For more than 30 years I have been studying the English language, the art of writing, prose, and literature. But before we get into this Top 10 list, we must CLEARLY understand what it means to have a "Pen Game."
In battle rap terms, a "pure writer" has a deeper function than a writer who is gifted at writing punchlines. In other words, a "Puncher" and a "Writer" are two different things, although both styles involve WRITING!
Are you lost yet? Let's clear this up. As I once stated, a Puncher is like a blockbuster movie. You get plenty of thrills quickly, set ups, and then a punchline, which is equivalent to an action sequence. Yet, in between all the action, there is very little substance, if any at all. A "Pen Game" writer is also like a Hollywood filmmaker, but they don't create the huge action films, they write more along the lines of films such as Inception, The Departed or Memento. The writing is layered, deep, and deceptive. The fan must follow along closely, and piece together the puzzles hidden within the writing to fully appreciate the artist. Yes, there are some battlers who can blend both punching and layered writing and they too are considered "Pen Game" battlers. I hope that clears things up a bit. I believe that when doing these types of list, you must separate the "Writers" from the "Punchers" as each distinct style deserves its own list. That said, let's get into it.
Honorable mentions: Illmaculate, Ha Double, Soul, Bender, Gutta, Fliiko L, Riggz, Blik, Emerson Kennedy, Gjonaj, Mr. Mill$, Saint Mic, Big Kannon, Young Kannon, Jaz The Rapper, MyVerse, Xcel, Raptor, Lu Cipher
Tez has been attacking MCs since the Grind Time era with his own blend of gritty street talk and a fantastic use of wordplay. While he is not the most intricate of writers, he has a slick style and is probably the best writer out of New York City since Loaded Lux. Tez doesn't get the credit I feel he deserves but he has gone to war with everyone from legends, (Dizaster, Rex, Verb), to this era's strongest writers (Chilla Jones, myself), bullies (Hollohan) and performers, (Hitman Holla) and even some of the best up and comers. How is it this man is not in consideration for legend status?
9. Lotta Zay
Hailing from Long Branch, New Jersey, Lotta Zay, like many before him, rose through the ranks of Grind Time, displaying a penchant for witty lines often stemming from a precisely written build up. His style is visual, where he is usually describing specific scenes from pop culture and urban films and making them relate to his opponent in the form of a punchline. His attention to detail is superb, and coupled with his animated performance Zay's unique writing style is admirable.
8. B Dot
West Coast newcomer B Dot has quickly risen as one of the prominent forces to be reckoned with. Although many have tried to discredit him and write him off as a Loaded Lux clone, one fact is undeniable ... the man can write. Never before have I seen a battler have only 4-5 battles online and generate as much love and hate as B Dot. It seems as if every single one of his third rounds goes viral. This doesn't happen without having pure, unadulterated skill.
His knowledge, and studies of African history and culture, Kemetics, science, socioeconomic and political stand points resonate through his incredibly structured rounds that he uses to break down his opponents to the very core. His subject matter is unlike any we've ever seen in battle rap and he is continuing to only get better.
7. Quantum Physics (QP)
QP is definitely one of the pioneers of the witty, double and triple meaning wordplay style prevalent today. His mind almost works at an entirely different level than most other writers. Along with a strong freestyle ability, the man can say words and disguise other words and meanings within the words you are listening to on the surface, only to realize you have been misled and have missed the real point he was trying to make. One of his bars can mean three entirely different things and you'd have to do a little digging to catch the hidden material. His quirky writing style, although bordering genius, does not work well against every style, as witnessed vs. Swave Sevah. Nevertheless, QP is one of battle rap's slickest writers.
6. Loaded Lux
Having the "Beloved" one Loaded Lux at number 6 will have many fans at my doorstep with torches and pitchforks, but bear with me for a moment. Off the top, I will say Loaded Lux is one of the greatest writers and most brilliant minds battle rap has ever seen. His three rounds for Midwest Miles ushered in the new age of lyricism in battle rap. Simply put, Lux was ahead of his time. Why then is Lux not even in my Top 5 you ask?
First off, although "Grey Hoodie" Lux set the tone for a new era, we've literally only seen that version of Lux once. Furthermore, he simply doesn't battle enough to still be miles ahead of this generation's writers. And the main reason he isn't in my Top 5 is for the simple fact HE HAS NEVER BATTLED ANOTHER PEN GAME. Yes, we've seen Lux vs. Mook (twice), Hollow Da Don, Calicoe (I won't count the 106 & Park Battles) and Charlie Clips, all of whom are superior battlers in their own right, but none of them are, or have been, considered pure lyricists the way Lux is. Sure George Gervin, Moses Malone, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar paved the way for this generation of ball players, but we cannot discredit Jordan, Kobe, and LeBron, who have set new standards in this current era. Lux has faced every style of writing — except his own.
5. Aye Verb
I don't even want to get into how Verb is a pioneer, one of the leaders of the Midwest Movement and all the other accolades you can bestow upon him. I'm getting right to it — the man can fucking rap.
Verb's use of concepts, angles, strategy, and pure raw lyricism is uncanny. He has single bars that themselves will go down in battle rap history, say the words, "Big Gerald" or "Guardian Angel" and who do you automatically think of? Exactly. He probably has more memorable rounds than any other battler. Just think of Verb's rounds vs. Cortez, Hollow, Math Hoffa, Arsonal, Goodz, etc. Verb can blend intricacy and street talk, witty one liners, and once he goes into "Showtime" mode he will structure out a 4-to-8 bar scenario the ends with a crazy punchline that usually brings the house down. His third round vs. Brizz Rawsteen is overlooked, as he is one of the only top tier battlers that still cares about the art of lyricism, and out-of-the-box concepts. Verb's pen game is to be revered.
4. Chilla Jones
You can not reinvent the wheel ... but you can definitely make it better. The art of Scheming in battle rap had been done prior to Chilla Jones' entry, as seen by Daylyt and the members of the SONS, and a few others during the Pit and Grind Time days.
Scheming is the writing style of taking any concept (movies, Football teams, names of states, or literally anything) and building punchlines, wordplay, and metaphors from that concept and relating it to your opponent. In its most basic form scheming is quite simple. But a master of the craft can scheme, and you won't even know they're doing it. The ability to disguise a scheme is one of the slickest and most elaborate feats of writing in battle rap.
Chilla astounded fans with his breakout battle vs. Cash Eatin' on URL a few years ago. Although at first we were amazed at the thought process this man used to relate common themes to decimate his opponents, he then started becoming even more advanced and made it a bit more difficult to follow along (as evidenced vs. DNA). He began losing some people who couldn't keep up with his intricacy, so what did he do? Quit? No! He reinvented himself and added more weapons to his repertoire, such as punchlines, personals, angles, and while making things easier to follow along, he balanced the complex scheming with a bit of simplicity, which itself is very difficult to do. Being simple and complex at the same time makes anyone a dangerous opponent. The scary part is, Chilla is still growing as a writer.
3. Danja Zone
Maryland's premier lyricist has always had a crazy pen, but it wasn't until he was voted Battler Of The Year for 2015 by many fans and media outlets that the world really started to take notice. I took notice ever since he battled Daylyt ... the first battle time. The depth in Danja's pen is nearly unparalleled. "And ja pansy (Japan) family tree, there's a difference between ya oak an' ours (okinawa)!" What!!! Within his paragraphs you will find schemes, entendres, metaphors, wordplay, punchlines, slick one liners, and double meanings.
In perhaps one of battle rap's single greatest performances we saw Danja Zone make another lyrically gifted battler (Lotta Zay who is also on this list) literally throw in a white towel, conceding defeat. I have been watching, doing, and studying battle rap for more than 25 years and had never once witnessed such a spectacle. Danja Zone rose from near obscurity to one of battle rap's most feared pens within a three-year span. Hats off.
Don't let this man's diminutive size fool you — in the art of writing, JC is a titan. For years we have witnessed JC create rhymes, puns, and set ups, that can't be described as nothing short of genius. From his Proving Grounds battle vs. Time Bomb, we have seen utter destruction of would be contenders one after another.
It wasn't until his seminal, or should I say, monumental battle vs. Chilla Jones in 2012 that catapulted JC into the upper echelons of writers. For three rounds, JC and Chilla traded bars, punches, jokes and schemes in a battle that many consider one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all time.
JC precisely picks opponents apart with well-crafted set ups and punchlines, and layered writing that opponents never see coming. Does anyone remember his "Dennis, Dentist, Dent his" sequence vs. Ceeph Deezy? Yeah ... that type of shit. You would be hard pressed to find five writers you can say are above JC's writing caliber. Even when he was accused of using too much "filler" (a topic I'll write about later), he changed his style and the bars and slick lines started coming more frequently. His creativity and originality is top shelf.
There is a reason why many fans have been calling for a Loaded Lux vs. Daylyt battle. Antics aside, Daylyt may be battle rap's best writer. When you go back and listen to his rounds vs. KG The Poet, or Lotta Zay, you'll begin to understand the many facets of his unique writing abilities. Sure some of his bars are outright comical and silly, but a focused Daylyt is no laughing matter.
How can we forget his "Bus Stop/Bust top" sequence vs. Rich Dolarz? Or his "Peter Pan" sequence vs. Shotty Horroh? Absolutely incredible. He combined lyricism with his street side vs. Philly Swain, he showed us social commentary with a gripping third round vs. Ooops. We only remember the "Matrix" antic vs. B Magic, but never truly listened to how well-crafted his first round was. The hidden bars in those B Magic rounds must still be deciphered till this day. Or how about his first round vs Cityy Towers? "Say ten (Satan) people sitting in a circle listening to one fire ass round!"
His Bible reference vs. 40 B.A.R.R.S. was clever. Check out his pure ability to rhyme vs. Aye Verb if further proof is needed for his mastery of the craft. If you're not careful, so many bars will go completely over the head.
People discredit Daylyt for the gimmicks, antics, trolling, and plain foolery he does, but when it's time to stand in front of a serious Daylyt, your pen must be as sharp as ever. Sure Daylyt has losses, as do all battlers, but that does not negate the fact the he is among the best writers in this game period. Many will disagree, but I have him at #1.
What's your list? Talk about it in the comments below.