Anyone who has been paying attention lately knows there has been a sudden resurgence of 2-on-2 battles. Some fans will remember Jumpoff TV's World Rap Championships from the mid-2000s, or look back fondly on some of the classic releases Grind Time put out a few years after.
The increased popularity over the last year or so is due partly to U.K. league Don’t Flop (a long-time battle rap experiment factory) and their continued expansion into the U.S. The new American division has recently used doubles battles as headliners at events in Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago.
For readers who are unfamiliar, the format is executed exactly like traditional singles battles except it's two teams pitted against each other, often with a “looser” time limit and more focus on performance rather than writing. The format also lends itself to improvisation, and you often see more freestyling than you might in a traditional battle.
Many battle rappers love the format because they can feed off the energy of a partner while (in theory) being responsible for half the material. This is the reason you will often see certain emcees battle twice (once solo and once in a 2-on-2) at the same event. Promoters love it because they can get more bang for their buck and because it breaks the monotony of solo battles. Fans love it because the match-ups can be extremely entertaining, and through the years the culture has come to love many of the established teams. Graphic designers hate it because it’s impossible to fit in all the info and simultaneously make the flyer look good.
With the return to popularity, we decided to take a deeper look into what was often an ignored format just a short time ago.
The World Rap Championships
Before the latest level of success, there was a long history of both freestyle and written doubles battles being held all over the world. U.K. outfit Jumpoff filmed 2-on-2 freestyle battles in a monster-sized tournament beginning in 2006. The World Rap Championships created many memorable 2-on-2s including The Saurus/Illmaculate versus both Jaze Juce/Frankie Wapps and Marv Won/Quest MCody. (Read our full article on that latter battle here.)
THE SAURUS & ILLMACULATE vs. MARV WON & QUEST MCODY
Jaze and Wapps also had an oft-reference battle against Eurgh/Arkaic.
JAZE JUCE & FRANKIE WAPPS vs. EURGH & ARKAIC
In the end, The Saurus and Illmaculate were crowned champions in back-to-back years and established themselves as the greatest duo of the era. Household names like Hollow Da Don, Dumbfoundead, Dizaster, and even Lush One competed too. From the infamous “stolen tapes” story to the battles just mentioned and literally dozens more, we would have to do a 2,000-word article to completely cover the amount of content released from the WRCs.
The Grind Time Era
Moving out of the WRCs and into the modern era brought a parallel progression from a freestyle format into pre-written content, and the dominant Grind Time league created a large number of classic 2-on-2 battles, as well as many beloved teams. One of the teams to make a recent comeback was the Midwest’s Fresco and Real Deal, who faced off against Dirtbag Dan and Soul Kahn at the height of the GT era.
DIRTBAG DAN & SOUL KAHN vs. FRESCO & REAL DEAL (2009)
Both the California and Florida divisions seemed to embrace the format, as a number of large 2-on-2 battles were going down at the “mega-events” at that time on the coasts. But the most-viewed GT-era doubles battle remains Soul Khan and DNA squaring off against Rone and ZM.
SOUL KHAN & DNA vs. RONE & ZM (2010)
KOTD's 2-on-2 Grand Prix
In 2011, Canada’s King of The Dot held the much-discussed 2-on-2 Grand Prix Tournament in locations across the country. The bracket was stacked, and featured a wide variety of styles with heavyweight American teams matched up against many of Canada’s favorites (including HFK/Charron, who made a polarizing run).
REAL DEAL & FRESCO vs. CHARRON & HFK (2011)
While being highly successful, many fans felt the judging became an issue in this tournament. The above-mentioned team of Charron and HFK were involved in a heavily debated (at least in some circles) decision against Real Deal and Fresco that outraged some fans. In addition to that, perhaps one of the most argued-about judgments of all time happened in Toronto during the "Flatline" event, when the Canadian team of Porich/Diaz prevailed over a heavily favored The Saurus/Illmaculate in a heated finale. The video currently has 2,400 dislikes on YouTube, about three times the number of likes.
THE SAURUS & ILLMACULATE vs. PORICH & DIAZ (2011)
KOTD also put out some incredible one-off doubles battles, including this one featuring four of the league's future hall of famers.
Bender & Loe Pesci vs. PORICH & Kid Twist (2010)
And this classic from the first "World Domination" event.
Tricky P & Charron vs. Soul Khan & Kap Kallous (2010)
It wasn’t just the North American leagues getting in on the action. England's Don't Flop, Sweden’s Basementality Battles, The Philippine’s Fliptop and Australia’s Got Beef all held various forms of 2-on-2s and introduced new elements that only heightened the popularity of the format.
GOT BEEF — JUSTICE & 360 vs. MADNESS & THE SAURUS (2010)
Don’t Flop has long held occasional 2-on-2s, and they also threw a tournament (2010’s “To The Test”) which produced some entertaining footage.
DON'T FLOP — OSHEA & INNUENDO vs. CHRONICLE & PAMFLIT (2010)
BASEMENTALITY — DIZASTER & OKWERDZ vs. SHAZAAM & NILS (2011)
Some people may view 2-on-2s as a gimmick. even referring to them as “extracurricular.” While this casual attitude has lead to varying success, they have proven to be big business when everything comes together. FlipTop, which boasts the most-viewed battle rap channel in the world, has what may be the highest viewed battle of all time at over 21,000,000 views.
FLIPTOP — LOONIE & ABRA vs. SHEHYEE & SMUGGLAZ (2012)
Pairing a league's top emcees has worked stateside too, with QOTR netting one of their top-viewed battles with this doubles match.
QOTR – PHARA FUNERAL & SHOONEY DA RAPPER vs. TORI DOE & DON LADYII (2012)
The Shufflo Effect
Perhaps the biggest contributor to the recent success of 2-on-2 battles comes from Don’t Flop and the duo known as “Shufflo.” England’s Shuffle-T and Marlo and their unique chemistry and wit took the battle world by storm after a string of rock solid performances starting basically from their debut in 2013. The level of entertainment they brought along with their ability to incorporate props and other non-traditional battling tactics gave fans something different, and encouraged promoters to find other doubles teams to take them on. This eventually lead to the duo making appearances in the U.S. and Canada for KOTD.
DON’T FLOP - SHUFFLE-T & MARLO vs. BIG J & LEFTY (2013)
DON’T FLOP - SHUFFLE-T & MARLO vs. DIALECT & ZEN (2015, DOUBLES TITLE)
Don't Flop's recent U.S. expansion has provided another chance for the 2-on-2 format to get exposure and grow, and the early results look very promising. A new crop of familiar names have joined the fray, forming new teams, which has helped to strengthen and enhance the future of the format.
DON’T FLOP – HITMAN HOLLA & AYE VERB vs DNA & K-SHINE (2015)
In mid-2015, St. Louis emcees Aye Verb and Hitman Holla teamed up for an event in Chicago and the well-received battle caused as much stir for a 2-on-2 as we had seen in some time.
All the previously mentioned battles and dozens of more examples have proven that 2-on-2s have been welcomed by many within the culture and should be here to stay.
Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.