Battle rapping is an art and craft all in itself. There are norms, standards, rules and an entire culture surrounding it.
It’s completely different from writing rap songs as an independent artist.
So in this article let’s talk a bit about how to battle rap. We’ll go over what it takes and what you need to focus on, plus give you some tips on how to write your lyrics for a battle.
If you’re interested in learning how to become an artist, definitely check out our beginner’s guide on how to rap instead.
Otherwise, let’s talk about battling…
What is Battle Rap?
Battle rapping is a form of competition where two or more rappers try to outwit and outperform each other with their rhyming and wordplay.
A battle can be either performed freestyle (coming up with it on the spot) or pre-written. Each battle has it’s own rules, but most of the major battle leagues feature pre-written verses.
Things can get pretty intense and aggressive in nature during a rap battle, as each artists aims to deliver finishing blows to their opponent lyrically. Naturally, things can often get personal…
Battles are judged by a panel or the crowd’s reactions
How to Become a Battle Rapper
In order to become a great battler you need to study the craft. You want to be a dedicated student of the game.
Learn about the various major leagues out there and the top performers in each league.
Study their rhymes, their punchlines, their delivery and everything else about their performance and persona.
Personality & Stage Presence
A big part of any battle rapper’s ability to thrive in this game is based on their personality and stage presence.
How you come off during the battle – including your delivery, but far beyond that as well – can be decisive in swaying the crowd or the judges.
How loud and boisterous are you? Or are you more laid back and cool? Are you very animated when delivering your lyrics or more chill?
You want build a persona that’s likeable, clever and charismatic, yet fierce and not to be trifled with (lyrically).
How you do that is entirely up to you, but it’s an area you want to pay attention to.
Join a Battle League
You’ll only ever become a battle rapper if you actually take part in battles. That’s why it can be a great idea to join a battle league.
Most towns and cities where there are Hip-Hop fans (literally everywhere in the world) will likely have a small local battle league.
If there isn’t one in your city, consider starting one by connecting with other rap fans online. It doesn’t have to be anything major. This is an art form and a craft – monetization comes second. Actually doing it comes first.
Getting Personal & Being Prepared
This is a competitive sport. The idea is to figuratively knock the head off your opponent with your rhymes.
So things will get personal. Be prepared to be insulted for a few minutes straight while a crowd screams “damn!” or laughs.
Whatever you do, don’t react physically. This is a sport. There’s no need for violence.
But having said that…
And the same goes for you – you will likely get personal with your insults towards your opponent. But be cautious because if you cross a line (and no one really knows where that line is) you might just get smacked IRL.
Is it right? Probably not. But FAFO…
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How to Write Battle Rap
Now that we’ve talked about what it takes to become a battle rappers, let’s talk a little bit about actually writing effective battle lyrics.
The best way to write better bars for a battle is to study other dope battle rappers out there. Analyze their lyrics and pick them apart to find out why they work so well.
Use their styles as inspiration to find your own writing style.
Here are a few things to pay special attention to when you’re practicing writing battle lyrics.
Comedy and Cleverness
Since you’re trying to get the best of an opponent, your lyrics will need to be extra clever and will often be comedic in nature.
You don’t have to just throw insults at the other person, but that is a part of it too.
But what you want to make the TOP priority is your ability to be clever.
Not every lyric you write has to be funny, but your overall level of clever needs to be very high.
Punchlines & Wordplay
You should focus on learning how to write great punchlines. A punchline in rap works the same as it does in comedy. You have a specific point you want to make, and you set it up with a little bit of context and story, and then deliver the “punch” in a clever and funny way.
Beyond that, you need to be clever in the way you approach a subject or an insult. You can’t be cliched and just say “you suck.”
You need to find an interesting way to say it – and that’s where studying and mastering wordplay can help a ton.
Everyone loves a good story. But in battle rap it has to be used a bit differently. You can’t tell 32-bars worth of a story before you say what you’re trying to say.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t integrate little bits of storytelling into your insults and jabs. Learn about what makes a captivating story work. Then integrate it into your rhyming.
Don’t go overboard here… Remember, this is battle rap. It’s about knocking your opponent out with jabs and hooks. NOT about telling a story (unless it leads to a great jab/hook).
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Study Your Target
If you’re lucky enough to know who you’re battling before you battle them, it can help to study your target.
That’s much easier nowadays with everyone being on social media. Find things about this person that you can poke fun at.
Call him or her out on something you think is bad, wrong, corny, goofy, etc. in your lyrics.
Of course, if you’re battling someone you don’t know about beforehand, this can be tough. But then you need to try and be quick on your feet.
Size up your opponent and find what there is you can poke at about them in that moment.
Keep a Running Insult Book
Because studying your target can be difficult, it’s an important thing to constantly be working on your craft.
That means you need to be writing a lot of battle raps. Make up opponents in your mind. Battle the characters in a show/film while you’re watching Netflix.
Just keep practicing the craft.
And always be thinking about clever insults and punchlines. When you think of something dope, write it down and keep it for use later.
Having a book/journal of lines, punchlines, insults, ideas and other little bits of info you can use in your battle raps is a game changer.
So keep a rhyme book. There’s no harm in using something in a battle that you randomly thought of months ago.
Study and Practice
It bears repeating that the only way to get really good at battle rapping is to study it a lot, and practice doing it a lot.
You’re going to suck at first. That’s just the natural way of the world when you’re learning a new skill or art form.
Don’t worry about it. Just keep pushing through and pursuing greatness. You’ll find it eventually.
Watch as much battle rap as you can get your hands on. It’s all over YouTube and social media, so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding content.
Go to local battles in your area and meet the battlers there.
And just keep on writing and practicing and learning and studying. Eventually, it’ll all pay off. But you have to put in the work.
This isn’t like rapping regularly. Battle rap is a different beast. But it’s one you can conquer if you study and appreciate the culture.
Pay attention to being clever and witty. Comedy is a big part of battling, so it can help to study great comedians too (especially ones who do crowd work a lot).
Regardless, you need to put in the time to really become great. Don’t let yourself get frustrated if you’re not able to grasp it at first. It will come with time and effort.
And if you really want to step up your ability to write amazing bars, then I highly recommend you check out the books How to Rap and How to Rap Vol. 2 at Amazon – they’re invaluable for anyone pursuing the craft of rap, battle or otherwise.
If you are ready to get your music out there to the world, I highly recommend you use Tunecore – they’re an affordable way to release unlimited music to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more.
Thanks for reading this article on how to battle rap. I hope it was helpful in getting you started.