The only proper ranking of the 50 Best Battle Rappers of all-time
I love battle rap. I believe that you could as well, were you to spend a bit more time with it. It gets in your blood if you do. I’ve been victim to it, wildly and gladly. I go days at a time wondering what battle rap would look like were it made ready for shared consumption, and less niche than it is. As frustratingly self-destructive and contrarian as the community and its artists may be, it remains an achingly pure and beautiful element of hip-hop culture. As delusional as battlers may be about their performances, and as blindly devout as fans may be when comparing their favorites to others and styles, and eras, battle rap embodies so much of what is perfect and affirming about hip-hop culture.
We tribal battle rap fans adore our lists. We need the debate. We need the exchange and the raucous that we tether to our opinions and religiously held beliefs around the art and artists that dwell in our battle rap. We debate who is winning and who won during and immediately after battles. We debate structure and round placement, and content, and believability, and wordplay, and skill sets and remarkable moments and profound impact, and agree and settle on very little, ever. Perhaps these rages we go into around every point of the battle rap spectrum, every fight for every drop of the art form’s blood, is what keeps it tenuously alive.
We, battle rap family, are passionate and brutal, and perhaps our beloved culture couldn’t survive any other way. I imagine that we the body of battle rap, would simply find some other war to wage were we not to have the straw man of battle rap to burn in effigy. Make no mistake, we are bombastic, and appear spent and angry, but we love this art. Perhaps so much so that we enable the questions of who won, and who is better, and which of our gladiators are best, to hobble the growth of the sport.
Art, sports, competitors, communities, need stakes and definitive statements, and battle rap refuses to mature to provide that. We. refuse that growth. Perhaps we fear that the art will leave us and become alien should it grow. Perhaps we are that insecure, as a family.
I step into this space knowing that there is always the debate, often from those battlers so delusional, and fans so quixotic, and a community needing to always fly its various flags. I am going to provide you, us, with the definitive list of the 50 greatest battle rappers of all time. I am not beholden to any league or region or battler, and so you will see a wild mix of all here, as that is the only proper way to compose this essential and chaotic list. I will say a bit about some of my choices but not all.
I should say a bit about my background, because you, likely a battle rap fan, wish to know my biases so that you may argue that these have influenced each of my selections. I am a Clinical Psychologist, a New Yorker, a devout believer in the potential of humans to do great and terrible things, and one raised in the era where battling and cyphers were commonplace. I believe in valuing overall skill sets, and moments. I value battles that look and feel like battles, and I prefer what feels more like a brutal war of words than a comedic exchange masquerading as a battle. I’ve little use for battle rap that appealed to middle America in the early 2000s, and feel far more lovingly about battle rap that remains grounded in the roots of the art form. Feel about that however you will, and you are allowed to.
Let’s get a few of the obvious items out of the way before we dive full into the list. Aye Verb had a brutal down period (Pay Verb) which impacts his all-time standing. History matters, so the groundwork and all-time classic battles of Lux and Mook are given weight here. Impact counts. As do clear wins over top competition. I would factor in things like maturity and demonstrating some sense of reality, but most battlers have a loose and frayed relationship with the reality of their performances and those of their peers. I favor assessing battlers like I do mixed martial artists, meaning that I assess a full battler over having a single exceptional skill (so DNA as a well rounded battler will naturally be placed well above a power punchers like Rum Nitty or Ave).
Further, don’t go hollering about who bested who head to head. Styles make fights, and I am more interested in the balance and fullness of a career, moments in battles, lasting impressions and impact on the public then a single win or loss. You should consider all of that as well. Take a full view, as that is what battles require.
With all that being said, here is the definitive all-time list:
- Loaded Lux 2)Aye Verb 3)Murda Mook 4)Hollow the Don 5)Charlie Clips 6)Arsonal 7)Dizaster 8)Hitman Holla 9)Tay Roc 10)Pat Stay 11)K-Shine 12)T-Rex 13)DNA 14)Goodz 15)John John Da Don 16)Iron Solomon 17)Conceited 18)Calicoe 19)B Magic 20)Jaz the Rapper 21)JC 22)Math Hoffa 23)E Hart 24)Chilla Jones 25)T-Top 26)Serius Jones 27)Rum Nitty 28)Bigg K 29)Head Ice 30)Rone 31)The Saurus 32)Ill Will 33)Daylyt 34)O-Red 35)O’fficial 36)Danny Myers 37)Marv Won 38)Tsu Surf 39)Shotgun Suge 40)Shotty Horroh 41)Cortez 42)Brizz Rawsteen 43)Swave Sevah 44)X-Factor 45)Geechi Gotti 46)40 B.A.R.R.S. 47)Illmaculate 48)Bill Collector 49)Qleen Paper 50)Chef Trez
Just missed the cut: Eyedea, Danja Zone, Ms. Fit, Ms. Hustle, The Saga, Charron, Young Kannon, XCel, B-Dot, A-Ward, QB, Ness Lee, Reed Dollaz, Big Kannon, Quantum Physics, Nu Jerzey Twork, Ave, Chess, Dumfounded, Jin, Pass, Mike P.
You won’t see very many “newer” battlers, as they have work to do, but among the relatively newer set, here are those with promise that I could see threatening for spots on the list in short order: Jey the Nitewing, Eazy the Block Captain, Fonz, Yung Griz, Riggz, Real Sihk, J Krooger, Coffee Brown, Lu Castro.
Best Puncher of all time: It truly is Rum Nitty. Not simply his back to back punch rate, but the artistry that he blends in with how he weaves punches together. When he picks up momentum, and is seamless, he is a brilliant craftsman. He has looked nearly unbeatable in some battles, but too reliant on this element of his skill set in others. B Magic was also a monster in his day, but his drop-off was significant and lengthy. Credit also goes to Conceited for being the first of the modern power punchers.
Best overall battler of all time: It’s Murda Mook. I can see a case being made for an Aye Verb, or a John John Da Don, or the less popular Ill Will, but it is Mook. He blends a kind of ring-generalship, with believability, intelligence, instances of aggression, and a feeling that he is simply better than most of the rest of his peers.
Best potential: I am tempted to say Chess, but how many years has the youngster been in the sport at this point? At some point, you are what you are, and he is a gifted, but inconsistent battler, who is fearless and produces frustrating and captivating moments in equal measure. Jey the Nitewing is interesting because he is so different than his peers, and presents as a fully developed thinker and battler, which is rare for the sport. Mackk Myron has been around too long to fit this category, but i would love to see him on bigger stages and on more cards. It is Jey, and we should be glad of that.
Most underrated battler: Its Ill Will, of course. He shows up every battle, has moments, is terribly fun to watch win or lose, and is always in the discussion for battle of the night on any card that he is on. Were he more charismatic, he would be a much bigger star. I was tempted to go with Ms. Fit here as well, as she has been outstanding her entire career, but is hurt by most of her battles being fought on Queen of the Ring.
Best battle of all time: Whenever someone is new to the art, and asks me for which battles they would watch, I like to give them a mix of quality craft and warfare. Rum Nitty vs Ave showed the way in which the sport had matured as a punchers sport, and the exchange between the two was godly. Lux vs Calicoe was terribly important to the culture and solidified Lux’s god tier status, while stamping Calicoe as a top tier mainstay. Dizaster vs DNA was amazing, and the grudge match between Hitman Holla and Aye Verb was another goody. I wouldn’t be mad if you went all the way back to Dumfounded vs Tantrum or T-Rex vs Aye Verb, either. Both are classics, and you should go get familiar with both, if you aren’t already. Jae Millz vs Mook deserves consideration, as does E Ness vs Iron Solomon. My pick, however, is the understated, but brilliant and timeless JC vs Chilla Jones. A nearly perfect 3 round battle.
Most important battle rapper of all time: I consider this a necessary exercise, because of the growth and change we have seen in the sport, all of it essential. At present, I can’t think of a battler who, overall, has been more important to the art than has Daylyt. He is dramatic, transcends the sport and is always entertaining. He loses as often as he wins battles, but there is a kind of genius tethered to his understanding of the moment, meeting and exceeding the expectations of a crowd, and engaging wordplay to attack one’s opponent. There are a few battlers which have a touch of genius about them when they are performing. Twork (That entire battle vs JC), sheesh) is one. Daylyt is overwhelmingly the other. They are both maddening, but brilliant, and have evolved parts of the sport. We see new potential in this sport we love as Daylyt is always changing what he presents.
Part 2 will be coming soon. I’m sure that you will have plenty to say. and I am prepared to rebuttal.