Years ago, I first discovered battle rap. I was entranced as an artist myself and someone who came up battling on the street corners in my neighborhood. I was watching the DVDs, watching Smack battles, Lionz Den, and some of the smaller battles, even to the hilarious “oh you mad cause I’m stylin’ on you” line that sparked a fight at the battle. Then there’s the infamous Yung Ill line against Calicoe, with “Smack, who is this nigga,” which is another immortal moment in the sport of battle rap.
One could also reference the violent side of Math Hoffa, as his infamous punch on Dose during a battle, which was mostly unprovoked, gave battle rap a bad name in some ways, but also made every battle must see just in case it got physical. Regardless of this, in the earlier years, battle rap wasn’t necessarily seen in the manner that it would become.
You had smaller battle arenas like Fight Klub, where respected MCs like Remy Ma, Lady Luck, Jin The MC, Serius Jones, and others went at it to crown themselves the best overall. The feel at Fight Klub was full of hungry MCs trying to make a name for themselves. Classics from Fight Klub include legends Arsonal vs Hollow Da Don, legend Hitman Holla vs Remy, Serius Jones vs Jin, Remy Ma vs Lady Luck, Sam Scarfo (what happened to him) vs 40 Cal, Jin vs Iron Solomon and many more classic battles. Whenever I think battle rap, I would like to credit Fight Klub for being one of the innovators in the game early on and putting on a number of legends at the time. Fight Klub, alongside Smack is one of the pioneers of modern day battle rap.
On shows like 106 and Park, there were weekly competitions where battlers would spit for small periods of time, usually over beats and production instead of straight up free verse. There we saw already known legends like Hollow Da Don and Loaded Lux win the weekly crown, while names like Jin, Blind Fury, Sco, Charron, and others did their thing and earned a spot in battle rap history. The 106 and Park battle league wasn’t taken as serious, but it did provide us with some dope moments and set the tone for other battle leagues to grow.
One battle league that grew was the Loaded Lux-led Lionz Den battle league that had a ton of classic battles featured including Tay Roc vs Charlie Clips, Tech 9 vs Arsonal, Goodz vs Head Ice, battles with Kaboom, K-Shine, and a number of other battlers. Lionz Den left a big mark on battle rap, and it would only add to Lux and his legendary status.
Speaking of Lux, he would really get his start battling against guys like Murda Mook and Midwest Miles on the Smack DVDs, and back then, during this era, battles could end up going 8 or 9 rounds, sometimes even more. T-Rex vs Un Kasa, Murda Mook vs Serius Jones, and a number of other classic battles from the Smack DVD era seemingly furthered the culture and made it possible for the Ultimate Rap League to be born.
URL is the biggest dance in town with battle rap, and rightfully so. They took all the legends and put them on the stage, on a much bigger playing field and started playing the battlers even more money than before. See, this is the thing about this one in particular: when URL was born, it was a building process that shaped the whole battle rap culture and changed everything up. Sure, there was Fight Klub before and even the Grindtime Now league, which has a few good battles and some other budding leagues, but nothing could compare to URL. Once the URL became legit, then it became time to push more and more battles and build legends.
Names like Loaded Lux, Hitman Holla, Math Hoffa, Murda Mook, Hollow Da Don, and Arsonal were already solidified as legends in the culture, while Iron Solomon, Jin, E-Ness, Serius Jones and a few others represented an era of battle rap that was on the way out. The freestyle vibe of Serius and the corny yet still efficient wordplay of Iron wasn’t as concise as the rapid fire, hard hitting lyricism of Lux, the breaking down of opponents by Mook, the disrespect of Arsonal, or the performance factor of Hitman.
See, the lyrics mattered for sure, but what made the whole battle culture become more endearing to the world over was the obvious commercialization and branding that comes along with it. URL would garner sponsors and start pumping more money into the brand, and early on, we saw the evolution of battle rap at its finest. With the names like Big T, Charlie Clips, O-Red, Tech 9 Aye Verb, X-Factor, Goodz, K-Shine, DNA, and Tsu Surf becoming more and more prominent in URL, battle rap seemed to be in a prime and forced the battlers to be as creative as possible and come up with slogans to capture the fans even more.
It worked. Soon, there were more league popping up and more leagues everywhere, which was cool for what it was, but nothing could compare to URL. Don’t Flop is a solid league, Gorilla Warfare is as well, and while I’m not the biggest fan of Rare Breed Ent, or RBE as we know it, it has a great place for upcoming battlers, though its founder ARP shows far too much favoritism. Then there’s leagues that tend to rub me the wrong way at times like King of The Dot, or KOTD, which is mostly full of white battle rappers and don’t appeal as much to the core crowd of URL, but they do appeal to the world over.
Now, KOTD has had big moments over the years with the rise of the lyrical legend Daylyt, the branding of Dizaster as one of their faces, the growth of Pat Stay, Rone, Illmaculate, Caustic, and a number of other battle rappers of the pale variety. No offense, but it reeked of something to see one of the only black faces to get attention in KOTD be Daylyt or if you want to give him credit, 100 Bulletz. Regardless, while URL was laying down the groundwork, we saw KOTD rise up some, even partnering up through the years to bring Canibus into battling and Cassidy back into battling as well with the help of some smarmy culture vultures.
Though I’m not really a big fan of KOTD, Organik is very smart and strategic with how he puts the battles together, and though I hate Lush One with a passion, he does love the sport of battle rap. However, like URL would soon say, you can copy the format, but you can’t copy respect. URL is where battle rap lives.
URL is where battle rap grew as well. Battles like Math Hoffa vs Calicoe, K-Shine vs Tsu Surf, K-Shine vs Tay Roc, X-Factor vs O Red, X-Factor vs Tsu Surf, Hollow Da Don vs Goodz, Calicoe vs Shotgun Suge, Hitman Holla vs Arsonal, T-Rex vs Conceited, Hollow Da Don vs Big T, and a number of other classics helped build the brand of URL and change the game. It led us to the biggest moment of battle rap and the highest height for the sport. Summer Madness 2. With top tier battlers like Hitman Holla, Calicoe, Charlie Clips, and DNA on the line up, Smack and URL brought back all the legends to do battle and the night was magical.
Iron Solomon vs Murda Mook finally, the return of E Ness to battle DNA, Serius Jones returns to battle Charlie Clips, and the biggest moment of the night and probably the biggest moment in battle rap history, Loaded Lux vs Calicoe. Summer Madness 2 is a height that the genre of battle rap has yet to replicate and probably never will. URL saw Lux decimate Calicoe in his battle and then move on to permeating pop culture and hip hop in general with his catchy “You Gon Get This Work” phrase.
This was when battle rap got more eyes locked on it, but admittedly, it was never the same and oddly enough, there was never another big moment quite like this until another Loaded Lux battle. NOME (Night of Main Events) and Summer Madness would both be disappointments the following year after Summer Madness 2, despite Hitman Holla vs Conceited being a big battle, and Tsu Surf vs Hollow Da Don being a top battle as well. There’s a few classics in between here like Tsu Surf vs Conceited, and the rise of Charlie Clips, but the whole world yearned for a big time card that would turn the genre upside down, and they got it, from the Arsonal-led league, UDubb Network.
The event was High Stakes. It was being broadcasted on iPPV. The card featured a ton of battles we had hoped to see. B-Magic vs Daylyt. Tsu Surf vs Calicoe. Hitman Holla vs O Red. However, no battle was bigger or better than the monumental Hollow Da Don vs Loaded Lux battle. I still think this battle is the greatest battle ever, and means more to this culture than just about any other battle. It was at this point where battle rap reached yet another high, and Hollow and Lux were etched in the battle rap Mt. Rushmore based on this battle.
Personally, I hold Lux as the greatest to ever do it, as he is the most important battle rapper ever. Many today claim Mook is the best, but nothing Mook has done in these last two generations has really mattered. Lux turned the genre upside down with his Calicoe battle. Then he put the culture on the highest level battling with Hollow. He revolutionized the game with Lionz Den, shined and became immortalized as Grey Hoodie Lux via Smack DVDs, and was the most impressive on 106 and Park through a ton of wins. Even today, one of the most sought after battles is Lux vs Daylyt or even Lux vs Aye Verb, and unlike Mook vs his potential opponents, those could actually happen. Lux would end up getting bigger money for his battles, and to be fair, no one really knew how much he got. It was Mook who put it out there that he got 20,000 to battle Iron Solomon and at that point, the game was never the same.
This leads me to the decline of battle rap. As the culture grew, the influx of the legends along with new names changed the dichotomy. It was no longer about the sport of battling, but rather who could get the most money. Sure, Lux asking for 30 or 40,000 seems like a lot, but take into consideration what the iPPV buys did off the strength of his Hollow battle, or what his Calicoe battle did for the entire sport in general, being the highest viewed URL battle in history as of now.
If any battle rapper could ask for a large sum, I could see it being Lux. The same goes for Hitman Holla, who was one of the most viewed battle rappers, or even a Tsu Surf. However, the problem really grew due to over saturation. Total Slaughter was started by Fuse and Shady Records, but it messed up the whole flow of things. Joe Budden was the star of it all and got paid a rumored 100,000 or more, and ended up having a terrible battle with Hollow Da Don. This is really a big moment where battle rap lost it some.
Sure, the core fans never left and we all pay attention to the URL events regularly, but the mainstream love affair with battle rap ended at Total Slaughter, and it messed up the whole flow of the entire genre in some way.
From that event, you heard battlers talking about how much they wanted to battle, portraying themselves in quite a diva manner that really rubbed me the wrong way. Mook, a battle rapper who had two lackluster performances in two underwhelming battles, started to say he only would battle if he got paid 100,000. That’s an astronomical figure for such a half assed performer. Yes, Mook was a legend back then, but in this era? He has two wins against opponents who were better than him lyrically, just both of the wrong platform.
Mook doesn’t deserve 100,000 or even half of that to battle. Keep their numbers around 30,000 at best for the biggest names and everything should be feasible. Then there’s the issues with venues. Venues don’t want battle rap or hip hop related events, especially considering the violence and fights that break out, and URL has suffered because of that. KOTD is flourishing, but to be honest, it’s hard for me to care about what they do. Regardless, these are the things causing a decline in battle rap.
Everybody wants the money. The bag. I get it. We all want to be paid, but holding up battles for more money, no showing events for more money after being paid already (B Magic), and just no showing in general or giving a half assed performance on the big stage led to the genre taking a hit. Right now, battle rap is in a tough position, and URL is struggling somewhat and try to regroup. After the Irving Plaza incidents, one has to wonder if they can secure a big venue again and with Summer Madness 6 cancelled, URL doesn’t look too good. However, the strategy they’re about to employ is what got them there in the first place. Bars over names.
With this Born Legacy series, URL is going back to the essence. Smaller venues, lesser known and newer battles, and cheaper battles in general to help them break even or profit in order to put on bigger cards in the future. It’s smart. Leave the Hitmans, the Luxs, and the Mooks off the cards, and focus on your Tay Rocs, your DNAs, your Tsu Surfs, and K-Shines (big names all at a cheaper price than the others), along with the John John Da Dons, your Big Ts, T-Top, Brizz, and names right there on the cusp of top tier, combine with your new gunners in Mike P, Ave, Tink Da Demon, Jerry Wess, and the legend yet somehow elusive Daylyt and keep building. This is a transition period for battle rap and URL in general.
After a sharp decline, we are seeing a reboot of sorts now. Can battle rap recover and have a Summer Madness 6 in 2017 to rival Summer Madness 2? Can we see some of those legendary battles we want to see? Only time will tell, but I think the culture is in good hands with URL and that once they get over this hump, which seems to be soon, they will be back to the way they need to be. Let’s hope for the culture’s sake they get it rolling back again. SMACK!