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Why battle rap makes me a better copywriter.

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What is it?

Battle Rap. A competitive format of rap where two people rap against each other in front of a live audience, on camera, with no music. 

The aim is to win by saying something more witty, offensive or shocking than your opponent. Nowadays there is no music to distract from the lyrics. 

The audience is also free to make their feelings known by booing or cheering. It normally consists of 3 rounds ranging between 3 and 5 minutes each. The winner is normally decided unofficially by the live and online audience. 

Love at first listen.

I watched my first battle 5 years ago on YouTube and was instantly hooked, mainly because I was fascinated with the exceptional level of lyrical intricacy, competitiveness and skill. It was so much higher than most of the rap that was being pushed. 

I also found the blend of verbal combat, showmanship and skill fascinating to watch.  

It’s literally a war of words. 

You do have to take some things they say with a pinch of salt though, similar to WWE, they are all playing characters, which they take quite seriously as they are brands too, but they are all playing a role.

If everything they said was true they’d all:

  • Be drug dealers, on the level of El Chapo

  • Be millionaires

  • Have a gun collection that could rival the NRA

  • Have more sexual partners than Giacomo Casanova

  • Be the world’s greatest battle rapper

In reality nobody has a “Gun so big they had to drag it home” that would be counter intuitive. But then again, Kane never actually killed anyone and Rick Ross never sold drugs, so we have to cut them some slack.

I wouldn’t advise you to watch any battle with your mother or grandmother, unless you enjoy seeing them disgusted. Some of the battlers say some incredibly hurtful, yet brilliantly creative things. 

However, once you separate the coarseness of some of the lines or “bars” as they are referred to, and focus on the skill level it took to say it, you’ll probably have a newfound respect for all those who compete in this sport. 

I don’t drink, but I love a good bar.

Loaded Lux vs Calicoe, 2012

Some battlers actually use their platform to educate people. For example, Loaded Lux, a legendary figure within battle rap, had an epic battle with Calicoe and asked him -

Is your money being long, worth your lifespan being shorter?

Which made me pause the video and nod my head vigorously in approval. 

As someone who’s seen so many young men go down that path that line really hit home. 

He was alluding to the fact Calicoe prides himself on being a violent gangster who makes lots of money but risks his life to do so. 


Even the most threatening bars can be said so exquisitely that they sound poetic. 

Rum Nitty vs Ill Will

For example, in the Rum Nitty vs Ill Will battle, Rum said to Ill:

I seen ill/Ill in the lobby, I grabbed the nose running, I’m coming down with something

He used an illness scheme (where a rapper takes a theme and uses a bunch of related double entendres to make a point) 

When you’re ill/sick your nose may run and you may grab it. A common saying when you get a cold is “I’m coming down with something” The theme of having a cold or being ill runs right through these lines. 

In this case what Nitty really means is that he’s coming downstairs with a snub nose revolver to shoot Ill. Even Ill Will approved of this bar. 

Ave vs Chess

“I come out the cave with the tray, I feel like batman butler” Ave used what’s commonly known as a double entendre - a phrase with a double meaning. 

In the Batman comics and movies Alfred really does come out of the bat cave with a tray - of food for Bruce Wayne, but Ave flipped the meaning of cave (he was part of a rap ground called cave gang) to symbolise stepping away from his group and doing things on his own.

He also flips the word tray/tre - which is short for tre pound which is an American slang for a .357 magnum handgun. 

So a plain English translation/interpretation is “He doesn’t need the backing of his crew, he’ll do damage to you on his own” 

Big T vs K Shine 

“I ain’t talking bunny ears when I put up the piece behind his head.”

This bar is from Big T, who essentially said he will put a gun to your head, but in such a beautifully crafted way. 

He’s playing on a common habit of people putting the peace sign which looks like a shape of rabbit ears behind someone else’s head in photos as a joke. 


He turned something so harmless and fun into something so vicious. 

Hollow da Don vs Tay Rock 

You act tough in blogs but when I see you you change instantly. Take the fatigues off  in 2K I wanna see that same energy. - Hollow da Don.

2K is short for NBA 2K a popular basketball console game series. There is a setting on the game where fatigues or stamina can be switched off so players never get tired.

The phrase “keep that same energy” means that if you’re aggressive to someone when they are not there you should be the same when you see them. 

Hollow is indicating that Tay Rock spoke ill of him when he wasn’t around, but became friendly when he saw him in person. (before the battle of course)

Rum Nitty vs Chef Trez

Get low first, then I’m walking up right on a caveman this is human evolution. 

Rum uses the popular image of the evolution of humans to attack Chef Trez (who is also a member of the rap group cave gang) The get low first then walk right up section symbolises he will creep up on Trez with his body crouched in an aggressive position before rising to do him harm. 

This is a brilliant use of a scientific theory, well done Rum.

How it helps me.

Copywriting is often the art of putting the icing on cake or the candy in medicine. 

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Sometimes the brand message, in its core word form is actually mundane and it’s up to you to make it exciting. 

For example:

Exercise every day, be positive, achieve your dreams. Or you could say Just Do It.

We have all the colours in our packets of sweets. Or you could say Taste the Rainbow. 

Our food is fast but it’s also good for you and we make it everyday. Or you could say Eat Fresh. 

In a nutshell, battle rappers are just saying the following:

  • I’m a better rapper than you/You’re a rubbish rapper 

  • I’m a more violent gangster than you/ You’re a fake gangster

  • I sell more drugs than you/You’re a rubbish or fake drug dealer

  • I’ve got more money than you/ You’re poor

  • I’m more attractive to the opposite sex than you/You’re unattractive 

  • I’m better dressed than you/Your clothes are awful
     

in tens of thousands of different ways, whilst selling a brand (themselves) 

That’s pretty much what I have to do daily for my clients, minus the soul destroying insults and impossibly oversized guns of course.

Now, when I get a brief that allows me more creative freedom (I’m currently working on one but signed an NDA so I can’t talk about it yet) my mind is is rewired from watching hundreds of battles, which allows me to approach the brief in an unorthodox, yet effective way. 

As a result, I’m able to write copy such as Makeup isn’t something you should make up as you go along to advertise a makeup masterclass for said client. 

A simple bit of wordplay with a homonym, livens up the copy a bit. 

I wrote ad copy for Neon Moon with photos of women who are not models in the conventional sense, subverting the beauty industry’s definition of beautiful, which is exactly what Neon Moon want to do. I would never have come up with that had I not watched copious amounts of rap battles.

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Thank you, battle rap.

With some things, you can learn a lot of lessons by separating skill from morality. 

On the surface, battle rap may just seem like overly aggressive people saying hurtful things to each other. 

But look a little deeper, you’ll see that it’s a series of detailed lessons of how to manipulate the English language to inflict emotions on someone under pressure.

Which, come to think of it, is a brilliant, yet daunting job description of what I do for a living.

Until next time,

Asher

Asher HarrisComment