As something of a sequel to our Brief History of UK Battle Rap, we’ve thrown our normal formula of ‘3 Reasons Not To Sleep On’ out the window in order for author Solomon PM to put forward the definitive case for Battlers’ musical efforts to be held in higher esteem. As if that wasn’t good enough we’ve also put together a monster playlist of tunes by some of the UKs battle heroes for your listening pleasure! Check out Battle Rappers! The UK Hip Hop List and follow us on Spotify for more delectable playlisting coming in 2020!
Having honed their skills in the ring, battle rappers are mainly known for their aggressive performance and ability to come up with witty punchlines- which doesn’t always necessarily lend itself to great song-making. This, combined with the fact that many top-tier battlers express little interest in making music (case in point: former Don’t Flop champion Soul), has led to a widespread perception that battlers don’t make good music.
Undeniably there are a few big names that glaringly fly in the face of the above perception. Probably most notably, Lunar C has climbed to a level of fame and notoriety that’s transcended the borders of the UK hip hop scene. As well as featuring on a star-studded track alongside Wu-Tang’s Raekwon and KRS One early this year, last year’s Dirtbrain and this years Very Important were dope albums that caught a lot of attention. Honorable mentions must also go to UK battle rap’s own Boy in the Corner, Dialect, and Bru-C, who has recently been making big moves in the bassline scene, not to forget Shotty Horroh (who released the beautifully genre-bending ‘Sudehill’ last year). Meanwhile, veteran (of battles and releases) Tony D’s ‘Webham’ is still one of the best displays of spitting battle rap-style punchlines over a beat, all with a sense of effortlessness that only rappers of Tony D’s calibre can boast.
While these characters may be dismissed as exceptions to the rule… We beg to differ. So here’s five tracks from battle rappers whose creative output deserves to be viewed alongside those of any ‘genuine’ artist.
Cee Major – East London 2
A far cry from his battle persona, previous Don’t Flop title contender Cee Major reveals a softer and more contemplative side on ‘East London 2’. This contrast really highlights the breadth of his talents- having produced and recorded everything on this track himself, ‘East London 2’ stands as a powerful statement against pigeon-holing battle rappers.
Cruger – Freddie Cruger
Cruger is one of the single most important people in UK battle rap. Not only has he filmed and edited the majority of Don’t Flops battle discography, and taken part in some of the most epic battles in UK history (check out Cruger vs. Conceited), Cruger also recently re-uploaded a large portion of the Don’t Flop Extra channel/Demo Battles footage that was lost when the channel was deleted. Simply put, without Cruger we may not have had some of UK battle rap’s most legendary moments.
The track ‘Freddie Cruger’ is almost equally as symbolic, having been released at a critical point in Don’t Flop’s growth (and the UK battle scene as a whole) in 2010. Cruger’s meticulously crafted visuals are equal parts captivating and gruesome as he spews horrorcore lyrics that reflect both on his background in battling and the Rhyme Asylum style approach to writing that dominated at the time. Cruger nonetheless navigates this subject matter with a timeless witticism and humorous flourish, ensuring that ‘Freddie Cruger’ still stands out to this day- “I find flats and leave them as empty inside as I am.”
Press1 – Lemonade and OJ ft. Lunar C
Don’t Flop on-beat title holder Press1 brings something a little more cool and refreshing on the fittingly-titled ‘Lemonade and OJ’, full of puns and wordplay that only a battle rapper could come up with. Word is that the track was originally called ‘Lemonade’ but Lunar wrote a verse about oranges because all the lemon puns had been taken, simultaneously shattering two of hip hop’s greatest misconceptions; that battlers can’t make good music and that you can’t rap about oranges. Ground-breaking stuff.
Bamalam – Damned Road ft. Tony D, Mr. 13 & Josiah Matrix
Let’s just get it out of the way, this instrumental is cold. ‘Damned Road’ is a real victory lap for UK battle rap, featuring golden era Don’t Flop mainstays Bamalam and Mr 13, and the undeniable forces that are Tony D and Josiah Matrix. And while the quality of this instrumental may have left room for underwhelming lyricism, Bam brings some top-quality “banjo” wordplay to remind us that battle rappers are, in fact the dominant force on this track.
Lego – Droppin’ It On ‘Em
This is what is probably what springs to mind when one thinks of music made by battle rappers: multi-heavy lyrics full of ruthless braggadocio over golden age boom bap instrumentals. Nonetheless, Lego’s signature smoothness in the ring puts him in good stead here, bringing a laid-back delivery that makes for a very smooth listening experience. ‘Droppin’ It On ‘Em’ strikes the perfect balance between a battle rapper’s technical mastery and an artist’s ability to capture a vibe.
These are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sheer talent that dwells in the underground world of UK battle rap, regardless of whether they get their just dues. Not bad for a movement that is mainly famous for mum jokes, is it?
Check the playlist below and follow us on Spotify for more heat incoming!!