In the decade since 8 Mile, the art of battling has become mainstream and big business. But recently it's faced controversy, with one rapper accusing another of paying for his rhymes. In the world of competitive battling, this is strictly verboten.
A January bout for Canadian battle league King of the Dot saw its champion, Los Angeles rapper Dizaster, taking on the Canadian former champ Arcane. During the introductions, where rappers usually shout-out their friends and promote their projects, Dizaster instead read a transcript from an online chat, insinuating his opponent had purchased lines from fellow MC Caustic. Dizaster focused on this point for the full three rounds — the two MCs almost came to blows — before an undeterred Arcane ultimately won judge's decision.
It all happened in front of the event's famous co-host, rapper Drake, and has become battle-rap's biggest scandal since last year's Canibus meltdown.
Arcane has since released a statement claiming the following order of events: In December, on the way to a different tournament, Caustic was stopped at the Canadian border and was thus unable to compete against a particular opponent, leaving Arcane to take his place. Arcane promptly asked him on Facebook for any ideas he was now unable to use, which Caustic was happy to provide. After winning, Arcane Paypaled Caustic a portion of the prize money with the message “Merry xmas homie.”
A decade ago, this kind of thing probably wouldn't have happened. 2003's biggest freestyle battle tournaments Scribble Jam and Brainstorm (both now defunct), prided itself on not containing pre-written rhymes. In the mid-2000s, the rise of openly pre-written battle leagues (an art form unto itself) such as Smack, Fight Klub and Jumpoff became the standard.
In the wake of Jumpoff, which was the first league to organize battling on an international scale, regional leagues like King of the Dot sprung up, taking advantage of growing internet technology to make acapella rap battles available worldwide.
In a 2009 match-up between two of the decade's most respected competitors, Illmaculate and The Saurus, the first major allusion to admitting “ghostwriting” came out in the open. Illmaculate ended his final round specifying which of his former teammate Saurus' most celebrated lines were actually his. But even this claim didn't spark as much controversy as Dizaster's. He gave his side of the story on a recent episode of Jeff Weiss and Nocando's podcast Shots Fired.
For his thoughts on all of this we turned to King of the Dot West's host and organizer LushWon. A veteran himself, he recalls a battle once where a competitor began using rhymes from a well-viewed televised battle and mixtape, at which point Lush and others begin rapping along with the perpetrator in question. “Back then, if you were borrowing cadences of styles from other rappers it was frowned upon. [Using their] lyrics was unthinkable.”
“I think that advancement in lyricism is the core of the importance of the battle rap movement within hip-hop culture,” he goes on. “Thus, ghostwriting should be frowned upon and discouraged.” Anybody looking to ghostwrite for rap battles should “concentrate on a music career and not a competitive lane focused on technical prowess of one's artistry,” he concludes.