The 10 Best Rap Battles in Hip-Hop History


Rap thrives on competition. Since the beginning of time, humans have always measured their worth against other humans. Rap is no different. It’s customary for MCs to sharpen their battling skills by throwing darts at other rappers on the way to the top.​

You strike fear in your enemy’s camp and gain acclaim by firing verbal missiles, subliminal or blatant.

Canibus tested his strength against LL Cool J. Nas and Jay Z went pound for pound for a decade. Biggie and 2Pac exchanged blows until their final days on earth.

Beef is part of the game.

In honor of the great rap battle gladiators of our time, let’s look back the 10 best battles rap has witnessed and the winner of each duel.

Eminem vs. Benzino/The Source

Eminem accepts the Best Rap Video award at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.
WireImage / Getty Images

This is probably the most absurd of all the battles on this list, considering that Eminem launched his rap career on the pages of The Source. The hip-hop bible featured him in its ‘Unsigned Hype’ column back in March 1998. But the honeymoon ended after Source co-founder Raymond “Benzino” Scott started hurling disses at Eminem on wax and through the magazine. While Slim Shady had no music rag to throw back at Benzino, he had something Benzino lacked: rap skills. Shady clapped back with a brigade of insults, including standouts “Nail in the Coffin” and “The Sauce.” As the beef progressed, The Source lost its readership and alienated advertisers. Benzino’s rap aspirations took a nosedive, while Eminem’s career flourished.

Winner: Eminem

Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

No discussion of rap’s best battles is complete without mentioning the historic showdown between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee. The year is 1981 and every rap lyric ends with the phrase “in the place to be.” Two fearless emcees take the stage and, in an 8 Mile-style contest, go on to pioneer what we now know as battle rap.

Busy Bee entertained the audience with crowd-pleasing raps, but Moe Dee would eventually make mincemeat out of him with some mean rhymes.

Winner: Kool Moe Dee

Common vs. Westside Connection

Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

History teaches us that one way to draw the ire of a fellow rapper is to publicly indict them for hip-hop’s demise. It worked for Soulja Boy and Ice T in 2009, just as it worked for Common and Westside Connection in 1995. This feud stemmed from Common’s lyrics on “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” which Ice Cube claimed was a subliminal dis to the west coast. Cue “Westside Slaughterhouse,” a vicious attack on Common, replete with the grimiest rap video ever made. Common locked himself in a studio with Pete Rock and proceeded to hand Westside Connection a lyrical beatdown on “The B*tch in Yoo.”

Winner: Common

Kool Moe Dee vs. LL Cool J

David Corio / Getty Images

Kool Moe claimed that Cool J stole his style and decided to teach a 19-year old MC named LL Cool J a lesson. He gave LL a lyrical whiplash in the form of “How Ya Like Me Now.” Cool J fired back with the instant gem “To Da Breakadawn.” Kool Moe Dee wouldn’t let LL have the final word, so he struck again with “Let’s Go.” LL hit him even harder with “Jack the Ripper,” in which he ridiculed Moe Dee’s trademark Star Trek shades. By the time Moe Dee returned with “Death Blow,” Cool J had already hung the “L” on his neck and rocked his bells.

Winner: LL Cool J 

Canibus vs LL Cool J

Bo Borbye Pedersen from Copenhagen, Denmark [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Canibus is famous for battling himself on wax, but he truly earned his stripes when he squared off with the Bigger and Deffer LL Cool J (in his prime, mind you). The odds were heavily stacked against ‘Bis until he unleashed “Second Round KO,” alongside a trash-talking Mike Tyson. That lyrical uppercut is something like a blueprint for some of today’s top rhyme pugilists.

Winner: Canibus

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