The Top 10 Rap Battles of 2017 (So Far)

Our picks for the best battles of the year thus far. Featuring battles from URL, KOTD, iBattle, Don't Flop, Bullpen and RBE.

Shox The Rebel vs. Soul

Who: Shox The Rebel (London, England) vs. Soul (Fife, Scotland)
Where: Don't Flop's "Checkpoint 4" in London, England
When: April 30, 2017

Don't Flop is still in crisis mode at the moment with several staff members and battlers having severed ties with the brand, but luckily the league was able to sneak in this classic before shit really started to hit the fan. For whatever reason, DF title matches tend to have a lot of replay value, and this is no different. It's hard to say what Shox will do with the belt now that the league is in shambles— or where we'll see Soul next for that matter— but at least there's this to show for it all.

Regardless of your stylistic preference, this battle is living proof that in today's era, all else being equal, straight punches will prevail over any other approach. Soul took some risks with imagery and scene-setting that bordered on corny, but it's still hard to believe that Shox was able to win this convincingly over such a polished performance. That's not to say that Shox doesn't do angles himself, but his back-to-back punch format is unmistakable. You might disagree with the result here and actually have Soul winning, but you'll probably also see that there's not much to be done against haymakers that land this often.

Dunsh vs. E. Farrell

Who: Dunsh (Queens, New York) vs. E. Farrell (Manchester, Conn.)
Where: iBattle's "Defiance 3" in Brooklyn, N.Y.
When: April 1, 2017

Out of all the battles on this list, this one is still the most egregiously lacking in views. It's also the most innovative with its 5-round, 16 bar format. The clash manages to clock in at a digestible 20 minutes and as you might expect, not a second is wasted in terms of quotables. Farrell's style was built for this format, quite frankly, and he can make the most non-sequitur of punches sound natural in it. Dunsh does much of the same, but he also brings a hilariously self-parodying approach that includes a truly unforgettable opener. A sleeper classic and a strong indicator that, when done right, 5-round battles can be the total opposite of the snoozefest that was Mook vs. Solomon.

Ness Lee vs. Pass

Who: Pass (Oakland, Calif.) vs. Ness Lee (Atlanta, Ga.)
Where: KOTD's "Blackout 7" in Toronto, Canada
When: April. 15, 2017

Saying that Ness and Pass "can really rap" or something along those lines sounds awfully cliché at this point, but god damn if it isn't true. And although it might have been cool to see a more heated battle between Ness and PNut and it definitely would have been good to have Yung Ill back to battle Pass, this best-case-scenario replacement would have been hard to top either way.

In a sense, the pressure was off since both these dudes were already saving the day by even agreeing to a last minute opponent swap. It's possible that had a positive effect, because despite how competitive it is round-for-round, the battle has a pretty lighthearted atmosphere. And there's very little "pretend this is my original opponent" material from either emcee; they were both able to completely rewrite in time to deliver what amounts to a near-classic at the very least.

Bad Newz vs. Loso

Who: Bad Newz (Rocky Mount, N.C.) vs. Loso (Tampa, Fla.)
Where: BullPen Battle League's "Southern Crown 2" in Atlanta, Ga.
When: March 11, 2017

Pitting two newcomers against each other at the peak of their buzz is a dependable recipe for replay value, and this is a marquee battle for Bullpen. Admittedly, neither Loso nor Bad Newz have followed this up with anything particularly wild (Newz reportedly took a loss to E-Hart on Bullpen and Loso had a debatable with Jimz on KOTD), but the competition factor is through the roof in the footage. That was pretty much a guarantee from the jump, what with the battle being between a punchline-heavy man of God and a shit-talking bully who makes believability an asset. The battle was judged in Newz' favor, but league owner John John Da Don swears it's a legitimate tie. Decide for yourself and check out a back-and-forth with a level of energy that hasn't been matched by many this year.

Arsonal vs. QB

Who: Arsonal (Newark, N.J.) vs. QB Black Diamond (Bridgeport, Conn.)
Where: Rare Breed Entertainment's "Lift His Soul 3" in New York, N.Y.
When: Feb 4, 2017

"Disrespect versus disrespect" battles are always a gamble, not to mention when you throw gender into the equation, but here's a reminder of how entertaining they can be when shit gets just close enough to flying off the handle without totally devolving. Yes, Arsonal greatly exceeds the bounds of human decency more than once and with more than just words, but QB is clearly here for it and does much of the same with the angles she uses. None of this is to say that these two weren't rapping either, and polished performances on either side take this beyond the gimmick category and much closer to classic territory. As far as mixed gender battles, nothing else has come close in a long time.

Ooops vs. Xcel

Who: Ooops (St. Louis, Mo.) vs. Xcel (Brockton, Mass.)
Where: King of the Dot's "Massacre 3" in Ludlow, Mass.
When: July. 23, 2017

A last minute addition, the Day 2 headliner for KOTD's "MASSacre 3" turned out to be a sleeper classic. Ooops made an appearance on GZ years ago versus Fredo but hasn't worked with KOTD since, and this was Xcel's third time at MASS but his first on Day 2. Needless to say, they made the most of it.

First of all, a mandatory "hats off" to Ooops, or should I say Bruce Franks Jr. The man is currently a State Representative of the 78th District of Missouri, a calling that more than justifies his slip-ups in a few battles a while back, and now he's back to drop a quick classic. No matter how you slice it, that is impressive as hell. Xcel, after consistently putting in solid performances on smaller leagues, has now given KOTD no choice but to throw him another nice name next time around. As you might expect, there's a lot of real talk going on in this battle and it is so, so much more compelling than we're used to hearing from styles that emulate this approach.

Bigg K vs. JC

Who: Bigg K (Norfolk, Va.) vs. JC (Pontiac, Mich.)
Where: RBE's "Blood, Sweat and Tiers 5" in New York, N.Y.
When: May 6, 2017

Both Bigg K and JC have arguably had more noteworthy performances this year, but as a cohesive product, this is classic material. K has repeatedly said, and he's not lying, that although he gets labeled as a pure puncher, he does some of everything. In terms of versatility, he outdoes his opponent here with jokes and a nice angle about how JC's pen only holds the weight that it does because he "takes shots you can't miss" with comp. Still, even though JC's writing is as densely layered as always, which might obscure the depth he actually goes into here, he shows range with his angles as well. This has been hotly debated since it dropped, and for good reason. Two of battle rap's top writers, let alone punchers, in peak form.

By the way, for another great showing from JC that was just shy of making this list, check out him versus Chef Trez as well.

Real Deal vs. Soul

What: Real Deal (Pittsburgh, Pa.) vs. Soul (Fife, Scotland)
Where: Don't Flop: Scotland in Edinburgh, Scotland
When: Jan 28, 2017

Both incredible anglers who frequently use real life as a basis for picking their opponents apart, Real Deal and Soul have oddly similar styles that couldn't sound more different. They weren't trying to end each other's careers here, but they weren't being very nice either, and the result is the classic you'd expect if you're familiar with either emcee. In his second battle on this list (naturally; he's one of the few consistently killing shit in the UK), Soul has some truly unforgettable haymakers in his backyard of Scotland here, but of course RD keeps up with his more predictable but even harder hitting 4-bar format.

Jaz The Rapper vs. E-Hart

Who: Jaz The Rapper (Brooklyn, N.Y.) vs. E Hart (Yonkers/Bronx, N.Y.)
Where: URL's "Born Legacy 4" in New York, N.Y.
When: Jan. 28, 2017

Female battle rap has had a relatively mellow year so far, with plenty of solid battles but not many match-ups of this magnitude. The inclusion of this one is by no means a pity play to ensure female representation on the list either; this is still one of the hottest back-and-forths in existence from this year.

At this point, Jaz is known for only battling once every couple years, and somehow it works for her. Every time, fan anticipation is through the roof and even when she doesn't perform as well as she's capable of, people tend to be no less excited to see her the next time. Here, she's in her bag and the crowd couldn't be more hype to see her, which interestingly works somewhat against her this time around. This looked like a decisive victory for Jaz in the building, but as she often does, Hart picked up a ton of support post-drop. Now, the consensus might even be that Hart took it. Regardless, it's always a good sign when both battlers can still arguably lay claim to the "GOAT" title after seeing each other in the ring.

The Saurus vs. TOPR

Who: The Saurus (Las Vegas, Nev.) vs. Topr (Asheville, N.C.)
Where: Counter Productive's "Battle of the Zae 7" in San Jose, Calif.
When: Jan 28, 2017

When this went down, it was immediately obvious to the crowd that it would be considered one of the best battles this year. TOPR is a freestyle legend, but it's probably safe to say few expected him to come back in the written format with a showing as strong as this one. When he did, and when Saurus matched the quality of every round after a questionable performance versus Aye Verb, the BOTZ crowd went apeshit as they realized they were witnessing a classic. Often times, an overreactive crowd can ruin the fluidity of a battle, but that's not the case here, and it wouldn't even be fair to call the reactions excessive. Besides, you try telling Head I.C.E to chill out during a battle.

Honorable Mentions

Geechi Gotti vs. Stuey Newton

Tony D vs. Respek BA

Brizz Rawsteen vs. Ill Will

A. Ward vs. DNA

JC vs. Chef Trez

What do you think should have made our list? Let us know in the comments below.

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