While hip-hop has gone softer than baby shit in recent years, Kendrick Lamar has proven once and far all just how important battle raps can be. His verse on Big Sean‘s “Control” pretty much blindsided everyone, and caused a tidal wave of responses. Which is exactly what rap needed – a call to arms to help separate the sheep from the wolves.
Kendrick’s verse was solid, no doubt, and he didn’t mince words. Even eliciting a response from the Zen Master himself. But as far as battle rhymes go, it was still just a friendly jab. Truth is, when aligned against other notable verses, it’s just another blip on the radar. Here are five lyrics (plus a bonus ‘Pac verse) that ought to put it all into perspective.
Canibus – ‘Beasts from the East‘; (1997)
At the height of the uber-conscious era, hip-hop was inundated with self-gratifying, slightly annoying hippie talk – a love fest that buried the art of battling under a dusty pile of crocheted hats and backpacks. And just when you thought it was going to reach a breaking point in walks Canibus who roared across the plains like a boss. Okay, so he couldn’t make a decent studio album if his life depended on it, but at the end of the day he’s still remembered as one of the greatest battle rappers of all time: [LISTEN]
Common – ‘The Bitch In Yoo‘; (1996)
Common wasn’t always a strawberry daiquiri on the mic. He was once a gritty lyricist with enough rhymes to make your head spin. His style, up until Like Water for Chocolate, was straight Chicago – the Gaza Strip so to speak between conscious studio rap and anything goes street cyphers. “I Used to Love H.E.R.” was the jam, and of all people Ice Cube was the one to take offense, claiming that it was a shot at the West Coast. The quarrel was a no contest. Com put a lock on Cube like Debo did Craig only this time there was no random brick to save him: [LISTEN]
Queen Latifah – ‘Name Callin‘; (1996)
Before Queen Latifah was living single or hangin’ with Mr. Cooper she was crackin’ skulls as the illest female rapper alive. On this blazing diatribe she throws one haymaker after another at Foxy Brown – who at the time was taking aim at Latifah’s sexuality. Not a good idea. For one, Foxy Brown is a lyrical barnacle, hanging on to stronger other more established rappers to define her style. Queen Latifah calls her out on it, and proceeds to shred her into thin little pieces. She had no idea what hit her. Long live the Queen: [LISTEN]
Dr. Dre – ‘Fuck Wit Dre Day‘; (1993)
Not only is The Chronic a seminal rap album, it’s also a prime example of just how badass Dr. Dre is. “Fuck Wit Dre Day” is arguably the biggest hit on the album, and in it he operates mercilessly on three MCs at once – Luke, Eazy-E, and Tim Dog. The accompanying video confirms any and all suspicion as to who it was directed at too. Each got a swipe from Dre’s mighty pimp hand, but it’s the homey Snoop who puts it all into perspective – a verse that will forever be etched on hip-hop’s back door: [LISTEN]
The Notorious B.I.G. – ‘Who Shot Ya‘ & 2Pac – ‘Hit ‘Em Up‘ (1995 & 1996)
What would a list like this be without mentioning Big and ‘Pac? Their senseless bickering was the focal point of the East Coast/West Coast beef, and is an example of how senseless battle raps can be when not properly checked. Forget Cube and Common, this battle royale was the war that ended all wars. After their murders, “battles” became nothing more than studio concoctions with a few empty threats sprinkled in between. The beef began when Pac felt that Biggie was taking a jab at him with “Who Shot Ya?” [LISTEN] which Biggie denied. ‘Pac responded with “Hit ‘Em Up,” [LISTEN] and the rest, sad to say, is history: