Battle rapping has been one of the foundations of hip hop since the birth of the genre. The thrill of going head to head meets the art and poetry of rap, to create an entirely new experience unique to the genre. Getting into battle rapping is a great hobby and a great way to distinguish yourself in the hip hop community.
To become a good battle rapper, it is important to dedicate time and effort into perfecting every aspect of this unique art form. A good battle rapper will not only focus on their freestyle rapping technique, but also their written raps, persona, mental toughness, stage presence, and confidence.
If you’re preparing for your first rap battle, this is the article for you! Read on to learn more about how you can gain skills in all of these areas to become the best battle rapper you can be.
Try Writing Your Own Raps
Oftentimes, writing your own verses is completely overlooked. Too many people start the journey to battle rapping with attempted freestyle. This majorly jumps the gun!
In order to become a good freestyle rapper, you have to be a good rapper in general. There are several different tips to utilize and aspects to consider when writing your own rap song, so here are just a few things to think about:
Choosing the instrumental elements of your song is so important because it sets the vibe for your whole song. There are so many different aspects to consider when choosing or making your instrumental. For example, the tempo is very important to think about.
If you want to write a song with positive vibes that makes people want to dance, you may want to choose something more uptempo. Additionally, the key your song is in also affects the mood of the listener. Major keys tend to indicate happier songs, where minor keys can be used for more serious songs.
Maybe you don’t want your song to have chords at all, and instead, it is just a beat. This is a great option for intricate lyricism that can standalone. Sometimes, simpler instrumentals make the lyrics of a song much more powerful or poetic.
As you choose or write your instrumental, you can begin to think about the outline of your song, the structure it may follow, and you can even begin scatting or mumbling to the rhythm of the song.
The amazing thing about rap music is that it does such an excellent job of telling stories. Because of this, it is very important to keep the story you want to tell in mind as you’re writing your song. An easy way to do this is to create a storyboard before you begin to write your song.
Laying out all of the important parts of the story you want to tell ensures that none of the key points are left out. Just like an author lays out their plot before writing an actual book, a rapper must storyboard before writing the entire song.
You can do this by listing the main points of the story you want to tell. From there, you can take the instrumental you’ve selected and try to assign placement to all your key points. Fit your key point in the order you want into the sections you want to begin assembling your song structure.
The song structure is another super important aspect of writing your own song. Now that you have all your ideas in order, it is time to divide your song into sections called verses. Your verses are often split apart by the “hook” of your song.
The hook is by far the most important part of your song, as it will be repeated over and over throughout the song. You want to make it catchy and memorable so that your song will be easily identifiable to listeners. Additionally, if you get the hook stuck in their head, they’ll be more drawn to listening again and again.
Once you have written a few quality rap songs and feel confident with the process, it is time to move on to the main event: freestyle rapping.
Practice Freestyle Rapping
Obviously, the most important part of battle rapping is being able to come up with rhymes on the fly. Without any experience, this can seem like an extremely difficult task. However, there are many steps you can take to greatly improve your freestyle abilities.
Once you have written a few of your own rap songs, you can begin to get a feel for the genre and the way songs are structured. Obviously, you will never be asked to do a freestyle for several minutes in the heat of a rap battle. Most battles are around 16 to 32 verses or about the length of one verse.
Similarly to written rap, you’ll want to start with an instrumental and build from there. Once you have your instrumental playing, start to get a groove, and a feel for it. Writing your own raps is going to prove to be very important now.
Freestyle rappers may seem to have lyrics flowing from their head, but oftentimes, this display is a mix of memorization and practice. Rappers will spend hours and hours writing out lists of rhymes, expanding their vocabulary, and coming up with universal insults that are fresh and new. They constantly have all this information stored in the back of their head to use when they head into battle.
Having this information is so important when going to a rap battle. It acts as your ammunition, and without it, you won’t succeed. When you’re gathering your ammunition, it is important to keep these tips and tricks in mind:
- Multi-word rhymes are typically more impressive than single word rhymes. Pro battle rappers will tell you to want to avoid “Dr. Suess” type rhymes. While “Hop on Pop” is an incredible rhyming feat for a children’s book, rap battlers are more impressed by phrases that rhyme. When you use these multi-word rhymes, they sound more professional and well thought out.
- Some of the most well-received lines are insults. If you have seen any movie where there is a rap battle, you know that most of the battle consists of artists flinging insults back and forth until the winner is declared. Anything is on the table when it comes to rap battles too, so hopefully, you don’t intimidate easily.
- Take your insults to the next level by making them creative and humorous. Everyone has heard the same run-of-the-mill jokes that are meant to be degrading. No one will be impressed if you show up to a rap battle armed with nothing but “your mom” jokes as your insults. The more original and comical you can make your insults, the more impressive they will be. Come up with a list of universal insults you can use if you’re ever struggling for words.
The more of this lyrical ammunition you have stored, the easier freestyle rapping will become. Keep finding new beats and instrumentals to practice with, and in no time you will be delivering professional sounding verses in the comfort of your own home.
Once you’ve gotten extremely confident with your skills as a freestyle rapper, it is time to work on the other components of rap battling that will take you to the next level.
Develop Your Own Rap Persona
The first thing you have to consider when getting ready to go to your first rap battle is the persona you want to display. This can be somewhat tricky. You want to find a persona that people find interesting and entertaining, while also staying true to who you are.
Let’s look at Drake. Throughout his career, he has had a theme of coming from nothing and growing into the hip hop icon he is today. He even has a song called “Started From the Bottom,” claiming he came from a life of little means.
However, fans were quick to point out that this was far from the truth. Drake grew up in the lower middle class of Toronto until he landed a starring role on the hit TV show Degrassi. He was far from starting at “the bottom,” as he so claimed, and many have deemed him “fake” because of his thug act and his better-than-you attitude.
This is the kind of thing you should try to avoid when choosing your rapper persona. Don’t rap about being poor if you’re not. Don’t act rich if you’re not. The important part of choosing a persona is making it an extension of who you are.
For example, if you’re an extremely funny person, you should try and bring as much humor into your rapper persona as possible. Your persona is what you will become known for and what you will be remembered by. It should encapsulate who you are as an individual, as well as an artist.
Build Up Your Mental Toughness
As mentioned previously, rap battles are mainly lyrical and poetic insults traded back and forth to a beat. Though this may look like all fun and games in the movies, it is not so easy to get insulted in front of a crowd you are desperately trying to win over.
Rap battles are not for the easily intimidated or faint of heart. If you are on the softer side, and still want to battle, have no fears! There are ways to work on your mental toughness in order to prepare yourself for your first rap battle.
Remember all the time you spent practicing and learning insults and more insults that rhyme with the one before? Odds are, the rapper in front of you who just insulted your clothes or your face or your flow has done the same thing.
If you ever get an insult thrown at you that particularly stings, just remember that it’s probably not even directed at you. The rapper probably came up with it sitting in his home by himself.
You can get wound up by the things that may have been said to you in the heat of the moment, but at the end of the day, these rappers are just other artists coming with their own ammunition. Don’t take it personal!
If role reversal isn’t for you or you can’t seem to shake the feeling that you’re being personally attacked, then maybe try tuning out your opponent completely. It may feel strange at first, and you may feel like you should be listening. However, you can use this time to stay in the right headspace and even get ready for your next verse, if you have another one.
While this method may be a valid one for beginners who are not used to the insults, it may not be a super viable option for seasoned rap battlers. As you get better and better at rap battling, you may start to notice that some rappers will incorporate counter-arguments or rebuttals into their verses.
In order to do this, you have to actually listen to what your opponent was saying. They may even be rebuking your points, and you don’t even know. Try slowly listening to more and more of what your opponent has to say in order to try and thicken your skin. Soon, you’ll be listening to their entire verse unphased, ready to make your counter-argument.
The Underwear Method
Though this may seem juvenile, there is some logic to it. Imagining your opponent in their underwear puts you in a position of power over them and makes them seem more vulnerable. This can give you a level of added confidence and make you less affected by the insults they are throwing your way. It’s all in the mind bro 🙂
Work on Your Stage Presence
Just like with your persona, your stage presence should be all about who you are. Take what makes you, you, and lean into those qualities. Push your limits and dare to perform outside of your comfort zone.
One important thing to remember when claiming your stage presence is that you have plenty of room, so use it all. This may be more applicable when you’re on an actual stage, but it can still be used in rap battles. Remember who will declare the winner — the audience. Take the time and show them you see them and appreciate them. This can be done just through your body language.
Reach out for high fives after a particularly good insult on your part and chat with people around you negating what your opponent says about you (obviously, this should be done in an extremely respectful manner. You should never be talking over them, but a “nah” or “no way” here and there is totally acceptable).
A great way to get comfortable taking up space is through dance. While it may be a bit strange busting a move in the middle of a rap battle, it may be beneficial to have a background in dance to learn how to take up space. Dancing is also a great way to get more comfortable moving your body in a way that looks aesthetically pleasing.
If you don’t have a background in dance, don’t worry! A lot of local community centers offer dance classes at low prices. If dance class doesn’t seem like your thing, audition for a musical at your community theater! It may not fit the rapper image, but you get stage experience while learning to dance at the same time. Musical theater can make you a more well-rounded performer, and it will definitely be impressive in your rap battles.
Even if theater or classes aren’t your thing, it’s still really important you get a sense of how to move your body without looking like a fool. Start dancing at home and watching yourself in mirrors. Take note of the moves you like and look cool doing and replicate them until they’re seamless. If you do them enough, they will become second nature and will happen naturally during your rap battles, and you’ll look very cool.
Confidence is the last factor to think about when starting your rap battle career. Though it may seem trivial, it is truly one of the most important parts and also one of the hardest parts of rap battling.
It is daunting whenever you are trying something new, and there is not much you can do to calm these nerves until you dive in headfirst. Your first rap battle will probably be scary, but your second won’t feel nearly as bad as the first.
The more you face these fears and conquer your nerves, the more confidence you will gain. With practice and persistence, after a while, you will stop getting nervous altogether.
After reading all of this, hopefully, you have a better understanding of the work it takes to become a battle rapper and the steps to take to get there. Just remember, this may be a slow process, and it may be very difficult at times. However, just remember that all the great battle rappers started where you are and look how far they’ve made it. You’ll make it too.
- Music Industry How To: How To Battle Rap For Beginners – Ultimate Guide To Getting Good & Winning!
- Wikihow: How to Freestyle Rap: 14 Steps (with Pictures)
- Ask Men: How To Prepare For A Rap Battle
- Wikihow: How to Freestyle Rap: 14 Steps (with Pictures)
- Quora: Which rappers do you think are entirely faking the rapper persona?
- Sonicbids: 5 Ways to Improve Your Stage Presence
- Musician on a Mission: 10 Stage Presence Tips EVERY Musician Needs