Battle rap in 2017 was (again) filled with soaring highs and embarrassing lows.
Scandals and scams seemed to be a weekly occurrence, with battlers, bloggers and entire leagues falling from grace with missteps big and small.
It wasn’t all bad though.
The Eminem-produced battle rap movie Bodied garnered rave reviews (and possibly a distributor) during its limited festival circuit, while the Drop The Mic television show brought celebrity battles to an even broader audience (despite raising the eyebrows of many long-time fans) and employed some well-known battlers behind the scenes.
But between those highs and lows, there were also some thoroughly entertaining battles.
Here are our picks for the Top 10 of the year.
Oxxxymiron vs. Dizaster
Release Date: October 16, 2017
League: King of the Dot
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 9.96M
A quick Google search of “Oxxxymiron” should tell you that a multi-million view count was guaranteed from the jump, but Americans had no idea what to expect from the wildly popular Russian rapper in his first English-speaking battle. Even in a room packed with Russians, it was obvious that Dizaster, the villain in a critically acclaimed film and a battle rap superstar, was a more than suitable adversary.
Diz went first here, and it was immediately obvious why he got this opportunity as he framed the entire battle on a global scale, charging through quasi-political rants and roasting Russia as a whole. That said though, Oxxxy was much more effective in breaking Diz down on a personal level, pointing out the hypocrisy in his approach and calling him out for his right-wing tendencies, among other things (“If he was Kendrick, he’d say ‘we gon’ be alt-right!’”). Oh, and it turns out he’s no slouch at rapping in English either.
Hollow Da Don vs. Tay Roc
Release Date: October 16, 2017
League: Ultimate Rap League
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 1.98M
Certain battles still leave something to be desired while nevertheless being must-sees due to their sheer scale. This is one of those, pitting Hollow, who many consider the G.O.A.T., versus Tay Roc, URL’s undisputed top gunner at the moment. The replay value really lives in Roc’s second and Hollow’s third, but the battle being as debatable as it is makes it more than worth your time. Plus, you wouldn’t want to miss Roc’s endlessly relatable “seatbelt” line in Round 2, which many fans are lauding as bar of the year.
Shox The Rebel vs. Soul
Release Date: May 27, 2017
League: Don’t Flop
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 98K
After remaining at the top of the British scene for years, the marquee league Don’t Flop recently crumbled amid internal staff conflict, and this is one of its very last classics. Shox really got the short end of the stick, defeating longstanding champion Soul in this title match — only for the league to go belly up weeks later.
All that nonsense aside, this is a phenomenally competitive clash, and you could argue that Soul should have remained champ. His first round was nothing short of dominant, dwarfing Shox’s rapid-fire style with a heavy dose of reality, detailing the differences between their respective careers. Still though, fans can’t get enough of non-stop punchlines these days, and Shox showed here that he has enough conviction to sell each and every one.
Ooops vs. Xcel
Release Date: July 27, 2017
League: King of the Dot
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 91K
It’s not often that battle rap finds a way to move audiences emotionally, but Ooops tends to facilitate those kinds of performances. He’s a cancer survivor, a political activist, and now a State Representative of the 78th District of Missouri, so it comes as no surprise that he has more to say than the negativity we’re used to.
So does his opponent though, and that’s what makes this clash truly memorable. As it turns out, Xcel has had his own struggles, one of them being clinging to life itself, and his comparative takedown of Ooops’ disposition here is unforgettable.
(If you’re looking for something with more humor, check out Frak vs. Brixx Belvy, another instant classic that was booked on Ground Zero but that went straight to KOTD’s main channel.)
Bigg K vs. JC
Release Date: May 25, 2017
League: Rare Breed Entertainment
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 389K
2017 was eventful for both Bigg K and JC, and while they both had arguably stronger performances in different battles this year, this one finds them at or at least close to their peak abilities. K has been deadly consistent for years, 2017 being no exception, and JC has long been known for taking more battles than most would ever consider and still winning most of them.
In fact, JC took so many battles this year that he may have squandered an opportunity to battle Loaded Lux mere weeks after earning it in the eyes of many fans. After bodying Chess in his third straight 3-0 victory on URL, he lost clearly to T-Top, and as all fans know, you’re only as good as your last battle.
Regardless, he was on point versus K and showing no signs of fatigue. Still, K’s tactic of little-boying him to death might resonate with you more depending on your preference. “I ain’t come here to son you, I came to Capri Sun you. When you walk past the middle school, they mean mug you!” Ouch.
Math Hoffa & Cortez vs. Rum Nitty & Ill Will
Release Date: September 1, 2017
League: Ultimate Rap League
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 490K
For how hilarious and packed with electrifying moments it was, this 2-on-2 bout hasn’t been talked about nearly enough. The chemistry on either side is palpable, and the four MCs made the absolute most of a seemingly meaningless matchup. Cortez having to calm the ever-aggressive Math is a routine that never gets old, and Will stole the show more than once with his animated style. Watch this with some friends and prepare to be entertained.
B Dot vs. Loso
Release Date: December 25, 2017
League: Bullpen Battle League
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 143K
This isn’t so much a rap battle as it is a theological debate, but it’s still 100 percent required viewing. To set the stage, Loso is a devout Christian while B Dot is an outspoken advocate of the Pan-Afrikanism movement, and the two MCs disagree on many fronts.
They showed up to do much more than out-rap one another, and it couldn’t be more debatable in terms of picking a winner. Even if the matchup sounds “divisive,” “preachy,” or whatever other excuse your lazy ass comes up with not to watch, you’ll do yourself a disservice by not paying close attention to every word. The depth of analysis and precision of language at play here add up to something pretty extraordinary.
For another incredible Bullpen offering, check out Loso taking on Bad Newz.
Dunsh vs. E. Farrell
Release Date: April 3, 2017
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 18K
Out of all the battles on this list, this one is easily the most slept-on. That’s a travesty because its structure is a breath of fresh air, affording both battlers five 16-bar rounds each. It still manages to clock in at only 20 minutes, and there isn’t a dull moment throughout.
E. Farrell, along with cohorts like Bangz and Jeffrey, has long been the face of iBattle, and it’s obvious why. Without once having to “talk to” his opponents — or offer them any real-life critiques at all, for that matter — Farrell has essentially built his name off punchlines alone. That’s one reason why this five-round format suits him so well, and you’ll be disgusted at the number of references he fits in.
After coming up on Beastmode’s now-defunct NY division, Dunsh instantly made himself an iBattle mainstay with this performance and went on to battle twice at KOTD as one of the top newcomers around. He’s incredibly versatile, using each round here to do something slightly different, and Round 1 boasts the best the-league-owner-called-me-to-book-this-battle line of recent memory.
For another excellent back-and-forth between two emerging talents, check out Geechi Gotti vs. Glueazy.
The Saurus vs. Laugh ‘N Stalk
Release Date: September 30, 2017
League: Ruin Your Day
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): 16K
This battle took place in a hot air balloon. Time! But seriously, it must take extraordinary talent to deliver your rounds flawlessly thousands of feet in the air, and Saurus and LNS make it look easy. The setup of this clash is just another innovative move by legendary videographer Avocado, who made a huge impact on the culture this year with his rapidly rising Ruin Your Day media channel. In addition to watching battlers watching battles, you can see some incredible small-room clashes with zero distractions and even one shot in the middle of a desert in Mexico.
Saurus’ Battle Of The Zae clash with returning vet TOPR is also a classic, if you’re looking for something not shot in a hot air balloon.
Rap Battle Of The Year
Iron Solomon vs. Rum Nitty
Battle Date: December 9, 2017
League: Ultimate Rap League
YouTube Views (December 31, 2017): N/A
(Yes, we’re aware that this battle didn’t drop on YouTube in 2017, but in our current era of live Pay-Per-Views, the official, months-later release is really only a formality. The battle happened in 2017 and anyone who follows the scene closely saw it in 2017.)
Battle rap likes to subvert expectations. While the most-anticipated matchups often disappoint, the ones that seem random often end up being classic. Solomon vs. Nitty lands firmly in the latter category, and the intimate setting URL chose for its Smack Vol. 1 event was perfect for it.
Last time he was on URL, Solomon historically lost 5-0 to Murda Mook in front of a massive crowd, which made some fans think he’d flop again in a small room. Instead, he hit Nitty with the densest material we’ve seen used against him. All three rounds, particularly the third, added up to an unbelievably layered clinic in penmanship with more haymaker angles than you’d think possible against someone known mainly for punchlines.
When someone is labeled a “pure puncher,” as Nitty could pretty accurately be called, it’s often difficult for him to outclass more versatile opponents. Solomon jokes and crafts tailor-made angles with the best of them, so the fact that Nitty easily kept up with him is a testament to his creativity. “I’ve been Jonesin’ to give a Jew L’s on Cam, I really mean it!” Good lord.
Battle Rapper Of The Year
Some years it’s obvious who earned the title of Battler Of The Year, but by the end of 2017, three names came up consistently: O-Red, Illmac, and Tay Roc. O-Red arguably didn’t lose this year after battling Ave, Showoff, K-Shine, Bigg K, and Brizz Rawsteen. Illmac also didn’t miss once, defeating Chilla Jones, Iron Solomon, and JC, as well as winning a BOTZ Royal Rumble, being a mainstay on Ruin Your Day, and putting out lots of quality music.
All that said, Tay Roc is our BOTY pick. He wasn’t his best versus Charron, but he (at the very least, debatably) beat Chess (a rising star with massive potential), Hollow Da Don (who many consider the G.O.A.T.) and Dizaster (a West Coast legend).
The virtually undisputed king of URL hasn’t slacked once in his career, but he made his legend run in 2017, and sometimes impact rings louder than sheer consistency.
See all of DX’s Year End Awards here.