A Battle Rapper with Autism

By Zain Azrai

I’m a rapper with Asperger Syndrome, an Autism spectrum disorder that affects my ability to socialize and perform basic tasks that normal people find easy. The average person can instinctively understand the unwritten rules of social interaction because his or her brain is built that way. For example, if a woman were to ask you if she looks fat in a dress, you’d instinctively know you’re suppose to say she looks great, or else you won’t get sex. My brain doesn’t work in that way, so I’d be honest and maybe say, “You do look fat, so we should exercise together!” with a straight face and be confused if she won’t sleep with me after having given her logical, practical advice.

I’m forgetful and have difficulty multitasking because I can only think of one thing at a time, so every time I organized MCs from my league to battle overseas and deal with their problems, or battle multiple opponents in a short period of time, it distracted me and my performance suffered. That’s why my best rap battle performance is still against Trettz when I went alone on my trip.

I’m also very obsessive. Sometimes I spend so much time writing punchlines and multis that I mentally block out everything else and forget to do my laundry and other essential things. My emotions are intense. I don’t feel anger. I feel rage. I don’t feel attraction. I feel immense lust. I guess this is why my stage performance seems over the top and the reason I write so many rape rhymes!

I think in pictures (Watch “Temple Grandin” for reference http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpkN0JdXRpM). When I read, “The Saurus,” a rap battle legend, I imagine a literal rapping dinosaur. In my mind, multis are symbolized by physical shapes. “Foundation” rhymes with “Down Payment,” because they have a similar physical structure. My thinking also revolves around mathematics so I spend a long time calculating syllables, bars, and punchlines in my lyrics.

And my principle when battling? It is all about economy, communicating the most content in the least words possible, i.e. Shorter set ups / Fewer filler lines = More punchlines you can fit in one verse = More dramatic impact.

I also think 80% of preparing for a battle is quality research into the following:

A) Your opponent’s personal life and career

99% of this requires detective work. Any battler worth his salt keeps track of all of his publicly known details and prepares rebuttals against them so if you simply talk about what is publicly known, even if you entertain the crowd who know your references, it will not be a strong enough strategy against a quality battler. That’s why you need to learn to dig up the real dirt to give you the edge. If your opponent’s a police informer find your opponent’s police connection and study his country’s legal system so you can diss him in a way that he cannot defend himself.

Understanding how your opponent actually thinks by looking at his life and educational/cultural/economic background is crucial to help you prepare for what you think he might say. Battling is about both defense and offense.

B) The country and crowd in which the battle takes place.

People who pay at the venue are more important than youtube fans who don’t buy anything because they’re more likely to buy your merchandise and music so knowing their taste is the highest priority.

C) Topics that are conceptually related to details of the opponent’s life.

Let’s just say you battle a member of Jurassic 5. Research dinosaurs. Research Islam because some of them are Muslim. How can you conceptually associate dinosaurs and Islam in a unique angle of attack? Iron Solomon’s ‘33 years old’ concept against Eness is a good example.

Because I have Asperger’s, I think like a computer. Computers need a large quantity of quality data to determine a conclusion. The creative aspect of actually making the punchlines is constructed from the foundation of data above.

D) A good haymaker is a combination of:

Wit, i.e. associating 2 unique elements to communicate something in a clever way like Conceited telling Tall-T, ‘I wouldn’t sit in a ‘cell’ if I was a sim card.’, and power, i.e. a dramatic visual image or concept to communicate raw power in a metaphor like Pat Stay telling Bartone, ‘Your softer than your grandmother’s last words before she died.’

A good haymaker has both Wit & Power like Chino XL saying, “Battling Chino’s like Africa, Yeah niggas talk about it, but they don’t really want to go there!”. Putting together Africa with battling is clever but the scathing social commentary of how many African-Americans don’t care about Africa gives the punchline its raw power and humor.

When it comes down to it the winner of a battle is the one with the best overall presentation of Wit and Power in their performance. Good research gives you ample raw material to create the most powerful combinations of Wit and Power possible. This approach to battling is very energy- and time-consuming so when I prepare for a battle, ideally, I would dedicate all my time to writing for a particular battle and not be able to concentrate on anything else without jeopardizing my train of thought. When my train of thought is compromised by external distractions like travel problems, multiple opponents, etc, it becomes difficult for me to remember my bars in detail and perform at an optimum level.

As a child, I made a working vibrator from legos in robotics class because combining my 2 obsessions at the time, sex and robotics, seemed like the most logical conclusion. My teacher could not fail me because, as inappropriate as it was, she could not deny the mechanical ingenuity of my design. My whole life, I found things others would find strange to be normal because in my mind if it works, it works, regardless of how unorthodox it is. Therefore, I write rhymes like a telepath staring at a vagina, “I think outside the box.” I guess that’s why my cult audience likes me.

In today’s over saturated Hip-Hop market it’s important to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other MCs out there in terms of content, presentation and your image as an artist. In spite of all the challenges I have experienced, Asperger Syndrome has helped me achieve that just by being myself.


1 comment
  1. pirateballoon said:

    Will Zain be returning to Don’t Flop any time soon?

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