The widespread, globally accepted Hip Hop culture has been renowned for its complex, multifaceted art platform which has over the decades grown into an international industry of diverse communities. The battle rap scene has also not been left behind as the nostalgia of competitive lyrical prowess is also establishing itself as an online community affording the continuation of lyrical exhibitions as talented men and women engage in verbal warfare entertainment.
The battle rap community has grown into a format of leagues where platforms facilitate what used to be happening in street corners and backyards evolving into reputable productions available for entertainment online. The battle rap community's empowerment role has translated into a finer comprehension of the Hip Hop cultures adaptation across contexts.
The subculture has also been categorized as a sport attracting the same excitement and attention from celebrities promoting its growth. The 3 x 5-minute round format has brought match ups making names out of nobodies and attracting big industry names in the crowd or on-stage co-hosting or participating in a bout. Though prominent in the United States, rap battle leagues today may also be found in Canada, the United Kingdoms and a noticeable presence closer to home South Africa. The acapella slam poet feel of rap battles makes for the enjoyment of sophisticated lyricism and unique heartfelt storytelling of experiential truth from some of the men and women during some of their exchanges.
The role of digitization has allowed for a ripple effect in the socio-economic impact of the battle rap community as media outlets bring us productions from their events available for replay-ability on their youtube channels. The You Tube indicators reveal quite well that the internet is definitely consuming battle rap- no doubt. The lucratively of the battle rap community seems to translate into the market place as those within the spaces, stages and networks have legitimate proximity to an increase in fame and relative social capital in the Hip Hop industry. Its arguable in certain parts of the world where there are traces of mainstream opulence, battle rap has evolved into a "subculture lucrative enough for mid to top tier competitors to live off". The cross-culture conversation seems to be a common language of formation, strong street relevance and a headstrong mentality respecting credible self-made crafts across the platforms. The rise of the fine art finds resonance on grassroot levels showing strong appreciation for the "bottom-up" approach and attention to detail characterized by the nature of the lyrical content the art form represents and the unique diverse brands finding expression in it.
The dividing line which categorized Rap music into underground and mainstream due to affluence and lyrical depth has become more technical today as there seems to be a greater acceptance of a more socially conscious approach to mainstream productions than before. The politicized character of rap music which shaped its inception seems to have broken through to general pop culture acceptance as politically charged songs also top the charts easily today. The waves of uprisings in our global politics has generated its fair share of controversy, appropriation and commercialized interests as the narrative interchanges between the events we live out every day retold through the lens of creativity our artists weigh in with. This is truly indicative of the Hip Hop culture finding resonance in the lives of everyday people, across all classes identifying with the narrative through its different interpretations. Mainstream artists seem to be continuing sensitive dialogues surrounding social justice, politics and notable current events in their albums and highly profiled song features. It’s the music environment we have found ourselves in today. Not just limited to radio interviews but artists can communicate to their consumers picking up from the dynamics unfolding on their social media and personal contexts as well.
The impact on socio culture has made for interesting debates with some having a strong political undertone when considering narratives shaping global discussions. This has highlighted that there is a very legitimate acceptance for conscious mainstream entertainment today. Joey Bada$$ deconstructing the 'America' he has come to be acquainted with, expresses witty, socially provocative lyricism and visuals accompanying his latest album "All-Amerikkkan Badass". The culmination of content draws from the police brutality, historical and modern day slavery in America and other identity politics surrounding the internal conflict facing the black communities in the country. The effective communication of a shared struggle in a world of many imbalances sees the establishment of a community doing more than just entertaining nuance constituencies in society. The socially conscious appreciation of rap music has also seen its relevance gain a greater stake affecting public causes and the role of the class struggle today in a fast-paced society. Kendrick Lamar's 'Alright' became a street anthem in the black lives matter protests. When critiqued concerning his narrative he responds to his critics in an interview with TMZ "Hip-Hop is not the problem. Our reality is the problem of the situation. This is our music. This is us expressing ourselves." Most artists still maintain that they can only talk of their experiences and it is up to their constituencies to appreciate the art for what it is- a sincere unadulterated narration of their exprience.
The normalization of shock value in music content today has brought about a sustenance in the growing battle rap scene. The predominately black music genre has also been well criticized for the misogyny, bigotry and all other sort of politically incorrect profanity its content is usually connoted for. The ongoing debate highlights the classical notions of whether the music follows the narrative of society or should the music lead what narrative society should actually hold.
There is a growing encouragement of hope echoing when the dust settles in-between the protests. This finds resonance in a country prevalent for protests across its sectors- politically charged raps are like news networks for the youth. There is room for such content in our industry closer to home as well as politics is not a taboo subject anymore. A big mention has to be given to proponents like Tumi Molekane who has been consistent in his career in doing the work for South African conscious Hip Hop reaching greater frontiers in our growing industry. His contribution to the battle league-scrambles4money has allowed significant spotlight on the movement's attempts to find greater relevance in the bigger scheme of the music industry. There are definitely not without followers and have inspired the future for a fertile ground to plant future music activists who will emulate the spirit of the future Prophets of the City (POC) and HHP's who have done significant works in conscientizing the listeners surrounding the politics of their day. The modern-day identification allows for the production of racially provocative content with enough shock value and political correctness to redefine the tone of the platforms they are emerging on. The transformative power of the culture has allowed an interconnectedness of ideologies, values and perspectives. This growing consciousness has also spilled over to notable television and cinematic productions beyond music continuing the cause for representation and sincere historical reflections. It is quite an astute stance I hold that part of opening up the industry lies in investing more holistically in the conditions needed for subcultures to grow and be established.
1-Protest where pupils, teachers and parents of Mdeni Secondary School (South Africa) blocking a main road because they were fed up with the shortages of classrooms.
(PICTURE: battlerap.com - Don Ladyii VS M.B.D)
2-The Queen of The Ring Rap battle league is the first all women league launched in 2010. The league currently has over 10million YouTube viewers and 50,000 subscribers.
3-Tumi Molekane (left) plays a noteworthy role in shaping SA's contemporary socially conscious scene with his consistent involvement over the years in various platforms including his role in the “Scrambles4money” rap battle league during its inception days.
4-The recent #MenAreTrash outcry against gender based oppression saw a national dialogue resulting in a few sporadic protests as women demand safety and better treatment in society.
5- #FeesMustFall continues as the demand for quality and accessible education remains a heated national dialogue in South Africa.
6-HHP remains an icon always capturing the grassroot dialogues on his music platforms. Wearing a #FeesMustFall tshirt in his video "Pasopa" ft Blacfalcon & Blasto released in 2016.
7-The #BlackLivesMatter protests against police brutality and systematic rights of the black community in America has been narrated from a musical perspective influencing top charting content in the US Hip Hop community.
8-Hip Hop star Drake is known to be well involved in the Canadian rap battle league King of the Dot. He has contributed through co-hosting battle and drawing traction to the movement in other ways too.
9-DJ Reddy D's contribution to the Hip Hop movement in South Africa puts him among the icons as his activism and art where never too far apart during the 80's and 90's as well as his role in gaining Prophets of the City (POC) traction during their prime.
10-A crowd gathers for a Scrambles4Money rap battle event in Jozi South Africa. The rap battle league has succeeded in exposing the noticeable lyrical talent on SA grounds and a market willing to pay for such entertainment.
11-Ooops vs Daylyt remains one of the most heartfelt battles I have watched online. Both contestants are renowned for their precision and creative content among the rap battle leagues internationally.
12-Rated as a definite classic battle on the URL SMACK battle league- Loaded Lux and Calicoe squared off in a jam packed venue with Hip Hop Moguls P Diddy and Busta Rhymes having grand stand views of the stage.
13-Intersectionality among spaces as well as hate crimes remain contentious causes as identity politics in South Africa need to be well respected from government policy enforcements to social awareness on grassroot levels.
14-Kendrick Lamar aims to inspire hope and positivity as one of the most socially conscious mainstream artist globally. His 'Alright' song has been acclaimed as a street anthem for the protests against police brutality in 2015.
By: Thato Sihlali