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date: 22 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers how the history and development of battle rapping has influenced the wider trajectory of hip hop music and culture. Starting with a history of battle rap, told with an eye toward changes in the purpose(s), communicative practices, and modes of circulation of battles, the chapter labels three distinct eras: the Party Era (1970–1981), Lyricist Era (1981–1999), and Theatrical Era (1999 to present). These three eras trace the shift to written and rote preparations within rap battle culture, the more prominent role of visual discourse within battles, and a musical shift to an a cappella format. Moving from the very center of hip hop culture, to the peripheries, and back to somewhere in between, rap battling has come to be framed as a subculture within hip hop. Within this frame, the communicative strategies of battle rappers require “decoding,” as does the relationship between battle rap subcultures and hip hop culture. To explicate this argument, the second section decodes some of the communicative practices of a contemporary written battle.

Keywords: battle rap, Kool Moe Dee, Wake Up Show, SMACK/Ultimate Rap League, King of the Dot

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