A Gentleman’s Primer to Freestyle Rap Battling

For the purposes of this article, we shall assume a basic familiarity with the underpinnings of so-called Hip-Hop music, for only the most reclusive citizen could remain ignorant of the art form in this day and age, and his education in this (or any) matter is already a lost cause.

As the time-honored tradition of the pistol duel has fallen tragically by the wayside, civilized nations have searched in desperation for a suitable measure to settle those hair-raising conflicts to which mere conversation brings no resolve. Freestyle rap competitions, or “Battles,” as the common man is wont to call them, are rapidly becoming the preëminent means to this end. No well-bred man should be left flustered and wordless by a challenge, and with this in mind we present the Gentleman's Primer.

Before all else, it is critical that a freestyle battle take place amongst a large group of friends and family, so the pain and humiliation of a lyrical attack is multiplied by scorn from the (hopefully intoxicated) audience. When one feels that a quarrel has escalated to the point where a Battle is necessary, it should be politely requested. The vulgar or uneducated may use such a phrase as “What, you want to battle?”, equivalent roughly to “Sir, I propose that we settle this dispute with a freestyle rap competition”. At this point it is imperative that a bystander provide some sort of primal rhythm, or beat. The preferred source is an instrumental—a popular hip-hop song with the vocal track removed, played on the largest and most powerful loudspeakers available. Should instrumentals be scarce, friends and family may produce the rhythm on the spot, either by pounding on nearby objects or people to create percussive sounds, or by imitating drum and melodic parts with their own vocal facilities. The latter is known as “beatboxing,” named after the computerized drum machines that provide backing rhythm in most recorded hip-hop music. It is of vital importance that beatboxers control their saliva emissions, for there is little worse than opening ones mouth to deliver a lyrical salvo, only to have it filled with a blob of phlegm expelled by an over-exuberant bass drum emulation. With experience, the aspiring battler will quickly learn that the optimum tempo lies in the Andante to Moderato range.

Once the beat and the audience's drunkenness have been established, either contestant may signal his intent to commence the battle by grabbing a nearby microphone and repeating the phrases “yo” and “check it” anywhere from fifty to three hundred times. Subsequently the rapping begins. The audience-minded emcee will begin his repartée with proclamations of his own positive attributes-- including, but not limited to:

  • Wealth
  • Prowess with the fair sex
  • Lyrical skill
  • Possession of or skill with assault weapons
  • Willingness to kill, steal, and commit other crimes
  • Quantity of drugs sold
  • Style: automobiles, clothing, residence (see Wealth).

However, like a Presidential election, it is impossible to win a battle simply by declaring ones own merits. The final outcome is more often decided by each contestant's insults to the other. With this in mind, the competent emcee will quickly shift his focus to slander for a decisive victory. Successful insult rhymes simply point out a deficiency in any of the aforementioned positive attributes. If the battle takes place amongst a close circle of friends, it is most effective to point out specific failings or points of weakness that the whole group will be familiar with, such as a decades-old car, senile relatives, or chronic fatal disease. Experts may raise the bar yet higher by attempting to “read” an opponent's character for weak points. Physical characteristics are especially vulnerable: obesity, clumsiness, deficient genitalia, and of course, the hairline.

The study of recorded material is essential to any freestyling hopeful. Take, for example, the following couplet from the late New York luminary Big L. L demonstrates a polished freestyle technique from which beginners can learn much: “The crown is still mine, 'cause I drop ill rhymes / A lot of rappers talk that murder s*** and couldn't kill time”. Here, Mr. L demonstrates the punchline par excellence. In two lines he brags, insults his opponent, and further demonstrates his skill with a clever play on words. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the intricacies of rhyme scheme, cadence, and specific word choice, but suffice it to say, once past the beginning stage, one is expected to rhyme more than the very last word in every line. The following passage from Eminem's “Murder Murder” illustrates the technique perfectly:

Just then the pigs bust in yelling "Freeze"
But I'm already wanted for selling ki's
And bunch of other felonies from A to Z like spelling bees

These interwoven phonemes are obviously far more impressive than the standard fare. After a rhyme of this caliber is spat, it is appropriate and necessary that the entire audience drown out proceedings with long, sustained yells and whoops. Indeed, it is the audience who ultimately decides the battle's victor. If a gentleman is vitriolic, heartless, clever, and unconcerned with honesty, he can easily scale the ranks of freestyle prowess and gain the respect and admiration of all who surround him.

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