Battle Rap: The Return of Lyricism?
Commercial radio is confirmation that rap lyrics have significantly eroded. Most "hit" songs feature a catchy hook phrase and scant evidence of any lyrical ability. However an old form with a new twist may be a saving grace for the lyrically malnourished. Battle rap in the classic Hiphop cipher was the space an emcee showcased her or his skill, or lack, depending on the competition.
It was here that one could show how skilled they were with rhymes ‘off the top of the dome’. Yet as with all things this changed over time. No longer were emcees coming with their best using their wit and sheer improvisation like ancient storytellers or jazz musicians. Nope these emcees were showing up with their cell phones, reading lyrics or rehashing something they heard on a mix website.
Hiphop purists said the art of the emcee was dead. New heads said it was the turn of a new generation. Now we might be at a place where old meets new and it can produce some quality lyrics. In case you have not been to a set, battle rap keeps the sacred space of the cipher but emcees are no longer expected to come of the head, but to come of the pad-notepad.
Although written, the quick wit and the ability to twist similes and metaphors, would make any English teacher proud. While the current crop of emcees in this line of rap have a long way to go in terms of challenging narrow notions of masculinity, homophobia, gun play and n-bombs it still holds out the promise of offering another layer of complexity, critical thinking, and literacy. All of this in a uniquely Hiphop way.