Battle rap is the competitive performance of MCs attempting to beat their opponent by roasting and boasting. The sport is known for its ‘anything goes’ ethos, where offence is the aim of the game. Therefore, it has remained in the underground for many years. However, the concept is now as common and commercial as rap itself, with the BBC, ITV and multiple movies all cashing in on clashes. Despite its prevalence, UK battle rap lacks the mass following associated with scenes around the world. So here’s a listicle for you.
We breakdown 11 leagues battling on our shores, ranging from high production companies to punkish communities. The UK scene is thriving and does a lot to tackle its negative stigma. LADbible’s mental health battle event and the annual Battling Demons: For Pete’s Sake are two example of this, where the positives of poetic punchlines are brought to the forefront. Support the leagues below and look out for flyers in a city near you. Most have online forums for staying up to speed as well as try-out events for sharpening your word weapons…
Key figures: Eurgh / Sean / Hulk
Associated channels: Battles and Bars
Synonymous with UK battle rap, Don’t Flop has paved the way since 2008. They have the largest catalogue of battles and the greatest following. After a rift in the company during 2017, prominant staff members departed, including co-founder Cruger. In the last few years, the brand has regained steam hosting many popular events across the country, reaching new artists and audiences in innovative ways. Craft-D is the current champion, with Shuffle T and Marlo holding the doubles’ title, Quill the world title, and Press1 being the most recent rapper to hold the on-beat title. They are the first battle league to have their own hot sauce, Ate Mile.
Most viewed battle: Shotty Horroh vs Arsonal
Key figures: Bison Briggz / Shotty Horroh / Bloodstro
Originally a team-based battle league for the scene’s upper tiers, Premier Battles emphasises the sport aspect of battle rap. Known for their high quality production and slogan of ‘Where winning matters’, this Manchester-based league has been the scene’s frontrunner in recent years. Their Academy programme helps to foster new talent and the brand also operates a subscription network with additional content. Their main channel hosted the footage from Battling Demons, a scene-wide effort in memory of Pete Cashmore. Matter will defend his title belt against Unanymous at the lext big event.
Most viewed battle: Shotty Horroh vs John John Da Don
Rap Is Full
Key figures: Ruairi / Matt / Tony / Podge / Deborah
Associated channels: Section6
Though not technically in the UK (sorry), Rap Is Full have put Ireland on the battle rap map. The Irish have one of the most exciting scenes and liveliest crowds, drawing huge international names to their Broken Resolutions events. They have a solid roster of battlers from across the two territories, including Nugget, Haidees, Jonny Darko, Gwame and Row B. As well as the big names, Rap Is Full make sure to grow their own fresh talent, with the likes of Carl French, Scabman The Scauldy, Seanie Mac and Lizzy C all fighting through the ranks. Liverpudlian legend Oshea will take on USA’s A Ward at Broken Resolutions III next year, an event set to take levels even higher than round two. Also, peep our Destroy & Rebuild recap for a taste of the carnage.
Most viewed battle: Oshea vs The Saurus
Code Red Culture
Key figures: Danny Jaqq / Craig
One of the leagues that sprang out of Don’t Flop‘s dry spell, Code Red Culture helped occupy many of the same battlers and venues. They’ve been home to legendary performances from Frankie Phraser, Real Deal, Dialect and Scoop, with their Next In Line events selling out in record time. Interestingly, Code Red and Don’t Flop had a collaboration event planned for Amsterdam this year, but that seems to be on hold. Instead, Code Red have just announced Presents, an exclusive day of battles in aid of Black Lives Matter. Make sure you donate and cop the PPV when it drops.
Most viewed battle: Gemin1 vs Shox The Rebel
Key figures: MacKenzie
Glasgow-based battle league Iron Barz are making their mark up in Scotland. With MacKenzie at the helm, they’re currently running live ‘battlestreams’ to keep content pumping through lockdown. Their style has a real UK hip-hop flavour, with cyphers and on-beat battles common in both the pit and smoking area. Respek BA, Acre and Bold Yin always hold it down, along with plenty more MCs travelling across the country to battle. Soul might be Scotland’s biggest BR export, but he’s yet to appear on the Iron Barz channel. Let’s hope he’ll be going toe-to-toe on his home turf soon.
Most viewed battle: Chris Leese vs EVIL
Key figures: DTH / Chip / Kofi / Conman Curve
Representing South Yorkshire, DubScandal are known for having one of the most fun atmospheres in the UK. High standard battles do exist on the platform, but Dub will happily welcome entry-level rappers for their many comedic clashes. They are an essential cog in the wider battle rap machine, with Maverick, Milky, Darpa and many more all cutting their teeth in the league. Typically held at The Palm Tree pub in Sheffield, their free events are perfect for trying-out and having a laugh. League owner DTH is currently fighting for the top spot in Premier Battles’ Academy, so all the best to him!
Most viewed battle: Mos Prob vs The Calcium Kid
Key figures: Kick Nelly / Georgie Roots
Associated channels: The Lifted Ones
A fresh league harking back to the grass-roots style of classic UKBR, Beast Anglia put on for the Colchester/Cambridge/Essex/Ipswich gang. They’ve taken an alternative route to publishing battles, posting them first to Facebook where exposure and views have been higher. Dooks vs Haruspex is their most popular battle in that regard, although all may change when Georgie Roots finally takes on Bobby Rex. Peep our interview with Georgie Roots to find out more about the league taking over pub floors in the East. Also, shouts to Kick Nelly who’s hoping to tear up Premier Battles’ Academy this year.
Most viewed battle: Georgie Roots vs Tatum MC
Art of Rap
Key figures: Man Like P / Tanika Tan
London-based league Art of Rap are a rising brand who started their clashes in the streets. Past events have been hosted in Waterloo graffiti tunnel and their first proper ticketed event drew an impressive audience of battle fans. The hip hop platform also throw cyphers and radio shows making sure to cultivate all facets of rap. They’re building their own stack of killers, with the poet Moak sitting at the top. Regular names include Black T, Ferns, and Reckless Stay Primo, so make sure you get aquainted before the next showdown. Art of Rap are supported heavily by BRIL, shining a light on leagues big and small.
Most viewed battle: Moak vs Photoboy
Word of Mouth
Key figures: Blessed / Kizz / Sinsink / DJ Supernova
The South typically has a battle rap drought, but Word of Mouth are consistently proving that Portsmouth can punch. Since 2018 the league has supported local artists through a variety of events, including Grab Da Mic music nights, Rhyme & Grind skate events and Battle Grounds clashes. UK hip hop legends Tenchoo and Big Daddy Rap Beast are often in attendance, holding it down for Hampshire. WoM are still a fledgling battle league so expectations aren’t high, creating an enjoyable atmosphere for gaining experience in the ring.
Most viewed battle: C-1 Beatz vs Dockem
Key figures: Jake The Ripper / Saykridd
Next up is Pryme Cut, a Welsh brand fighting their corner of the UK. Run by the ex-champion of the now defunct Epic Bars, they’re more than just a battle league, fuctioning as a record label, media team, clothing brand and studio specialists. Crash is currently considered their most active battler, although most of his clashes now occur far from Cardiff. It’s uncertain whether the league will return to their dark hostel basement, or even return at all, but for the sake of Welsh battle rap, we hope they bring back the bouts.
Most watched battle: Dex vs Ddot
No Loose Chat
Key figures: Pariz / Snupe / Tali / Rivers / Jai
From the ashes of Gift of the Gab rises No Loose Chat. With top tier battlers working behind the scenes, this London league believe that “Words can elevate, words can destroy, choose wisely”. Their debut card The Statement was supposed to set a precedent, but unfortunately the COVID crisis stepped in its way. International stars were all over the lineup, as well as the mighty hometown clash of Rivers vs Templar Surfer Kid. In the meantime, Pariz and Jai are keeping things popping with The Litty Committee live streams every Sunday. Look out for announcements soon as the battling ball starts rolling again.
Written by: James Wijesinghe