PURPLE POINTS: Conversations Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of The Color Purple

PhotoGrid_1420714518918In recognition and celebration of the 30-year anniversary of the film The Color Purple the Hiphopscholar will be hosting Purple Points, a series of conversations about the film and its legacy. Purple Points addresses the impact and relevance of The Color Purple. The issues in the film are as significant as they were 30 years ago. Themes range from, self-love, religion, intimate partner violence, entrepreneurism, sexism, and much more. The Purple Points conversations are planned around specific topics and the interviewees’ areas of expertise. Purple Points is a series within the Scholars On video series. Scholars On is a form of collaborative online scholarship. Our goal is to have academic dialogue minus the stuffiness and sometimes limited reach of ideas. This is a space to engage the public and other scholars about approaches to analyzing media. In a seductive media environment, media literacy is critical.  Our idea is to promote a space for more immediate engagement with media at a pace closer to how we experience it.

purple points banner

CosbyShowCast

Cliff Huxtable: Rape, Memory, and The Cosby Show

CosbyShowCast

The Cosby Show entered homes across the nation thirty-one years ago in September of 1984. Ronald Reagan was three months away from his second term. With Reagan winning every demographic group, except African Americans, Reaganomics, would go on to dominate the 1980s. Crack sprawled into U.S. streets. Though overstated by media pundits and politicians, crack cocaine was a visibly disruptive force in the 80s. By 1987, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, crack was reported to be available in all but four states. The number of people who admitted using cocaine on a routine basis increased from 4.2 million to 5.8 million during the 80s. The increase in drug use was followed by a rise in addiction and incarceration rates for black and brown communities. Policymakers eager to be re-elected ran on a ‘tough on crime’ platform, resulting in sentencing laws that disproportionately targeted the working class. Higher penalties for the possession and sale of crack, the cheaper to produce crystal form of cocaine, despite pharmacologically, it being the same drug as cocaine. For example, possession of 28 grams of crack cocaine yields a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first offense. While conversely, it would take 500 grams of powder cocaine for the same sentence. Drug policy reform advocates argued, these laws in effect helped to populate the prison industrial complex with far more black and brown bodies. Adding to this was the empty promise of a rising economic tide for all. Between vilifying the fictitious welfare queen and discussions of black pathology as expressed in the 1986 CBS special report, The Vanishing Family: Crisis in Black America, The Cosby Show emerged as an oasis of respectability, hope and promise.

Dr. Bill Cosby was already a household name by the time of The Cosby Show. From his stand-up routines, groundbreaking 1960s I-Spy series, films and the innovative animated series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids during the 1970s, The Cosby Show was poised to cement Cosby’s legacy and redefine African American representation in prime time. Although Amos ‘n’ Andy would be the first black cast TV show and programs like Good Times and The Jeffersons would follow with images of intact black nuclear families, it was the Cosby Show that set the standard for black families of prime-time. After being rejected by ABC, the struggling network NBC gambled on The Cosby Show. After making changes to the roles of Cliff and Clair Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad from chauffeur and maid to gynecologist and lawyer, The Cosby Show would go on to be the number one rated show for four of its first five seasons. The series with each script (except for one) vetted by Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, was strategically designed to emphasize safe-read so white people will watch, blackness. The Cosby Show dominated prime-time from 1984-1992. Aesthetics (art, music, black college apparel), and celebrity guests offered relatable blackness. A blackness fit for prime-time that could be viewed each week without the complicated details of in-depth exploration. The series, though hugely popular ignited conversations about race and class. The model upper-middle-class Huxtables carried the mantle of respectability with their well-adjusted children and storylines that never sunk beneath the dignity of African American class consciousness. For many African-American families, the show was a retreat from the stereotypical news stories and limited images of African Americans across television and film. For white audiences, the series was proof, since they enjoyed the show that they, and society, in general, was not racist. The series was a reminder that any failings of African American success were individual, not institutional. The series was a reference point of the possibility of the American Dream. For all audiences as one reviewer put it, “the message is racism will end when blacks become successful”. Researchers Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis explored the ideological role TV has in shaping our understanding of class structure in their work, Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences, and the Myth of the American Dream. Jhally and Lewis argue that this idea of success being the panacea for racism ignores the reality that in a class-based society, by definition most people will never achieve this. Racism will persist regardless of some blacks gaining economic success.

Despite the implications of what The Cosby Show means, Cliff Huxtable remained an icon. The patriarch of the Huxtables was a stand-in for real-life model father, Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby, family ad pitchman, and author of 1987s bestseller Fatherhood was America’s favorite father. He was an image of African American success. Cosby on television and off was a living challenge to longstanding assumptions about black men. At his best Bill Cosby was a champion of education, advocate for children and a major force in changing standard media industry practices of keeping people of color out of positions of power. Cosby gave writers, directors and actors of color opportunities and was a key financial contributor to Sweet, Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, the 1971 film credited with birthing a new generation of black cinema. Cosby also used his celebrity status to endorse or narrate educational documentaries such as the classic, Black History Lost, Stolen or Strayed. At his worst he was classist in his appraisals of the poor. An out of touch conservative wet dream. Cosby offered a respected black body espousing cornerstone arguments of the right. The reason, the black working class, are poor folks — is not discrimination or exploitation or even actions on the part of the wealthy. Instead, the black working class is poor because of a lack of the right values, morals and sense of direction. In essence, in spite of opportunity they don’t produce. Maybe the best-known illustration of this was his “pound cake” speech at the N.A.A.C.P’s fiftieth anniversary gala commemorating the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Cos eviscerated the poor. His commentary seemed tailor-made for conservative talk show pundits. A go-to-play in conservative America’s, ‘what’s wrong with black people’ playbook was now coming from the mouth of America’s father, Bill Cosby.

cosby2-620x330Scholars, critics, and fans had a field day. Many wondered, was Cosby right? Had he in fact lost it? Should Cosby air dirty laundry regarding the most vulnerable in our community without contextualizing white supremacy in his analysis? The once venerable Dr. William H. Cosby, America’s fictive father had become a grumpy old man with a grudge against the poor. A divided allegiance seemed to be the final public chapter for Bill Cosby. The once unshakable bond between the public and a celebrity figure was now fractured – something like the love for a childhood-favorite relative who you recently discovered was cheating on their spouse. You might have issues with Bill Cosby’s politics, yet he still symbolized success, Cosby did it the right way. Besides, no matter how you felt, he would always be Cliff Huxtable. This idea came crashing down as stories broke about Bill Cosby’s alleged history of sexual assault and violence against women. Taboo practices of discussing African American shortcomings in public spaces would be tested. A once loved figure and unquestioned pillar of black manhood was now polarizing for a much different reason. Comedian Hannibal Buress is credited with fueling interest in the alleged misdeeds of Bill Cosby. In one of his stand-up routines on October 16, 2014, according to reports, the second time Buress publically used this particular bit, he targets Cosby. Buress told the audience, Cosby has no place to tell black people what to do, because “you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.” Adding with, “When you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ That shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress’.”

This otherwise routine roast of a well-known comedian by lesser-known talent went viral. The commentary sent the world debating Cosby’s innocence, as victims of his alleged history of sexual assault came forward (and continue to come forward). Complicating the matter is the history of racial paranoia that sees guilt as a black persons’ birthright. If that were not enough, allegations against Cosby would trouble how we would reconcile conversations about rape and our collective memory of the Huxtable clan. Similar to Pearl Cleage in her short treatise, Mad at Miles, I ask, can we still love the Cosby Show, if Bill Cosby sexually assaulted, drugged and raped women? If so how do we begin to have conversations about black masculinity that are not at the expense of violence against women? Can we still love the Cosby Show, if Bill Cosby sexually assaulted, drugged and raped women? If so how do we discuss the possibility that Cosby’s attempts to purchase a once struggling NBC network made him an open target as a pariah? Can we still love the Cosby Show, if Bill Cosby sexually assaulted, drugged and raped women? If so how do we begin to name white supremacy, patriarchy, and the complicated intersection of our memory of The Cosby Show?

Maybe it starts with classic steps of recovery, acknowledging that there is a problem. Beginning with vulnerable conversations about art, gender, violence, politics, and white supremacy. Although the names of suspected black men change, (Clarence Thomas, R. Kelly, Mike Tyson, Chris Brown, etc.), the rationale for the oppression of women remains fairly consistent. She shouldn’t have been there; it was her fault because of how she dressed/looked, or this is a calculated attempt to bring (insert male name here) down. It is not a zero sum equation. We can intervene against the assault of women and name white supremacy as an accomplice in the vilification of black men in the media. Violence against women cannot be shrugged off as some nefarious plot to destroy black men; we have to own our culpability in our relationships AND resist. There is no doubt about the deeply ingrained power of white-supremacist- capitalistic-patriarchy in popular culture; its presence is real in the building and destroying of public figures. Paraphrasing Derrida, mass media is spontaneously ethnocentric making democratic possibility difficult. However, it begins with acknowledging that regardless of the legal outcome of the man who gave life to Cliff Huxtable, we will watch The Cosby Show with different eyes. If it means those eyes are open to the level of violence against women, racism in our society or how patriarchy shapes who gets to be powerful or not in Hollywood, then it will be worth watching.


AKIL_crop[2]Dr. Akil Houston is an associate professor of Cultural and Media Studies in the Department of African American Studies at Ohio University. Connect with him here and also join the hiphopscholar community on Facebook and Twitter.

The Evolution (Or Devolution) Of Masculinity: Discussion on Susie Arnett’s “The Testosterone Project”

HuffPostLive[TestosteroneProject]

Susie Arnett sits down with HuffPost Live Host, Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani, to discuss her series, “The Testosterone Project,” which explores society’s fresh take on the concept of masculinity and how it is evolving. Akil Houston and Ally Fogg were guest panelists. Click HERE to check out the full discussion.

Borrowing Black Cultural Materials for Profit – A Conversation on Appropriation in Pop Culture or ‘Cultural Tourism’

akil_houston_miley_cyrus_HuffPost Live

The conversation of appropriation in popular culture or ‘cultural tourism’ is an important one. While it was once organized around the obvious material conditions of enslavement and the distorted borrowing of black cultural materials for profit, it now presents itself in ironically different yet similar ways.

In the HuffPost Live segment, Do Only ‘Haters’ Think Miley Is Racist?, I, along with my co-panelists Iris Estrada and Dr. Brittany Cooper, attempt to offer analysis that goes beyond the surface notion that contextualizing this practice is a criticism of a performers skill.

For more on this subject take a look at Vice’s Miley Cyrus Needs to Take an African American Studies Class.

Understanding the Gangsta’s God – An Interview with Dr. Ebony Utley

Dr. Ebony Utley

Recently The Hiphopscholar had an opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ebony Utley, Associate Professor of Communications Studies at California State University Long Beach and discuss pop culture, research and her latest book, Rap and Religion: Understanding The Gangsta’s God. Dr. Utley’s new work examines what appears on first appearances to be contradictory-references to God in rap music. She deftly demonstrates through the pages of her book everything is not what it seems when it comes to rap and religion. Professor Utley is no stranger to difficult conversations as her research explores issues such as race, racism, gender, and relationships and marriage. In addition to her teaching Dr. Utley is a sought after public speaker and her writing has appeared in Black Women, Gender, and Families, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Huffington Post, Marriage and Family Review, Ms. Magazine, Truthdig, Religion Dispatches, and Women and Language.

HS: Dr. Utley would you share a little bit about your research interests and what led you to the subject of your book, Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God?

EU:I love black people and I have always been impressed with the black American experience and particularly interested in how African Americans use language to vie for power. As a scholar I have studied traditional political rhetoric, abolitionist rhetoric, civil rights discourse and black power discourse to figure out how African Americans have used language to advocate for more power in the public sphere. When I was considering something contemporary it lead me to my research on Hiphop. Hiphop is the place where young black people at the time were using language to tell other people about their experiences and to express their frustration and address stereotypes about black people. As a feminist you know that the personal is also political . . . so while examining personhood [the personal] one recognizes there are also stereotypes in interpersonal relationships.  There are stereotypes about black women being unlovable and black men being sexual studs.  I really wanted to spend some time doing romantic relationship work to examine these stereotypes. Because the research says there is love in Hiphop, there is love in African American relationships and African Americans do have unique definitions of marriage. It’s not that we can’t get married or don’t want to get married we just have a different historical relationship to marriage than the dominant population. I really wanted to shed some light on that as well but the unifying theme for me returns to the struggling for power, power over stereotypes and power over oneself and if you have been in a relationship you know that there are often power struggles within them as well and that is what draws me.

rnrbookHS: Very insightful. I had another thought related to something that is not specifically about your latest book, but still relates.  I wanted to acknowledge and appreciate your thoughtful response to the article “8 reasons why Black women should marry white men”. Your reply really addressed some of the layers in that kind of rhetoric and in some respects self-hate. Second, which may be connected to your current work is the theme of conversations around power and agency. In your book you write about agency and power. Do you see the gangsta persona in rap music as a source of agency and power, which to most people reads a lot different than how the rappers themselves may be applying it?

EU: Yes. I do think the gangsta personas are attempts at empowerment. They are also masks over vulnerability. I think any “gangsta” that has come from the hood that has seen people die around him or her before their time, has seen the effects of under-education, knows that there is no grocery store in walking distance from where they live, feels vulnerable, those kinds of experiences shape who you become. The experiences suggest that no one really cares, it suggest your government doesn’t care, that public policy doesn’t care, it suggests that investors don’t care and sometimes in unfortunate circumstances that even your family doesn’t care. The best way to cover that up, to feel like you are somebody, as Jesse Jackson would say, is to assume a gangsta persona. To get back at that establishment of institutionalized forces that are going to ignore you and sort of force the “gangsta” into those spaces. I think that God, outside of religious affiliation, serves this purpose because if God will ride or die for you who is going to take you? If only God can judge you, then you can do whatever you need to do. Having God on your side allows you to have that same cover over your vulnerability so you feel less vulnerable in the world and more powerful.

HS: That makes a lot of sense. Do you feel that since the publication of your book that you have been able to have more conversations about love and Hiphop? I ask because so often you only hear that Hiphop is sexist, misogynist, exploitative and there just does not seem to be any discussion of love.  However as you argue, as do some others, that part of understanding love and Hiphop is about context, or a lens, understanding how people are negotiating their own identities in ways that aren’t necessarily mainstream. As I read your book and other pieces you’ve written you are saying there is love. Are you finding that your book is helping to open up space for dialogue on love?

EU: I would like to say absolutely but the real answer is meh.  I haven’t had as many explicit conversations about love as I would like to, but my lens between God and love is that if you have a God in your life you then that God should help you love your strangers, family members, and yourself. If God isn’t doing those things for you then I don’t know how functional that God is. Outside of religion God should help you love yourself which is what I was saying before about vulnerability and this extends to your homies and your girls.

You do see a lot of that in rap music there is a lot of loyalty and commitment.  Yet the next level is dicey, like the strangers, the people you don’t really know. I don’t know if we have really gotten there in Hip hop; people feel like its too risky. To risk your heart is a very bold and courageous thing to do whether its an interpersonal relationship or communal relationships I don’t think we have arrived there yet. I’m more than willing to have that conversation. Maybe with the conversation about love in Hiphop I haven’t done as good a job showing the link between what is going on between rap and love. However on the B- side I have had wonderful conversations about identity and identity building. Almost every time I talk about the book I’m definitely talking about identity and how its shaped and formed. Also the social construction of God and how that is shaped and formed, these are conversations I certainly wanted to have and we are absolutely having.

HS: Having read some of your work I certainly think it opens up the space to have these conversations. Books like this are important because of the intellectual stretching they require us to do.

EU: I wanted to shift the conversation a bit. To younger readers, high school age or even younger who may not know of Hiphop beyond blogs and music gossip sites what would you say your book offers them?

The book offers them history. I participate in the Hiphop Ed twitter chat and a recent theme was respect for elders. We were talking about Drake being the worst perpetrator of elder disrespect. Drake said in an interview that he was the first rapper to successfully incorporate singing and rapping, and I was like have you heard of a group called the Fugees? So I think for the 16 year old there are a lot of things that they just don’t know because they have not been exposed to it, or they have been listening to mainstream, or are looking to Drake whatever the case may be.

My book offers them a real walk-through about specific rappers that have talked about God over that past 25 years. I hope they read the book with YouTube so they could look these people up, Google them, go to All Music Guide and look at the videos for what would be an ‘old school’ rapper to them.  It is funny to see 50 Cent as an old school rapper it was just 2003 when he came out, I hope the book helps to contextualize history. I think this is important because we tend to think of rap as a youthful genre but you have artists who are in their early 40s Like L [L.L.Cool J] Nas or Jay Z so its not an oxymoron to think of a historical perspective on rap music.

HS: These are all very good reasons to read the book in addition to the topic itself and we would encourage everyone to get a hold of a copy and begin having discussions about the book. Dr. Utley has some suggestions on her website about how to get access to the book.

Dr. Utley before we wrap things up, I’m interested in your thoughts as an educator and Hiphop researcher on recent things happening with some youth in Chicago, IL. A somewhat recent trend that some are calling “drill music” is leaving a harmful legacy. Young people no more than teens are caught up in beefs that result in fights and in some instances death, as was the unfortunate case of Joseph “ Lil Jo Jo” Coleman.

Essentially young people looking for a record deal and a life of fame and wealth are posting self-produced videos of their songs on YouTube hoping for thousands of viewers and the interest of a major label. Instead many are finding more problems than prosperity. From first impressions it seems this music has lost that sense of spiritual agency and power and is solely focused on material access.  Do you have any thoughts on this?

EU: I have a special affinity for Chicago. It is a city that sort of grew me up and made me into the woman I am today. I am devastated by what is happening there. I have not seen the YouTube videos about the drill music but I have seen the documentary The Interrupters [a documentary about Chicago gang violence by director/producer Steve James] it suggests to me that Chicago is a place that has nothing to offer young people, clearly. I hate when people suggest it is an individual problem that is going on in Chicago, no it is a systemic problem and Chicago has had systemic political issues since the first Daley era. Emmanuel [Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel] has done nothing to eliminate it. He was on the news recently saying, “oh yes there is violence in Chicago but it doesn’t affect the majority of the residents” what that means is it does not affect White people so you aren’t going to do anything about it and when he is pushed on the subject he says they are going to bring in more federal officers. That is not an answer.

Having more police on the street is not keeping children in school and then when Chicago teachers go on strike the conservative response is, “well these teachers need to teach these children and should not strike”. When what these teachers are attempting to do is create a situation that provides better resources for them to be able to do what they need to do. If you have teens producing these drill music videos on YouTube that is because they feel they having nothing else to live for, that schools are not teaching them anything that college is not an option, they will not have a job and probably won’t live past fifteen. This is why you have twelve year olds acting as mini adults because they do not see a viable future for themselves. Unemployment rates are incredibly high in Chicago as the weather got warmer fast this summer the murder rates increased.

All of this started when they got rid of public housing and started dispersing people all across the city with no real plan. This is obviously problematic but nobody cares because the city was more focused on making room for investors in these prime real estate locations. So you spread these black people out in communities where they end up door to door with people who do not share the same affiliation, and no resources; it is a disaster waiting to happen. This is a problem that has been in the making for the past twenty-five, thirty years. Yet it comes out in the press as these young black kids, because it is always some black kids, who don’t have anything to live for because they are vile, amoral and their parents should have taken better care of them. This argument holds no sway with me. I think these situations can go either way, it can go in the direction of “I have nothing to live for dear God please help me” or “ I have nothing to live for, fuck it I’m already in hell”.

Chicago has been here before with previous gangs but now it is not just about drugs or money, at least then, albeit flawed, it was about something. This is much more sophisticated nihilism. I don’t know why some of the elders in Chicago don’t see this. Something needs to change and I don’t know that it will until the violence starts spreading out to other communities. Until the Mayor decides to do something I do not know that we will see any institutionalized changes.

Is it the music’s responsibility to help elevate the situation? Lupe Fiasco is doing something and Common will probably make more public statements about his city. Kanye. . . well when he is not rapping about oral sex he does talk about Chicago, but it’s not the rappers responsibility to shift these institutionalized problems with the schools, prisons, the economic and political systems. While the music could do more and I think it should, we all need to take these issues more seriously.

HC: Dr. Utley thank you for your time and work. As we close the interview do you have any final words for our readers?

EU: As Dead Prez has said it’s bigger than Hiphop. The reason I do research on Hiphop and write about it because it is an excellent opportunity to talk about what is good for us, and what ails us. For example with our conversation, it allows us to talk about violence and institutionalized racism in a city like Chicago.

For people who are quick to dismiss Hiphop as misogynistic, where else are we going to open up conversations about misogyny and music without Hiphop opening that door? People complain about Nikki Minaj but I see it as an opportunity to talk about the feminine masculine and why women feel like they need to appropriate masculine characteristics to be successful. Hiphop allows us the space to have important conversations.

Can you imagine going up to a sixteen year old and saying hi do you suffer from a crisis of masculinity? The music allows us to have these conversations. It also can encourage people to think about Hiphop differently. You don’t have to simply be a rapper you could be a Hiphop scholar, writing about the music and culture that you love. You could be an attorney, professor, a social worker or psychologist who uses Hiphop therapy. There are so many avenues to use the genre that you love to advocate for good.

HC: Dr Utley Thank you so much again for your time

5 Tips on How to Win a Freestyle Battle

Tips on how to win a freestyle battleThis post was inspired by a battle I judged recently.  Before I get to why it is an inspiration lets talk a little history. Since I started DJing many, many moons ago I have seen countless battles from behind the turntables, as a crowd participant, to now what is my most recent vantage point- a judge. From all of these places I have seen many rappers and a few emcees go down, some from self-inflicted wounds.

Aside from the view from the DJ booth, watching people go down from the judges table is always more painful, because you must evaluate the catastrophe. It is almost like seeing a car crash in person, verses watching one on YouTube.  You see the instant before the crash, the blood, the carnage and a host of onlookers who are wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Thankfully (and hopefully) in a battle there are no physical casualties only bruised egos.

The Inspiration

The most recent battle inspired this post because. . . well frankly, lyrically it was horrible. This doesn’t mean there were not a few who came with lyrics, and bad intentions for any emcee who would challenge them, those emcees were there. The inspiration comes from the overall lack of lyrical depth. Thus I bring to you the five tips on how to win a freestyle battle. Consider it, as KRS once said, a public service announcement for the prevention of sucka emcees.

5 Tips on How to Win a Freestyle Battle

  1. Turn off the radio. This is not just a dead prez song, its solid advice. The radio plays mindless music with catchy (not unlike syphilis) hooks. Typically heavy radio rotation means the lyrical content is very simple. As an emcee you want to stimulate your mind so your thought process in battle mode is razor sharp. Nothing dulls the sense more than repeatedly listening to the same people talk about the same thing (especially when it is not very complex to begin with). Believe it or not, subconsciously it may begin to influence your own lyrics.
  2. Read. Maybe this is so obvious it is overlooked.  Reading more will help improve your writing. Writing more will help to stimulate your thinking. It is one big productive circle. Writing is a conversation with the mind as Nikki Giovanni said. What level of conversations are you having if you are not reading? This may account for why everyone says almost the same thing in battles. Most lyrical emcees read quite a bit from books, articles, and newspapers to current events. There are way to many benefits to reading not to do it. For example it can increase your vocabulary, range of subject matter and strengthen your metaphors just to name a few.
  3. Be Creative. How ‘free’ is your style when everything you say  is about the oppression of the next person? Every sucka emcee uses the same concept in insults; homophobia, sexism and an over exaggerated sexuality. Of course this formula would be incomplete without using N-bombs. Push your self as a lyrical person and think outside the proverbial box. Ask yourself, what makes me different if I say the exact same thing as everyone else. Homophobia is a problem, sexism is a problem and the lack of vocabulary that seems to restrict what people say is also a problem. Creativity solves that. Think of different ways to out wit somebody. What wordplay could take out your opponent, what would get the crowd excited, how can you use your superior intellect over your opponent and move the crowd at the same time? A creative imagination is your greatest asset in a battle. To few use it.
  4. Know Some Hiphop History. Everything relevant in Hiphop did not happen after you were born. There is a reason people consider Rakim one of the best ever (if you don’t know who that is refer to my first sentence here), why O.C is a lyrical beast, or that what Jay-Z learned from Big Daddy Kane helped his skills, why Lauryn Hill is still respected lyrically. How can you be a top emcee without a sense of history, or understanding of the psychology of battling? Most people who are skilled at what they do know some history of their trade. As an emcee you should know your craft, it not only gives you a sense of history it also provides you with some insight on how you might counter an opponent, what tactics to use and when.
  5. Be Prepared for Anything. Nobody is your friend during a battle, especially not a fellow emcee. Her/his goal during the performance is to take out the competition and this means you. If you have a chipped tooth, its going to be talked about, if your coat has a hole in it, its going to be talked about, if you have a questionable photo on instagram, facebook, tumblr, twitter, whatever, it is going to be talked about. That guy/girl that you tried to talk to and got played, if another rapper knows, it is going to come up. Anything that makes you vulnerable is considered fair game.

How do I prepare for this? In sports they call it the two-minute drill. Teams practice all kinds of end game scenarios to prepare their offense and defense (mentally and physically) for how to act and react in the heat of the battle. Ideally if the team is prepared they can handle the competition and come out on top. As an emcee, you have to prepare for the unexpected so that in the “two-minute drill” of the battle you don’t lose your composure. Most of why people lose battles is in their lack of preparation. For example are you mentally prepared to drop a variety of rhymes on various subjects, do you know your audience, will there be kids there, are there rules on profanity, does the time limit change, can you rap over different beat speeds, will there be live music, what are the judges looking for, can you take a lyrical punch?

Hopefully, these 5 tips will help you win your next battle.

Random suggestions that did not make the list:

Buy a rhyming dictionary. Some of Hiphop’s best who can freestyle own one. Supernatural the one time record holder for longest freestyle (clocked at over 9 hours) said it is essential for the freestyle emcee. Anything that increases your ability to know more words is a good thing.

Get a copy of How to Rap. A book filled with rappers from all over the map talking about their creative process.

Practice. Like Allen Iverson said we talking about practice. Yes it is freestyle and you have to come of the top of the head, but you can practice getting comfortable with the mic, stage presence, connecting with your audience, what happens if the sound system does not work and what ever else could happen.

Watch these documentaries: The MC Why We Do It, The Art of 16 Bars: Get Ya’ Bars Up, Freestyle the Art of Rhyme