I wrote this feature last year for Rhythm Circus, essentially to provide people who are not necessarily in tune to hip-hop, with a bit of background info on battle rap and specifically the Don’t Flop battle league here in the UK.
Despite considerable spotlight being thrown on the art form in Eminem’s rather underwhelming cinematic debut 8 Mile, battle rap (essentially verbal sparring in rhyme form) remains one of the least explored domains in the hip-hop world. In fact, even many seasoned hip-hop vets can only boast a hazy knowledge of battle rap history, which has seen a steady evolution over the past few years. From being a predominately freestyle-based sport performed on stage at such tournaments as Scribble Jam (essentially hip-hop’s Woodstock), its scope was expanded by the introduction of 2-on-2 tag-team battling championships and has advanced further still to its present-day incarnation as a written, a cappella format, requiring competitors to prepare and memorize entire verses weeks or even months before the battle. Enter Don’t Flop: the UK’s one-stop-shop for battle rap in its latter-day form.
Don’t Flop, the UK’s premier battle rap league is the brainchild of Rowan Faife, a.k.a. Eurgh, a battle MC who reached the semi-finals of the 2007 World Rap Championship in New York, and his close friend Freddie Scott-Miller, himself a talented battle MC who goes by the name of Cruger. When battle rap looked as though it might just have died a death after urban entertainment company Jumpoff, who essentially ran the battle scene from 2005-2007 disbanded all its battle rap operations claiming the art-form appeals only to a niche market, battle emcees decided to take matters into their own hands by creating their own leagues independent of corporate backing. Grind Time was founded in America soon to be followed by King of the Dot in Canada and it is then that Rowan and Freddie saw a necessity to fill the gaping void here in the UK. A renaissance began and as UK hip-hop boasts many veterans of the battle scene and some of the best freestylers (i.e. those MC’s able to improvise their rhyme schemes and punchlines) in the world, it seemed sacrilege to the art form to simply let their talents go by the wayside. Don’t Flop was founded as a “written battle league” whereby competitors are made aware of their opponents weeks or even months in advance to allow sufficient time to craft elaborate, hard-hitting verses.
The rationale here is that when MC’s are allowed more time to prepare, the content in battles will subsequently improve thus improving their entertainment value.Moreover, written battle leagues can encourage a greater number of MC’s to participate, i.e. MC’s who may be good writers but can’t necessarily freestyle well enough to hold their own in an impromptu battling set-up. That said, if executed judiciously, improvised or premeditated rebuttals and freestyles will often score top marks when mixed in seamlessly with written verses.
Being a grassroots movement and founded by and for battle MC’s, the league has great strength in unity by those who look not for any great financial gain but who are passionate about maintaining and strengthening the status of the art-form as well using the exposure they get on Youtube (see. http://www.youtube.com/dontflop) as a means of increasing their fanbase.The battle rap community is a close-nit network of like-minded individuals who champion the art of sublime, creative lyricism over anything else. Hip-hop heads can instantly recognize the merit in how battle emcees implement all the technical aspects of rapping through complex multisyllabic rhyme-schemes and structured cadences, with the overall intent of degrading their opponent in the cleverest way possible. To the casual spectator, this can just seem like a frenzy of abusive insults being hurled back and forth but scratch away this caustic veneer and you discover battle rap to be a consortium of talented wordsmiths.
The vitriol opponents have for one another is reserved almost entirely for battles, and MC’s will rarely ever come to blows over what’s quoted in an opponent’s verse. Indeed, for all the outrageous racist quips and eye-watering character assassinations in battles, the battle rap community is itself inclusive and diverse, with people from all walks of life of various creeds, colours and social backgrounds. From a buck-toothed Scouser called Oshea, one of the league’s most prolific emcees, to Sensa, an uncompromising, stern-faced emcee from Norwich, Don’t Flop is an aesthetically motley collective of individuals but is far from gimmicky – it is a serious investment of time and effort by all those involved and being a competitor in the league requires a lot of skill, preparation and credibility. Anyone coming ill-prepared or with woefully generic disses risks being relegated to the lowest tiers of the division. On the flipside, the kudos gained from proving yourself as a worthy opponent is immeasurable.