your face. You’re like, if he woulda caught me with that—goddamn! I was like, this ain’t gonna be no straight haymaker and I knock him out the ring. We gonna have to really box."
Kool Moe Dee & Busy Bee Starski
While certainly not the first battle in hip-hop history, Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee Starski's two-part bout in 1981 ranks as one of the earliest and most legendary rap battles recorded for posterity. Both MCs had built reputations in their respective neighborhoods—Busy was from the Bronx, and Moe was from Manhattan—which inevitably led to the two battling for microphone supremacy. Although only the first battle was recorded—the recorder broke during the second—Moe Dee recalled that he was crowned the undisputed champion in their rematch a few weeks later. Despite the victory, Moe Dee says he felt like a "bully" for the battle, as Busy Bee was more of a party rocker than a battle rapper.
"There were two [battles], the first was a draw," Moe Dee recalled. "The kids at Harlem World, when they saw what happened—he got a lotta screams, he had a lotta people from the Bronx there. I had a lotta people from Manhattan that not only werent gonna let me lose, but they were like, 'Did you just hear that!?' The rhyme I said was damn near off the top of the head, I was stumbling over it, I wasn't confident. The reality was I still would've won that night, but the Harlem World crew wanted to milk it and bring it back 4 days later...the real secret [of the second battle] that nobody knows is that I felt like shit after that. I felt like a bully in my heart—I knew that he was no contest. He was a party MC; he was a master at his game, but not this part of the game."
[via Tha Foundation]
KRS-One & P.M. Dawn
They say actions speak louder than words, and one of the 1990s most famous battle moments perfectly embodied that idiom when KRS-One tossed pop-rap act P.M. Dawn off a stage in 1992. The battle began during an interview with Details magazine when P.M. Dawn frontman Prince Be called out the Boogie Down Productions MC, asking, "KRS-One wants to be a teacher, but a teacher of what?" Kris didn't take kindly to the jab, and took action on the New Jersey duo during a performance. According to BDP's Kenny Parker, he and KRS attended a show featuring P.M. Dawn with the intention of bum-rushing the stage before the duo's set. However, the South Bronx rapper ended up stepping to P.M. during their rendition of "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss" and literally throwing them off the stage into the crowd.
"I think Leaders [of the New School] went on first, then there was a break and I’m like 'Is PM Dawn goin’ on?'" Parker recalled. "Then PM Dawn comes on stage and starts doin’ his show...all of a sudden, 'Set Adrift On Memory Bliss' comes on, and PM Dawn starts doin’ his thing, and then you see Kris comin’ up – there was like a ramp comin’ up the stage – and you see people comin’ up the stage, so I start cuing up...Kris comes up. PM Dawn is not knowin’ what’s goin’ on – imagine, he’s in show mode and his music stops – and Kris grabs the microphone, so they both have it. Like a tug-of-war for a second, and then Kris pushes him and takes the microphone in his hand...and he goes 'BDP is in the motherfuckin’ house!' and then everybody was like Hooo!,' the whole crowd was like that, and right at that moment I threw on 'Still #1.' It was over! People was jumping up and down and they was goin’ crazy and screamin’…it was like a riot!"
Jay-Z & DMX
Year: Early-Mid '90s
One of hip-hop's most storied rap battles also happens to be one of its most secretive and least detailed. Sometime in the early 1990s, a young Jay-Z and DMX battled each other in a Bronx bar at the behest of the Ruff Ryders' founder Waah Dean. Although details on the battle are unknown—Waah told HipHopDX that certain circumstantial elements that took place during the battle may have been illegal—it's reported that the two future collaborators freestyled for a number of hours. Jay-Z's producer at the time Ski Beatz recalled the battle, saying that the MCs maintained a level of respect throughout it.
"It was dope," recalled Ski Beatz in an interview with HipHopDX. "I had never really heard of DMX. I didn’t know who this kid was. But to hear him rhyme live, I was like, 'This dude is really ill.' He was really good. But the battle was good. Jay did his thing; DMX did his thing. You could tell people from DMX’s side were feelin’ Jay, and you could tell people from Jay’s side were feelin’ DMX. It was a mutual...it was both of their styles at their purest forms. DMX was definitely on that barking, that whole thing. That was his whole persona. His voice was just raw. Jay was the big willie, hustler poster child king. Everything he was saying was just vivid, street shit that was incredibly well thought out and well put together. You know how Jay-Z is with his word choices. You know he’s street, but at the same time you could feel that he’s super intelligent, which just made it crazy. Both their styles was just coming crazy in that battle."
Supernatural & Craig G
One of hip-hop's most highly regarded rap battles came in 1994 when Juice Crew rhymer Craig G took on newcomer Supernatural at the Lyricist Lounge. Although Craig debuted nearly a decade before Supernatural burst on the scene, both MCs were regarded for their particular ability to freestyle. One night in 1994—when the newly-signed Supernat was hosting the Lyricist Lounge—Supernatural was challenged to battle Craig G. Not knowing the Queensbridge rapper was waiting on the side of the stage for him, Supernat accepted. Although the battle was an even match-up between two highly contested freestylers, Craig G won over the crowd by exposing Supernatural as a native of Indiana, not New York. Craig G recalls the battle that evening in the documentary film in the documentary film Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, from which the above clip is taken.
"At the [New Music] Seminar-where the incident happened—[Supernatural] was hosting the Lyricist Lounge," Craig G said. "I think the guys from Lyricist Lounge was like, 'Yo, what's up with the battle with you and Craig G?' He kinda stopped, he looked in the crowd, and he was like, 'Yo, Craig, where you at?'—not knowing all along I'm standing on the side of the stage. I've got a 40 ounce in my hand, mind you. I kinda baited him—the first round, I tried not to say nothing. I let him use all his energy, so I said some crappy rhymes. He came, and he expended so much energy…it was just a wrap. He tried to cut me off, and the crowd was going, 'Go Craig G!' It was done."
Eminem At The 1997 Rap Olympics
Although the above video actually chronicles a series of freestyle battles, Eminem's performance at the 1997 Rap Olympics deserves note given the end result. The then-little known Detroit rapper took part in the annual Freestyle Battles tournament at the event that year, coming in second place to a rapper named Otherwize. However, Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine somehow came across Em's demo tape at the event—a demo that later became The Slim Shady EP. Iovine then passed the young rapper's demo to Dr. Dre, who signed the fledgling MC to his Aftermath imprint.
"When I came up through the hip-hop scene—the local hip-hop scene in Detroit—everything just was about battling if you wanted to make a name for yourself," Em said in a later interview with Red Bull. "The battle scene was also so huge. There was battles every couple months where anybody who was anybody who was trying to make a name for themselves would come out…I think one of my greatest inspirations or things that I would feed off of basically was just was obviously, people not believing, the cloud of doubt that kind of I felt hung over my head. [I] wanted to just prove everybody wrong."