The Future of Battle Rap is Loaded With Possiblities

October 26th, 2012

(Photo: Courtesy of Smack/URL)

By Gee King

Loaded Lux’s appearance on Howard Stern with DJ Whoo Kid is the latest sign of the coming commercialization of battle rap. Hip hop’s most essential practice came back to the forefront of the culture earlier this summer when footage of the URL (Ultimate Rap League) Summer Madness 2 event hit the web. Billed as the biggest rap battle ever, the event was attended by Diddy, Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip and spawned hip-hop’s meme of the year: “You gon’ get this work.” The infamous words, coined by Loaded Lux during his now legendary battle with Calicoe, have appeared everywhere from SportsCenter to Jay-Z’s Twitter timeline. But is the battle rap community prepared for the money and fame sitting clearly on their horizon?

Battle rap is hip hop at its purest essence; mixing art, showmanship and competitiveness it’s been one of the most exhilarating forms of entertainment around since ciphers first started forming in 1970’s New York City. But although it’s flirted with the mainstream in the past— “Freestyle Fridays” on 106 & Park and MTV’s “Fight Klub” built on the momentum the Internet helped build for battling— battling has never seen even a sliver of the limelight that’s shined on the rap industry for almost two decades now.

Aside from classic battles that still live on YouTube and tales of legendary showdowns between the likes of Jay-Z, DMX and Big L, the history of battle rap has not been well-organized or documented. URL founders SMACK, E. Beasley and Cheeko have capitalized, creating a self-sustaining league with its own stars and storylines. Much like the mixed-martial arts league UFC, which was overlooked in favor of boxing for years before overtaking its popularity in the past decade, URL poses an interesting challenge to a struggling commercial rap industry.

The irony of the shift in popularity is that for so many years, battle rapping was a minor league step for MCs hoping to get signed to a major deal. Now, with budgets low and labels struggling, this budding underground culture has dollar signs written all over it. But is it possible to protect this street art from corporate wolves without stunting its growth?

Only the future will tell, but for now, things look bright. Lux is the perfect star to bring this game to the forefront. His Summer Madness battle was the right coming out moment for a culture that’s gotten more vibrant with each year. We remember “that work,” but his preparation was killer and he gave a clinic in stage presence that somehow made everyone forgive him for choking on his second verse. He’s owned Breakfast Club and Howard Stern interviews that would have shaken his less-polished peers. For now, get used to cringing at rap battle spoofs in popular culture like the battle Whoo Kid and Lux judged on Stern.

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