In high school, my friend Reed tried out for crew just to prove he could make the team, then quit as soon as he’d secured a spot on the most prestigious boat. I’m not mentioning this just to point out that my rap career was crippled early on by having friends named Reed and a high school with a rowing program; I say it to inspire any seriously white-minded people who are interested in taking on full-contact karaoke as a new hobby. Using these simple lessons I extracted from my own experience, as well as advice from experienced MCs, you too can moonlight as a successful battle rapper.
CHOOSE YOUR NAME WISELY. Knowing the general mean-spiritedness of crowds at MC battles, I went with Ol’ Dirty Needle, a handle that not only pays homage to a fallen American hero but also attests to my sense of humor. In the battle clips I watched on-line, dudes who kept it light and funny almost always smoked heads who overdosed on serious.
DON’T STUDY 8 MILE; STUDY EMINEM. Shady earned his stripes in the mid-to-late-’90s at battles such as Scribble Jam, an annual hip-hop event in Cincinnati that includes a bout for the sport’s most prestigious belt. His 1997 final-round loss there against Chicago MC Juice is still revered as the D-Day of MC battles, and his performance demonstrates how to interject premeditated punch lines amid flurries of genuine ad lib material.
DRESS NORMALLY. Unless you’re a North End mobster or a Run DMC revivalist, this is not the time to devault the velour Sean John tracksuit that’s been buried in your closet since that “Pimps Up, Ho’s Down” party. Instead of getting all Malibu’s Most Wanted, I went with my standard jeans and kicks, and a Mickey Mouse T-shirt that invited comments I was prepared to smack down.
IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SAY, THEN SAY IT CREATIVELY. Last week I asked Rhymesayers artist Eyedea for some battle tips, and his only resounding message was that I should kick some random, or even funny, freestyles should I run out of disses. I didn’t heed his advice, and, as he warned, I felt like a schmuck for acting transparently tough and saying nothing.
IGNORE THE DJ AND THE JUDGES. Unless you know exactly what you’re going to spew, avoid rhyming things with the names of people who control your destiny. One MC in my battle ill-advisedly placed DJ On&On in a hypothetical homo-erotic scenario, sealing his fate at the decision table.
CATER TO YOUR CROWD. It’s important to know whether you’re playing for the Fred Savage or the Ben Savage generation, since Wonder Years references will get you nowhere with the latter. I had stolen a line from AG that I was sure would help me clip opponents: “Watch me take this kid and son him, like Mr. Drummond.” I slipped it in, but the overwhelming majority of kids were unfamiliar with Diff’rent Strokes.
BE MEAN. Every retired battle rap champ I’ve ever interviewed has said that regularly slinging arbitrary threats and insults at fellow artists eventually became the karmic equivalent of cancer. If you want to be a battle-rap executioner, then get used to being an unrepentant asshole.