Where’s The Beef?: The Importance of Lyrical Battles

Unfortunately this title may seem a little misleading, because you may think this article will tell you that lyrical battles are everything in hip hop. Well that statement will get a “yes” and a “no”. Honestly, if you look at the current state of hip hop right now that importance seems to have been dissed.

Rap battles are how rappers earn their respect from all rap fans, whether casual or hardcore. Rap is suppose to be the music genre from the streets and with it comes basic principles that you learned while growing up. It’s an eye for an eye mentality and that mentality has put many rappers into the ring and tested how much of an MC they really are. For example, LL Cool J has always been seen as one of the original rappers “for the ladies” but he has had a number of notable battles with Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T, and the famous Canibus beef. Each battle was never a one-sided bout as everyone saw some memorable punchlines from him. It is kind of what gave him respect as a rapper overall and not just some pop sensation.

Battles don’t only test rappers but they have always attempted to cement legacies. A rapper may have a great catalog but everybody is gonna remember that time he stepped up and beat competition directly. So the most obvious example I will give is Jay-Z vs. Nas. Both of these rappers are legends in their own right, but long after it ended, critics and fans alike still can not avoid talking about their careers without mentioning which artist won that battle and eventually overall won in their career.

You know what’s the best about rap battles? They don’t discriminate on anyone. One of my favorite diss songs I ever heard was from a rapper who is perceived as non confrontational, and that person is none other than Common. When I heard his song, “The Bitch in You”, which disses the Westside Connection, it was as hard as “No Vaseline” and almost the 1990’s version of “Ether”. When you think about Common today as an artist, a diss track is not his style. Remember when Jay-Z and Jim Jones were battling? Do not feel bad if you don’t because it wasn’t worth anybody’s memory cells. But that is the beauty of rap battles when you have a superstar like Jay-Z getting caught up in a lyrical riff with some up and coming unknown at the time like Jim Jones. What happens is it shows the hunger of an amateur artist and checks the gas tank of a veteran to see if they still have what it takes to remain on top.

I think of rap battles like when football teams use the running game in their strategy. If you know anything about football, running the football is more of an old school tactic. But teams that use it often are regarded as some of the toughest teams if not one of the top teams. Unfortunately battling is an old school technique that has disappeared today. Artists have opted to a more business-savvy approach of either using sneak disses or avoiding them altogether. Artists that are heavy battlers have not found the same weight career wise as regular artists. But rap will always belong to the streets and produce a competitiveness within music. Artists must decide that when it’s time to lyrically handle rap beef, are you going to be the cook or get eaten like the entrée.

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