Battle Rap Is Thriving on Twitter Spaces

Imagine your favorite rappers ditching the labels, linking up and putting together teams to create mixtapes. Imagine the intrigue of Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole recruiting artists to their teams, trying to win a year-end grand prize. And imagine them all talking through the process on a daily basis in front of the whole world. Proportionately, that’s what’s happening in the battle rap scene right now—the biggest stars are taking to Twitter spaces, teaming up, and setting up winner-take-all matches under the Midnight Madness banner.  

Twitter Spaces first launched in November 2020, but it wasn’t available to everyone, which limited its appeal until it finally opened up to all users in October 2021. Spaces was created to rival Clubhouse, a live audio app that lets users create live chats about whatever they want. Twitter’s built-in user base has helped it become a more convenient destination for audio chats. 

So far, there have been some big rap-related moments on Spaces. As recently as late December, Jay-Z attended a Space hosted by Genius for Alicia Keys’ new album, where he made his infamous Verzuz proclamation. There’s a lot of untapped potential for more arts scenes to utilize Spaces—and battle rap is leading the way. 

Battlers, battle rap media, and fans have been using spaces to talk about events, hold audio-only battles, and stir buzz for future matchups. Some of the first battle rap-oriented Twitter Spaces rooms popped up in mid-2021, with Twitter account @weedandbattles interviewing battlers and discussing battle events. Platforms like #EFM, Black Compass Media then began holding Spaces of their own, moderating discussions with battlers and other figures. 

#EFM is a Twitter-based movement led primarily by Twitter accounts @GreedyGotti, @BumNitty, The Battle Rap Doctor and @LawyerNumberOne. #EFM is short for “every fuckin’ meme,” a play on battler Geechi Gotti’s “every fuckin’ bar” catchphrase. The satirical name of their movement is true to the humorous tone of their accounts (for instance, Bum Nitty and Greedy Gotti are playing on battle rappers Rum Nitty and Geechi Gotti). But jokes aside, the #EFM movement is a serious asset to battle rap. In addition to battle rap discussions, they started the EFM Battle League on Spaces, where fans and lesser-known battlers go at each other in audio-only battles. Battles in the Spaces format don’t compare to the theatrics and star power of onstage, in-person matchups, but the dozens of battles have been a fun way for everyone to get a fix of bars in between events.

It was an EFM room where the Midnight Madness talk began at the end of 2021. Battle rap legends Tsu Surf and Aye Verb were talking trash to each other in a Spaces room, and decided to bet on a matchup between their up-and-coming protégés Pristavia and Yoshi G. After that battle got set up, more battlers came into the room and started sniping at each other, which made Surf think of a fight club-style movement with battler-only events and winner-take-all matches that would be uploaded to YouTube. Battlers Bill Collector and Jakkboy Maine helped build on the idea, then joined Surf as the figurative “staff” behind the movement, which will hold an in-person event on Jan. 28. 

Midnight Madness has been billed as “a private battle rap showcase to reinvigorate the competitive spirit with judged battles and winner takes all stipulation,” according to battle rap media platform Let’s Talk Battle Rap. Anyone with at least YouTube battles is eligible to participate. There are teams (as well as free agents), and for now, setting up a battle is as simple as going into a Space and talking your shit to someone. At the end of the year, the team with the best record will win a prize. 

The Midnight Madness chats have since become a daily destination for battlers and fans alike. Beyond planning future matchups, conversations have veered off into other fascinating directions. YouTube is loaded with screen recordings of Spaces where battlers discuss their craft and the history of modern battle rap, offering behind-the-scenes insights. The peer-to-peer conversations are like sitting in on a locker room discussion, listening to battlers offer gems, like the science of writing for a big venue vs. a small stage, how they prepare to be 100% for an event after a cross country flight, and the battlers’ favorite moments from their peers. Lyricists like Lloyd Banks and Don Q have also joined the Spaces to share their perspectives on Midnight Madness and battle rap in general. Cassidy made a Spaces chat to discuss the movement, though it didn’t go smoothly as certain battlers felt he was overstepping. 

These are conversations that we never knew we needed—and neither did new Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal. The Spaces Newsflash Twitter account purportedly tabulates the biggest Spaces on a daily basis. For almost two weeks now,  #EFM and Midnight Madness rooms have consistently ranked in the top 5, if not the top room of the day, in terms of listeners.

Twitter Spaces lends itself well to Battle Rap because of convenience. Battlers and media members are spread out all over the country, and the Spaces give them one area to connect together in between events. The crossfire between battlers isn’t just entertaining—it’s good business. In battle rap, the most hyped battles have a backstory of tension, which the Spaces conversations have been fueling. Battlers have stirred up demand for matchups by selling fights and getting listeners more invested than if they would have seen the matchup announced on a card with no explanation. Battlers have been sniping at each other via tweets for years, but it’s different when they’re in a chat room amongst all their peers and being pressed to immediately back up their claims. Spaces has created battles that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for crossfire on the app. 

Midnight Madness is a boon for both battle rap veterans and up-and-comers. As battler Goodz has noted on DJ Vlad, there’s space for battlers to make six figures from the sport. But even with bustling industry structure, it’s a good idea for battlers to occasionally take it back to the block and battle with something on the line. 

In 2020, Ultimate Rap League (URL) struck a deal with streaming app Caffeine—brokered by Drake—which publicly credited them with being the lynchpin for a $113 million round of funding in 2020. King of The Dot (KOTD) partnered with Twitch to stream a $50,000 Grand Prix tourney in 2020, and they’re currently holding a full season of battles which will end with a $100,000 championship match. Rare Breed Entertainment (RBE) is another respected league where industry rappers like Cassidy, Jae Millz, and 40 Cal have competed. These leagues are just three of many who have helped battle rap expand from a weekend hobby to a legitimate business. But with comfort can come complacency. 

When a battler competes in a league, their purse is guaranteed, and most battles aren’t judged. Some argue this gives battlers leeway to do just well enough for their supporters to say they won and can go home counting their money. But Midnight Madness’ judged, winner-take-all battles (with peers making side bets) will theoretically pull the killer instincts out of battlers and rekindle the raw energy seen on the old SMACK DVDs. The Midnight Madness format also allows the artists the opportunity for ownership outside of the grasps of leagues. In the future, if sponsors want to be a part of Midnight Madness, they’ll be paying the coalition of battlers instead of a league. Midnight Madness, if done properly, is a chance to shift the industry’s power balance more in favor of the workforce, which is only right. With no battlers, there’s no culture. 

Midnight Madness events will help up-and-coming battlers by giving them a platform on YouTube. Currently, URL has firmly planted its position as the number one league by any metric. They have an app that allows users to exclusively watch URL battles, but those battles rarely reach the 1.3 million subscribers on their YouTube channel. They went from dropping several battles a month to uploading just three URL battles over the past 12 months (though there are battles from smaller leagues and other content on the channel). That absence from YouTube has hurt the star potential of new battlers who have been killing within the confines of the Caffeine and URL apps. Casual fans who don’t have the app (and miss the one-time-only Caffeine live streams) aren’t as familiar with new names. But Surf plans to put Midnight Madness battles on YouTube (potentially the URL channel) which will help the fresh crop of artists broaden their fanbase, which means more money. There are battlers getting TV and movie opportunities off the strength of their battle rap fame, and the new battlers deserve that chance, too. 

A lot of innovative battle rap moments have happened on Twitter Spaces lately. It’s been ground zero for the battlers to talk through the logistics of the movement. This is where battlers have ideated the concepts of Midnight Madness teams, championship belts, and the betting system. They’ve also held Spaces where fans can ask questions and make suggestions, offering a one-of-a-kind glimpse of Midnight Madness being developed, focus-group style, on a daily basis. And there’s plenty of game being given (and trash talk) in between. Where else could you witness all of this for free, on a daily basis?

Twitter Spaces is still finding its footing, but battle rap has planted a firm flag on the platform, and it’s exemplifying how live audio rooms can bolster an arts community. Even beyond Midnight Madness, it’s become the go-to space for battlers to engineer and promote battles, and interact with fans. 

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