In February, a video was uploaded to YouTube of BBC Radio’s DJ Nihal stepping in to defend a female rapper at London’s The Jump Off battle event. The male battler says, “bitch, after this, in the alley you’ll get raped.” When the crowd react badly, he shouts “But it’s a battle!” using the tired and lazy excuse of “anything goes.”
Although someone stepped in on this occasion (with a fairly embarrassing freestyle that I’m sure the female competitor could have handled just as well on her own), on countless others, references to rape or misogynistic violence are either ignored, or even encouraged.
Since the dingy underground events in 70’s USA, battle leagues have been spreading and multiplying over ground and across the globe, popularized by Eminem. Don’t Flop (the most successful UK league) was established in 2009. It is not uncommon for popular battlers to tally millions of YouTube views, and for good reason. Battles are often technically inventive, witty, and controversial. But above all, they are offensive. Deliberately. The point of the rap battle is to offend your opponent in the most resourceful way possible. Without offence, the integral “braggadocio” concept of a rap battle wouldn’t exist.
My problem is not with braggadocio, or rap battle in general, but on its apparent insistence on degrading women. It is rare to find a battle that doesn’t do this. As well as being offensive, I find this approach to battle rap lazy, boring, and outdated. Slowly, it is becoming unacceptable (or at least unfashionable) to reference rape in commercial hip-hop (just look at the fall-out from Rick Ross’ 2013 track “U.O.E.N.O”), so why is it still acceptable, even expected in the battle rap scene?
There are innumerable other ways in which to inventively and cleverly undermine your opponent. From researching and exploiting their weaknesses, inventing clever schemes that run through a whole round, to freestyling impressively to win on crowd reactions. So why, I ask, is it necessary, for example, to say what Blizzard says to female opponent H-Bomb, “I bet you have to beg to be raped”? In what other situation would it go unquestioned for a man to scream in a woman’s face, “You’ve been doing nothing since your cherry was taken. Age nine”? This isn’t poetic, as many battlers claim their lyrics to be. Nor is it inventive. It’s just embarrassing.
The attitude to women in the rap battle scene is archaic. This isn’t helped by female battlers that perpetuate the culture of degradation in their own lyrics. Australian rapper H-Bomb encourages the backward attitude towards women by saying in the very same battle quoted above: “Wanting to battle a girl? You must have about as much self-respect as a whore without shoes.”
But arguably female battlers have no choice. The degrading attitude has become synonymous with the scene to the point that refusing to include degrading references in your lyrics means you might as well forfeit the battle. Dekay (the first girl featured in Don’t Flop) doesn’t demean herself at any point in the below battle against Uno Lavoz, even as he repeatedly screams at her to “get back in the kitchen,” with help from male crowd members. Her rhymes are clearly better. Uno chokes and she doesn’t. But she doesn’t win. And why not? As the judges say after the battle, “for a girl to battle a guy she has to be a lot better in order to win,” as opposed to just beating him fair and square. And, as another judge concludes, Uno Lavoz’s “misogynistic, in your face shit was retarded good.”
I am not arguing for censorship, but I am arguing for a more intelligent attitude and style to be brought to battle rap. These battlers are clearly talented. Some of their better lines prove it. I am asking them, whether male or female, to be pioneers and try something different, even if the scene is resistant. Be a real battler: go three whole minutes without saying something inane and degrading.
Title image source: queenofthering.tv