Rap Battles Have Been Around for 1,500 Years – at Least

Folklore Thursday

Rap battles are at least 1,500 years old:

Flyting” or “fitting” was a contest of wits, popular in the 5th-16th centuries, where one person flung insults in verse at the other for pride, beer, and the entertainment of others.

And versions of these contests existed in some form or another among Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Greek, Inuit, Arabic, Japanese, and African cultures stretching back even further.

The Norse liked to have their gods fight in stories (clearly).


And flyting was a big part of that.

Apparently, in one tale Loki took on all the other gods in what was basically a rap roast, a performance that led the other gods to decide that he must be bound–a major event in Norse mythology.

Here’s a 19th century illustration by Lorenz Frølich depicting a full-on 8 Mile going down between Freya and Loki:

Photo Credit: Lorenz Frølich

Flyting also appears in Shakespeare’s plays and in poems by Robert Burns, James Joyce, Chaucer, and others.

And there’s a rather infamous poem about the flyting of two men named Dunbar and Kennedy.

From the poem, we can gather certain details about how the battle was set up. For instance, each had a 2nd (kinda like a hype man in hip-hop), most likely a poet, that they mentioned and even spoke to during the battle.

There are three exchanges, and by the end of it, both combatants are shooting double and triple rhymes and a whole lot of alliteration as a sort of grand finale.

Here’s a favorite snippet:

“Gray-visaged gallows-bird, out of your wits gone wild,

Loathsome and lousy, as wet as a cress,

Since you with worship would so fain be styled,

Hail, Monsignor! Your balls droop below your dress.”

Boom! Roasted!

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