Battle Rap has been an integral part of Hip Hop since the culture’s early years. It has gone through various eras. From call-and-response chants to school cyphers, the Battle Rap scene was always present. It’s survived freestyle battles on television shows to contests a la 8 Mile.

In recent years, the popularity of Battle Rap has grown making it more intricate and polished than ever. Add to that the marketability and profitable nature of today’s Battle Rap scene, and you have a sub-culture within Hip Hop that is growing and gaining significant momentum throughout the world, with leagues popping up in England, Australia and the Philippines, just to name a few. HipHopDX teamed up with some of Battle Rap’s finest and decided to introduce new audiences to this sub-culture with a few noteworthy battles.

Before going forward, there are also a few things you need to know. That’s what this guide is for—a look into the culture to prepare you for what’s to come. So here are some tips before watching your first major battles.

Understand the Format

These are not exactly your old, 8 Mile style battles. Check the main differences. While Eminem’s character, B-Rabbit, was a pro at freestyling in the film, these battles are mostly written in advance with time for research and rehearsals.  

The Events

Battle Rap events usually feature various matches, much like a boxing or MMA event, with undercards leading up to the main events. Also like the aforementioned sports, Battle Rap is sometimes viewed on a pay-per-view stream, depending on the league and event. The videos you see on YouTube are edited versions with different effects and angles added (sometimes) after the match-up.

Don’t Mind Those Pesky Ads

Usually, Battle Rap videos begin with advertisements in the first few minutes of a clip. This can be tedious for new audiences (and longtime viewers probably hate them too) but hey, someone’s gotta pay for your free entertainment. You can watch or skip those ads, so you can’t complain much. Then, someone will either flip a coin or elect to battle first. That’s when the battling begins.

Know The Time

Each rapper usually has a predetermined time limit for their rounds before the other battler can rhyme. There are usually three rounds per competitor, but sometimes battlers elect to do only one round or two rounds. In those cases, fans usually get upset, but it happens.

You Be The Judge

Some prefer to officially judge battles while others prefer not to. More recently, the judging has been left to audience members and YouTube commenters in most instances—however harsh those may be.

Be Cautious

Battles are, you guessed it, disrespectful! Everything is disrespected, from loved ones, diseases, deformities and childhoods to mannerisms, “priorities,” parenting and relationships. Nothing is sacred in Battle Rap, except maybe…No, nothing. That’s not to say that it’s all bad or murderous, but as Andre 3000 once said, “it’s that too.” Check a few of these battles to see that it is a pretty diverse art form with several personalities, styles and skill levels, much like with any form of Hip Hop.

SMACK/URL’s Beasley Introduces You To Battle Rap

Beasley has been a valuable member of the Battle Rap community as a co-founder of SMACK/URL, along with Troy “Smack” Mitchell, Chico and Norbes. Here’s his message to new fans of the culture.

“They [new fans] need to understand that this is verbal UFC,” Beasley says. “There’s elbows. There’s knees. There’s no rules. In the beginning, it’s going to take time for them to get in tune. A lot of stuff is coded. There’s a whole soap opera that’s attached to Battle Rap. There’s blogs that artists put out prior to a battle, where they say certain things about an individual, or they’ll say certain things about another individual or a battle they had prior. So, if you don’t follow the culture, things can appear to be coded, and you won’t understand certain segments of the rhyme. You need to be clear about that.

“You have to understand when they’re aggressive and in each other’s face, they’re not gonna fight. It’s just a way of getting their point across, and it’s the nature of the sport. Both guys understand it, and they know what they’re getting into prior to the battle.

“Also, when you’re judging a battle, it’s not just bars. It’s also performing. Everyone has a personal way of judging a battle. Some can be jokes. Some judge it off punchlines and lyrics. Some judge on a combination of performance, timing, comedy and so many aspects and angles that make up the modern battle leagues.”

And with that, here are battlers talking about battles. HipHopDX spoke with several notable battle rappers and Battle Rap representatives to introduce new viewers to the most recent evolution of the Battle Rap world. We asked them to select three introductory battles each—battles that showcase the best of what the scene has to offer for a new fan just getting into the Battle Rap realm. Here’s what they had to share. Grab a notebook (no Canibus), take some notes and become engulfed in these battles.

Math Hoffa’s Suggested Rap Battles

Aye Verb vs. Hitman Holla: This was a really big deal for me and for everyone in the Battle Rap culture. Aye Verb and Hitman were like a team. They were part of the big three in St. Louis, which was Aye Verb, Hitman and Yung Ill. So to see two people who were on a team at one point, go at it for the crown of where they’re from, was big. They fought alongside each other, stood alongside each other in battles and all that. There was a lot of personals that came out in that battle, so it’s really entertaining.

Loaded Lux vs. Calicoe: Lux threw on a suit, and he came out with a casket. He had women dressed up like it was a funeral. They handed out obituaries. I mean, he really stepped it up as far as the level of showmanship. I personally don’t see myself doing that, because my whole thing is being real. So, I don’t know if I could dress up and come out in spikes and hoods. I don’t know if I’d ever do that, but that was a real entertaining battle.

Math Hoffa vs. John John Da Don: I picked this one because I kicked his ass. I think that a lot of the bars we spit in that battle was something that a new fan could comprehend. It wasn’t a lot of personals. It was cool.

Cortez’s Top Battle Rap Picks

Cortez vs. Hollohan: I’d pick me versus Hollohan, because it allows someone to see the international marketability of Battle Rap along with an intense battle full of bars and personals. And it never hurts when Raekwon himself is there front row hosting!

Dizastervs. DNA: This one shows how big Battle Rap is with Drake hosting, but also this battle defines “grudge match!” They wanted to kill each other, and did just that for the first two rounds. Also, the third round shows new limits on two of the best freestylers in Battle Rap and how they competed on every level from writtens, rebuttals and freestyles.

Aye Verb vs. Hitman Holla: This battle shows great lyricism, performance and endless personals. It’s one of the most highly debatable battles ever, with Hitman creating [his signature] “remix” and displaying how important it is to have [the] performance [element]. Verb’s wordplay and third round “talk to yo’ son” angle was ingenious. You’ll get everything you want in Battle Rap from those two.

Bonnie Godiva’s Battle Rap Recommendations

B-Magic vs. Real Deal: It’s one of my favorites, because it’s interesting. In most battles, you see a Black guy and you see a White guy battling and you go, “You’re gonna hear ‘The White guy this. The White guy that.’” B-Magic did have that, but he’s clever. Even though he had that, it was clever. It was dope. And then a lot of people put the stereotype that when you see a White guy and a Black guy, that it’s a wrap, like if the Black guy is gonna win. And I feel that Real Deal edged that battle. It was a great, classic battle. People that don’t necessarily watch Battle Rap that wouldn’t watch other battles would watch that one, because they could relate to Real Deal, and he is winning that battle.

B-Magic vs. Chilla Jones: That is my favorite battle. There are so many punchlines in that battle. It was crazy. [My favorite was B-Magic’s], “I’ll put a couple in his top like a wedding cake.” I have to say that [laughing]. That shit was so crazy, so crazy. Shout outs to B-Magic. He’s in two of the ones I picked.

Hollow Da Don vs. Big T: I might have watched that one more than any other battle, because when I first started watching battles, the first battle I had seen was Arsonal versus Hollow Da Don. I was like, “Damn. Hollow sucks.” I’m gonna be honest [laughing], because that was the first battle I’d seen. But then I saw him against Big T, and I was like, “Damn!” He came with everything. If you could show somebody exactly the way they need to be in a battle—a lot of people think that to body somebody, the other person has to be wack. But that’s not the case, because you could body somebody that’s good; you just have to outdo them in every category. I feel like Hollow outdid him in every category. That’s a perfect battle to show a battler or even somebody that doesn’t watch it. Battlers should especially watch it, because that’s the perfect package of everything you need to do.

Pass’ Choice Rap Battles

Loaded Lux vs. Calicoe: This is extremely tough for me, as someone who has been following the culture since SMACK DVDs and Scribble Jam. I picked my personal favorite battles from different generations. Loaded Lux versus Calicoe is awesome because of Loaded Lux, plain and simple. Lux’s comeback was perfect. Fuck the choke, his execution, content and angles were perfect. That might be my favorite performance from any battle rapper, ever.

The Saurus vs. Justice: The Saurus at the time, and still today, was a legend in his own right. He was established as an incredible off-the-top freestyle rapper [in a battle or otherwise]. This new guy Justice from Australia was making noise too, though I’d never heard of him until I met him that year at Scribble Jam. He was killin’ everybody that weekend. When they faced off, it was hella epic. It was a crazy feeling to be there live at that time when such an even match was pretty rare. I honestly can’t even remember who won that battle.

Juice vs. Supernatural: This goes without saying. I remember randomly hearing this on the radio one time, hella late at night. I think the “Wake Up Show” was replaying it, and it was epic. I was in my bedroom in North Oakland [California] listening to these two guys go bar for bar, and just the audio made me feel like I was there. This might have been what turned me onto the underground Hip Hop culture in general.

Real Deal’s Top Battle Rap Selections

Pat Stay vs. Marv Won: I’m always a big fan of Pat Stay versus Marv Won. It’s a great battle. Both of them…you could tell they don’t care for each other. It was really heartless, man.

Aye Verb vs. Hitman Holla: I love when somebody takes a risk like Aye Verb did. Punchlines are cool, and we love wordplay. But sometimes, that can be like a pick-a-card-any-card trick. But when you prepare, and you take this risk, and it works out the way that it did, how can you deny that? He didn’t even have punchlines, and that’s what was so dope. It’s like how you would pull somebody aside to talk to them. And then to have him look up, and then the camera panned…it was just…Hitman is a dope battler man. But I know, at that point, he was like, “Damn. He got me there.”

Hollow Da Don vs. Big T: The third one is a toss up I like a lot. I think pretty much any battle [like that] where you don’t have to watch 100 other battles to get it. The vague battles are the better ones to start off with.

Lush One’s Top Battle Rap Suggestions

Supernatural vs. Juice: That pretty much was the beginning of this whole era of battling. That was the first time that battling broke beyond just the little folklore in the local page. That became something there was national attention on and people cared about it from across the world. That’s why it was really, really revolutionary. I remember mothafuckas just riding in the whip, listening to the “Wake Up Show” and trying to hear about what was going on with that beef and when that battle was going down. It was such a big deal.

The Saurus vs. Justice: As far as the Scribble Jam era, there are so many different battles and so many different points of reference. But the one that immediately stuck out in my head when you said that was The Saurus versus Justice. It’s such a testament to the skill level, quick-wittedness and how far the scene had come. That was at the height of Scribble Jam in 2005 in front of 10,000 people—the biggest budget for prize money and everything. There was a lot on the line; it exemplifies how international it is. You’ve got a kid from Australia that came out of nowhere just whacking mothafuckas with the Fresh Coast style against a Fresh Coast vet, and he winds up actually taking him out in a very debatable, close, overtime battle. That’s as good as it fuckin’ gets. I was there on the side of the stage when it was going on. When the crowd reacted, it was like bombs going off. It was like stun missiles hitting. You know? It was insane. I definitely say that.

Loaded Lux vs. Calicoe: And then you definitely have to have a battle to define this era of the written acapellas. There’s really two you have to include, in my opinion. One, obviously, is Loaded Lux versus Calicoe, because Loaded Lux is a pioneer that goes back to the early years of battling from the SMACK DVDs. He perfectly defines all of the different styles that are going on, the word association style that fools are rapping with and he’s so masterful at that versus Calicoe, one of the top up and comers. That battle transcended Battle Rap. It got the entire culture involved. It created memes that really circulated beyond just the battle-sphere. It had Jay-Z quoting, “You gon’ get this work.” That shit right there did huge things, so you definitely have to give it up.

Dumbfoundead vs. Tantrum: It showed the clear evolution of the virality of it all. When that battle broke, that’s really what made Grind Time take off, the Fresh Coast movement take off and Battle Rap as a whole became way more global with that battle. Plus, it really shows how fucking funny Battle Rap is too. A lot of people who don’t even like Hip Hop music fuck with battles because that shit is funny. People want to be entertained.

Shotgun Suge’s Top Battle Rap Picks

Tsu Surf vs. Conceited: This was just a clash of different styles of Rap. It still made a classic. The crowd wasn’t biased, and I like shit like that.

K-Shine vs. DNA: It showed the different things you could do in a battle and still win. Shit is changing…the game changed.

Loaded Lux vs. Calicoe: Yeah, I’ll give it to them. [it shows] how you could come back from a choke and still kill somebody. I was impressed by that. 

Dirtbag Dan’s Battle Rap Recommendations

Tsu Surf vs. Conceited: I think that when it comes to battles, there are so many subsections of Battle Rap now, that you really have to watch one from each. There is the more funny guys that tend to be King of the Dot, Grind Time or any of those leagues. Then there’s the URL/SMACK end. That’s more like gun bars and more like double-entendres, wordplay and stuff like that. It’s not like it doesn’t happen in King of the Dot. Both styles happen in both leagues. But one league is more intensive on it versus the other. I would say, for URL, a good new one is Tsu Surf versus Conceited. See where we’re at right now. It’s a very on-point battle.

Dirtbag Dan vs. The Saurus: I would say, from the Grind Time/King of the Dot side of things…hey, hell, watch me versus The Saurus—which is an amazing battle. It was a Grind Time battle that happened at a King of the Dot event in Toronto [Canada], which will never happen again.

Canibus vs. Dizaster: Then, I’d say for a third battle, if you haven’t seen Canibus versus Dizaster, watch it and then watch every video that makes fun of it just so you could be up on game.

Okwerdz’s Battle Rap Recommendations

Dumbfoundead vs. Tantrum: Let me just get this out of the way right now: this is hands-down one of the best Rap battles of all time, and the very first battle I show people new to the scene. Dumbfoundead and Tantrum just go back and forth destroying each other with the most cleverly written and hilarious Asian jokes that keep getting better every round. You could show your grandpa this battle, and he would love it. It went viral, and it is one of the first matches to bring big attention to Grind Time while helping launch a very huge music/movie career for Dumbfoundead. Don’t forget to watch both parts!

Loaded Lux vs. Calicoe: This is realistically, probably one of the most important videos to happen to Battle Rap, maybe ever. It’s a great representation of the very serious and aggressive URL side of Battle Rap with the vicious punchlines, similes and metaphors as well as the theatrics of Battle Rap that people get addicted to. They give Calicoe a lot less credit than he deserves. He’s one of the best on SMACK but Loaded “Tux,” in his return battle after a several-year-hiatus, showed up in a hearse, wearing a suit and tie and put on the show of a lifetime. The battle has since gone viral. It got the attention of many celebs, like Shaq, Lupe Fiasco, Mac Miller and Busta Rhymes and expanded Battle Rap to a whole other level. That battle catapulted Lux to a world of possibilities! Put it this way: Jay-Z only had like 40 tweets total, and one of them was Loaded Lux’s new catchphrase, “You gon’ get this work” from this battle.

Dizaster vs. Canibus: This match shows how personal Battle Rap can be, and how battling is a whole other lane that most of your favorite rappers are not built for. If you grew up in my generation, there was at least one point in your life when you thought Canibus was the best rapper alive, so getting someone like him to hop in the ring is a major milestone for Battle Rap. Hopefully that’s something we may see more of in the future! Now here’s the bad news. Dizaster’s incredible bodybag-performance is almost overshadowed by Canibus choking three rounds and pulling out a notepad mid-battle, then going viral for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, all the attention it gained got a whole new audience hooked on Rap battles, and Dizaster’s performance made him one of the most feared, respected and recognizable faces in Battle Rap, so I think it’s a great first watch.

Loaded Lux’s Top Battle Rap Choices

Loaded Lux vs. Calicoe: That definitely shows growth. I want to say that. Let me think.

Eminem vs. Juice: I can’t remember who Eminem was battling, man! Gosh, I’ve gotta find that out. I’ve gotta go through that again. It’s definitely this one Eminem battle…Eminem had this black hat on, a black hat real low. I don’t know if it was a white shirt. I just remember he had the hat damn near over his eyes. I can’t remember what the dude had on. I was just watching Em dance across the stage, mic in his hand, just goin’ off, man. I know they definitely had the beat on and the retorts was crazy. He was just in a zone. He was just stylin’. I’ve got to give it to Em on that one. I thought it was a great performance.

Dizaster vs. Canibus: I would say that one too, only because that battle showed…at the same time we do this, I think people should always learn from something. [That battle] shows lack of preparation, and what can happen if you don’t take this thing serious. Even in watching that footage, I felt and played empathetic to the situation and felt like, “Damn, what if I was Canibus and I was in the heat of that?” So I could see somebody doing that, and you really get that from it when Dizaster is just really going in and just laying it to Canibus. But I would show that too, because of Dizaster’s performance. I think it was the third round [where] he took off. I mean, he damn near took off the whole battle. But one of them rounds, he was just really goin’, goin’, goin’.

Andres Vasquez has been contributing to HipHopDX as a staff writer for over a decade. He is also an educator and youth-leader. He is based in Los Angeles, California. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndresWrites.