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The Sweet Release of Writing a Battle Rap

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Passwurdz mid-battle (Huy Nguyen)

Oakland MC Passwurdz is a professional battle rapper. That means he gets paid to go on stage and publicly humiliate his opponents.

It’s an art form that dates back to the early days of Hip Hop and has been depicted in movies like 8 Mile. On top of being a competition of lyrical prowess, these battles provide comedic relief for audiences – and a cathartic release for artists, as well.

Passwurdz, aka Pass, is also part of the duo ANML PLNT (along with Jordan Jennings, aka Apes), which released an album earlier this year, called “The Box.”

Now that people are dealing with the emotions of daily uncertainty, I figured it’d be a good time to get some tips from a professional about how to use battle raps to constructively release some pent up emotions.

Below is a lightly edited excerpt of my conversation with Passwurdz.

Pen: Do you find therapy in writing these raps and clowning people?

Passwurdz: Yeah, definitely. It’s like when you’re punching a pillow or something. You know what I mean? Getting out that aggression in a different channel is kind of good for everybody. If that means we are not going to fight or do something crazy, instead we just yell at each other, we can do that. And yeah, honestly, just any exercise in writing for me is really therapeutic. Because it takes a lot of focus and it’s a lot of writing too.

Passwurdz at a rap battle
Passwurdz at a rap battle (Huy Nguyen)

A three minute round is a whole song. But instead there’s no chorus, there’s no beats, you’re just rapping the whole time. There’s a lot of writing. But the process of putting that together, I treat this shit like a puzzle: What can I say here to connect this concept and dot to make the crowd go crazy?

Pen: So as people are listening to this, they’ve been domesticated for some time now, and while they’re in their house, I’m sure they’ve brewed up some anger. If they’re looking for a way to vent, a valve to get some heat off their chest and they’re looking to start battle rapping or just throw some bars out there, do you have any words of advice for them?

Passwurdz: Absolutely. I do have words of advice. I would say watch some battles. I would say watch Loaded Lux, watch Aye Verb, URL, King of the Dot. And I would use your mirror. I would rap to yourself. I’d write some things down. Record yourself battling an imaginary person. Pick a rapper, a famous rapper, and just battle him. You might destroy him.

Pen: Write 16 bars about your supervisor?

Passwurdz: You feel me? All that! Straight up, but I’d definitely recommend filming yourself rapping… And figure out who you could send it to that might want to see you bar out.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.


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