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IN RETROSPECT: Battle-rap Continues to Grow By Leaps And Bounds in Southern Africa

Emcees from Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe convened in Maseru, Lesotho for a battle-rap competition billed as The Southern Rumble.

Crowd watches on during a battle-rap performance at Cafe What? Maseru, Lesotho (photo by Lebohang Moiloa)

On June 28th, Café What? in Maseru was teeming with one of the largest battle-rap crowds in Southern Africa. A group of emcees hailing from Botswana and Zimbabwe travelled from Botswana by taxi across South Africa into Lesotho. They were to take part in a battle-rap event that saw them go head to head against the host country’s emcees in verbal warfare. 

Aptly billed as The Southern Rumble, the event was independently organized by Lesotho’s battle-rap league, Dirt Mouth in collaboration with Botswana’s battle-rap league, The Warzone and Zimbabwe’s battle-rap league, DGV Rap Battles. Vodacom Lesotho served as the sponsor.

Crowd reacts to a punchline during one of the battles (photo by Lebohang Moiloa)

Amongst the four core elements of Hip-Hop, which are bboying, emceeing, graffiti and djing, battle-rap is an enclave within the emceeing element. Unlike other aspects of emceeing, such as song-writing, record-making and live-performance, which are easily commercialized, battle-rap is an aspect that usually takes the backseat because it is not as easily commercialized. It has become a part of the rap game that is relegated to an underground activity not receiving much widespread acclaim or coverage, and is instead characterized by a small, cult-following. Notwithstanding this status-quo, like-minded emcees from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe have built formidable battle-rap leagues in their respective countries. The level of advancement and growth in these leagues differs from country to country, however, their existence and willingness to work together is encouraging for a growing transnational movement. That of battle-rap in Southern Africa.

Six battles took place on the night in Maseru. Kafela (Lesotho) went against Jilly Tha Black (Zimbabwe). Young Nerd (Lesotho) went against Lordwick (Botswana). Prime Zeik (Lesotho) went against Rodney Jibz (Botswana), Tefah (Lesotho) went against Michael Horror (Botswana). Phizzy Khor (Lesotho) went against Eto (Botswana) and the headliner match for the night was T.I.E.H.O (Lesotho) against Osama Bin Chaplin (Botswana). A South African contingent present at the event, consisting of emcees from the South African battle-rap league, Zulluminati Battles was slated to judge the battles. However, this was abandoned due to organisational complications, and in true battle-rap tradition, judging was left to the crowd.

Young Nerd (LS) vs Lordwick (BW) (photo by Lebohang Moiloa)









Battling in Hip-Hop stemmed from the premise that if one is an emcee, one has to be able to hold their own against any other emcee. Emcees would battle each other when they linked up in the streets, during a cipher, at shows and even on records. The sole purpose of two emcees battling is for either one to prove that they are better than the other. Battle-rap as a standalone industry evolved from this need to prove oneself. But now, instead of battling in the presence of a small crowd, in a cipher or during break at a show, battle-rap is a major event on its own. Two emcees battling in front of a paying crowd as well as rolling cameras adds a different dimension to battling. Not only are the emcees aiming to outdo one another from a lyrical point of view, they have to out-perform one another and keep the crowd engaged. The format of the battles entails three timed rounds from each emcee, lasting three minutes each. The emcees are informed of their respective opponents well ahead of time, in order to prepare their battle-raps in the three rounds.

The Lesotho emcees proved to be up to the task. Kafela, Nerd, Tefah and T.I.E.H.O elicited unanimous cheers of victory from the crowd. Prime Zeik and Phizzy Khor, however, did not receive the same. The Botswana pair of Eto and Rodney Jibz seemed to have bested them, given the crowds’ reaction.

Kafela LS vs Jilly Tha Black ZIM

Victory at these battle-rap events is two-fold, especially if the judging is left to the audience. On the one hand, an emcee can win the room, meaning they can impress the crowd present at the battle so much at that moment, it’s deemed clear that the said emcee has won. On the other hand, when the footage of the same battle is released to a greater audience later on, with the viewer having more time to analyse the lines and body language of the emcees, their opinion could change. Some battles are so hard to call that they have to be viewed again in order to determine the true winner. Still, it boils down to preference.

Young Nerd LS vs Lordwick BW

Prime Zeik LS vs Rodney Jibs BW

The success of this event is indicative of the growth battle-rap is experiencing in Southern Africa. South Africa is at the forefront of this growth, boasting more than one fully functional battle leagues in the form of Scrambles 4 Money, Zulluminati, Hip Hop 411 and ALL CAPS battle leagues, among others. It is also worth noting that Zulluminati will be hosting one of the foremost international battle emcees, JC from Pontiac, Michigan, USA on September 28th at their flagship event ENDGAME. JC will be going against South African battle MC, Cerebro. This is further testament of the strides battle-rap in Southern Africa is making.


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