Battle rap is moving so fast right now it's incredible the cart hasn't come off the tracks. Leagues are popping up all over the place, events are happening more frequently than ever and relevant new battles are dropping every few hours. To add to the torrent of footage this month, near-fossilized battles from UW's "High Stakes" and RBN's "Barfest" finally saw official releases too.
Because of the glut of quality releases, here we're focusing on some incredible battles and also shining a light on a few that may have slipped under your radar. If we missed your favorite, check out the honorable mentions at the end of this article or our battle section.
Chilla Jones vs. Danny Myers
Who: Chilla Jones (Boston, Mass.) vs. Danny Myers (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Where: RBE's "Lift His Soul 2" in Brooklyn, N.Y.
When: Sept. 6, 2015
Insert “wow, another Writers Bloque classic” line here. Right? I mean, it’s just getting ridiculous at this point. Danny Myers and Chilla Jones clash for yet another entry, and RBE is unsurprisingly the perfect stage for it.
Every time I review a Chilla Jones battle, I get déjà vu, and that’s a good thing. He comes with three solid rounds every single time without exception; it’s just a matter of which one will be the craziest. This time, it’s probably his third. He heats up throughout the battle in terms of crowd reaction, and he makes the bold choice to get somewhat personal in Round 3. “I paid JC $600 and made a classic. You paid Rex $12K…” Yikes. I don’t care how many times you’ve watched Chilla’s rounds; watch them again with our transcription of the lyrics because I’m almost positive you missed something.
Even against KingPen, Danny is starting to look unstoppable in a small room. His energy is simply unrelenting, and when the crowd doesn't care about hating on him for whatever reason, it’s a tough day at the office for anyone facing him. In the building, it was almost impossible not to call this 3-0, but it’s just a good old-fashioned classic on cam.
Fresco vs. The Saurus
Who: Fresco (Rockford, Ill.) vs. The Saurus (Las Vegas, Nev. )
Where: KOTD's "Back To Baysics 3" in San José, Calif.
When: Oct. 24, 2015
Fresco openly stated that KOTD’s cash bonus promised to Performance Of The Night motivated him to go extra hard for The Saurus. If that’s the case, can we just pay this dude $1,000 more for every battle? His momentum builds exponentially throughout all three rounds and by the end of the battle every line is getting haymaker reaction. Oh, and Saurus holds his own as usual, too.
Much like his Bigg K battle, Saurus spends a lot of his time here being an excellent sport. He arguably gets outclassed in every round, but not for any lack of content, and he’ll be the first to admit it. Fresco was just on some other shit.
Since his return against Yung Ill early last year, Fresco has really found his voice in the modern era. He’s always had bars, but today he employs a shamelessness in rapping about things he doesn’t live that makes for some truly amazing punchlines. The guy doesn’t even smoke weed, but his gun and lifestyle bars will make your face hurt by the end of the battle. Fresco vs. B Magic, anyone?
Head I.C.E vs. Midwest Miles
Who: Head I.C.E (Harlem, N.Y.) vs. Midwest Miles (Highland Park, Mich.)
Where: BBG's "Power 2" in Detroit, Mich.
When: Nov. 7, 2015
Man, what a perfect match-up. This battle feels like it’s from around 2008, not because it comes off as dated, but because it features two legends genuinely eager to take each other’s heads off.
As a solidified staple from the Smack DVD/Lionz Den era, it seems wrong for Midwest Miles’ name to be unfamiliar to newer fans. His one-round performance versus DNA two years ago was solid, but this is far superior. His first round is probably his strongest, and you could easily make the argument that he panders to his home town crowd, but he still delivers a clean, mostly commanding performance with conviction. Give him some more battles with meaningful opponents and he’ll be a household name again in no time.
I.C.E never slacks, and even in Detroit he’s in his bag, with every round hitting. As always, he’s so slick that it’s almost like he’s speaking another language. “I’ma keep catching a body like trying to help a baby walk … Come to Daddy, nigga.” Damn, that’s poetic.
Real Deal vs. DNA
Who: Real Deal (Pittsburgh, Pa.) vs. DNA (Queens, N.Y.)
Where: Black Ice Cartel's "The Format" in Milwaukee, Wis.
When: Oct. 10, 2015
Leave it to Real Deal to subvert expectations and turn what pretty much everyone expected to be bars vs. angles into bars vs. bars. He and DNA trade punches for all three rounds with a ton of replay value, even though the crowd’s response isn’t as uproarious as it probably should be.
Despite what I just said about RD, there are still obvious differences in approach here. DNA’s wordplay and freestyles are constant, and frequently hit harder, but RD’s material is more deliberate and specific despite being less angle-centric than usual.
It’s a total tossup as to who wins, and I’d advise you to ignore the crowd as much as possible. Some erratic reactions throw off the pacing at times, but this is more than worth a watch for back-to-back substance.
Bonnie Godiva vs. QP
Who: Bonnie Godiva (Yonkers, N.Y.) vs. QP (Stockton, Calif.)
Where: Black Ice Cartel's "The Format Vol. 1" in Milwaukee, Wis.
When: Oct. 10, 2015
This is the definition of a grudge match: a man who claims to have ghostwritten for a former female member of his crew versus that very same woman. This is the kind of shit that would be in Battle Rap: The Movie, and it lives up to the hype.
Let me just admit upfront that this is frustratingly debatable; both emcees perform close to the peak of their abilities and nobody gets killed, at all. As is so often the case, this will come down to your preference, 100%. QP’s absurdly long, complicated rounds are something to behold, but Bonnie barks on him for the entire battle and seems truly pissed off, which works fantastically to accentuate her material. In days of oversaturation, battles like this make it all make sense again.
Shredder (Copywrite) vs. Raphael (Danny Myers)
Who: Copywrite (Columbus, Ohio) vs. Danny Myers (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Where: Dizaster's "Virus" in Hollywood, Calif.
When: Oct. 30, 2015
Before you scoff at the idea of costumes in battle rap, remember that this was on Halloween and turned out to be the best battle of the event. Now, if you grew up on the Ninja Turtles, you are truly in luck. For anyone else, this is still a hilarious, surprisingly bar-heavy back-and-forth.
You’ve never heard of Copywrite? That’s embarrassing — he’s a dope rapper that you’re sleeping on, and this is his proper … Well, this is his battle debut. Although he commits some mortal sins like *loudly* predicting punchlines, he’s fully committed as Shredder and will make you wonder why it’s taken him so long to get in the ring. Sure, not every line is tailor-made for today’s golden standard of “bars,” but he definitely needs to battle again.
Danny is the perfect guy to play Raphael, and he does it just as well as you’d think. Hilariously, this might be the most tense and critical of his opponent he’s looked during a battle, and it only adds to the spectacle.
Dialect vs. Ness Lee
Who: Dialect (Leeds, England) vs. Ness Lee (Atlanta, Ga.)
Where: Don't Flop's "Revival" in Manchester, England
When: Oct. 10, 2015
It’s not every day that you see a grudge match go down on beat, but Dialect and Ness Lee had actually been waiting to clash over instrumentals for nearly a year. “Grudge” is a bit of a strong word given how chummy the two are on stage, but this is a razor-close, dynamic battle.
Given the blatant differences in Dialect and Ness’ styles, making this a combination of grime and hip-hop was a great call. For those confused about what that actually means, “grime” is (fast) rap over industrial-sounding, up-tempo electronic beats, and “hip-hop” (in this context) refers to rap over boom bap, Pete Rock/DJ Premier-style beats. You can guess who was expected to excel where, but there’s quality in every round on both sides, with the slight exception of Dialect’s first due to a minor slip.
Although Ness arguably takes the first two rounds, Dialect leaves earth in Round 3. His flippity-bippity verse is incredible, but get ready to hear it many times because you have to run your whole round back when the crowd loses their shit in this type of battle.
Steams vs. Young Kannon
Who: Steams (Brooklyn, N.Y.) vs. Young Kannon (Chicago, Ill.)
Where: URL's "Traffic" in Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Aug. 1, 2015
Whether or not you agree, there’s a reason people call Young Kannon the most underrated in battle rap. The phrase “3-0, no body” was made for battles like this (although the live crowd saw it differently), as Steams goes hard every round, only to be outdone by YK.
People have accused YK of being “boring” and “basic,” but in reality — and I’m not just being a dick — they may not be catching his lines. It’s true, he does cover a lot of familiar ground in terms of wordplay, but he consistently takes it to the next level with cleverness. Here, he opens with a “back on Smack” line that serves as a perfect example. The constant barrage of lines like this makes him damn near unstoppable in a small room.
This is a nice win for YK, but it really isn’t a bad loss for Steams. He brings plenty of bars as always — this is actually one of his cleanest performances — and it’s hard to see what he could have said differently to outdo YK. Win some, lose some.
Aktive vs. Dre Vishiss
Who: Aktive (Watts, Calif.) vs. Dre Vishiss (Watts, Calif.)
Where: AHAT Cali event in Corona, Calif.
When: Nov. 6, 2015
Dre Vishiss and Aktive have been grinding and steadily improving for the last few years and this Krack City vs. Krack City/Grape Street vs. Grape Street/AHAT Tourney battle is a great place to jump back in if you haven't watched either of them for a while.
You can imagine how fast the word “active” could get stale in the name flip department, but Dre will keep you guessing. Even where you might see it coming, he leans into the punch and gives you no choice but to react, similar to someone like Tay Roc. He picked up the judged win here and moves on in the tournament, but Aktive looks incredibly comfortable in this setting and made it an absolute bar-fest.
Verce vs. T. Sawyer
Who: Verce (Pittsfield, Mass./Chapel Hill, N.C.) vs. T. Sawyer (New Haven, Conn.)
Where: 413 Battle League's "Mass Appeal 2" in Holyoke, Mass.
When: Nov. 7, 2015
With their flagship battler Sicarii dealing with health problems, Massachusetts' 413 Battle League is due for a new batch of breakout talent. At this point, we can definitely put Verce and T. Sawyer in that category.
First things first: give this some time. It heats up on both sides as it goes on, so don’t let the universally hated practice of talking through rounds throw you (because T. Sawyer in particular does a lot of that). In a sense, it becomes part of the battle’s appeal, as these two really seem to dislike each other. Overall, what makes this (more than) worth your time is the weight and specificity of the angles the battlers use against each other. Framing complex wordplay around personal references has long been a formula for success, and that’s still the case here.
Verce has a reputation for stumbling that he’s evidently eager to change. Here, he almost gets through the entire battle seamlessly, but there are still a few awkward pauses. T. Sawyer seems to delight in these moments, and he capitalizes off of them with a smooth performance. This is a fairly clear 2-1 to most fans, but see for yourself.
Want more? Check out Gjonaj vs. Dizaster to decide whether or not it was a bodybag, John John Da Don vs. Charlie Clips to see what battle rap crossed with "Pop-Up Video" looks like, Pass vs. Arsonal for one of the best rounds of the year, E. Farrell vs. Bangz for a bar-fest between friends, B Magic vs. KG The Poet for more quality from URL's West Coast event, Charron & 100 Bulletz vs. DNA & K-Shine for some light scandal, and Dirtbag Dan vs. Megadef for impressive costumes and an entertaining back-and-forth.
Did we miss any classics? Post them in the comments below and explain why they're worth watching.