Rap Battle Getty Images Entertainment/Christopher Polk
By Enrique Grijalva


No one wants to admire and praise a person or a community’s work if they’re egocentric to the extent that they conduct themselves like demigods. That type of behavior vacates any room for validation and acceptance, and is typically filled with backlash, envy, or resistance. The outcome in this scenario is misunderstanding, masked as intellectual superiority, between the creator and their critics.

Enter hip-hop and it’s sub-culture of cyphers and rap battles.

In the late 1970s, hip-hop was born in The Bronx and, of course, it had to incorporate that boastful New York tradition. Even if we’ve gone soft over the last 10 years, we’re still the biggest shit-talking motherfuckers on the planet. So imagine putting together at least six of the wittiest 16-to-24-year-old males from New York in a room (I know some of you fantasize about this shit).

OK, we already have our testosterone. What else do we need? How about some knowledge, awareness, a pulse on current events, an extended vocabulary, charm, humor, and the ability to rhyme? Now throw in a rough upbringing, a few friends, a few weapons, alcohol, drugs, stress, and an empty stomach. Finally, give them Kanye’s ego and make them prove that they’re the best emcee in the room.

Who would want to support this dick-measuring contest? Imagine if your dick was long enough to bridge America and Europe — would you compete for the title of “Biggest Dick Alive”? (All types of pun intended.) No! But it just so happens that bragging rights get you ahead in life. We often misconstrue this as confidence. We’re attracted to confident people. Everyone wants to be attractive.

Look around you. In the social media age, the omnipresent expressions of arrogance are floating through our devices every day, now more than ever. Whether this behavior seeps through blatant or subtle actions behind the camera — it happens there, too. It’s actually encouraged. Think about it: We market ourselves as the best in a job interview, when looking for a mate, playing sports, or running a political campaign. We’ve decided that the only way to survive as a species is to make everyone an enemy and compete to survive (I think that makes sense).

It works on a small scale, too. Whether you participate in cosplay or live by the Skate or Die motto, your subcultures have carved out their Mount Rushmore through competition. And the only competition that rappers and emcees know is battling. If you survive long enough, you hope someone notices you so you can make something out of it.

In my experience, I‘ve only witnessed one fight break out in a battle. Something was said that wasn’t taken lightly and the guilty party consequently took a nap on the street. Several minutes later, an ambulance arrived to make sure the poor boy hadn’t died. I don’t know what to say. Shit happens.

Cyphers are usually a peaceful affair. (You know, that is, unless the cops pull up.) However, if you find yourself in a rap battle, I’d suggest you proceed with caution. You can expect that cliché, raw and in-your-face atmosphere. Sometimes tensions run high and something disrespectful is said which may lead to violence.

Just imagine you’re on the debate team in school and your team has been chosen to make a case for justice for victims of rape. You consider this a personal debate because your little sister was raped. Everyone knows this about you, including your opponent. Then, within the heat of battle, your opponent — who is making a case against victims of rape — blurts out, “That’s why your sister deserved to get raped!” How would you react? That’s why things turn violent. Hip-hop doesn’t tolerate stupidity either.

So why battle? Emcees are egotistical and battling is their sport. Sports determine who the best is through competition, so we compete with one another. (Remember, make everyone your enemy!)

They didn’t create a new game and make up the rules. They merely adapted blueprints which were already in place, united them, and used that to build the foundation of a new, radical culture.