Flyting vs Rap Battles

The origin of the modern day rap battle comes from an unexpected place. Find out where with our history of flyting.

What is Flyting?

'Flyting is a dispute or exchange of personal abuse in verse form. Flyting is analogous to a modern-day rap competition during which rappers improvise clever disses and put-downs against their opponents. Similarly, the makars engaged in verbal duels in which they voiced extravagant invectives in verse against their rivals.'

Flyting is the medieval version of rap battles that started in England. It is when two people battle verbally against each other and use clever insults, often ending in rhyme. Flyting was seen between the 5th and 16th centuries, and comes from the Old English word 'flītan' which means to quarrel. Although it originated in England, forms of verbal jousting can be seen in other cultures around the world.

This was the first time in history that people were using words to do battle, rather than fighting fist-to-cuff. Flyting was very tame in the past, and the most scandalous topic they would fight about was cowardice or incest. These are hardly topics to get your panties in a bunch.

Flyting was often used to pump up warriors before battle or used as an attempt to scare people who you did not want to fight physically. Flyting would often take place in large halls with screaming crowds, and the winner would be determined by the crowd's reaction. What was the prize for such a victory? Beer. The winner would drink large amounts of mead.


Flyting Scots

Flyting made its way to Scotland in the 15th century. Flyting in Scotland was poetic, sexual, and often referenced bodily functions. They were heavy into the toilet talk. Cursing in public was prohibited, and would cost you. But somehow flyting was still permitted.

'Court flyting' was used as entertainment for Scottish kings. 'The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie', an epic rap battle between William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy, featured the first time in recorded history that poop was used as personal insult.


Here is an quote from the Dunbar vs. Kennedy battle:

Said Dunbar regarding Kennedy:

'You call your work rhetoric with your golden lips:
No, glowering, gaping fool, you are beguiled;
You are but black-kneed 'neath your gilded hips,
Which for your villainy many a lash has soiled;
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.'

The history of the term makar goes back to Scottish roots. It is the term used for poets or bards. It was the makars who often would participate in flyting because they were extremely intelligent and skilled at the tradition.


Rap Battles vs. Flyting

The definition of flying, the exchange of insults through poetic abuse, could also be used to define today's rap battles. The topics may be different, but the intentions are the same.

The origin of the rap battle is unknown, but there are several theories. Academics believe that American slaves adopted the tradition from Scottish slave owners. The use of rhyme in flyting comes from England; therefore many believe that the modern rap battles were influenced by European culture.

One of the first rap battles that used rhyme was known as 'The Dozens'. It was performed in front of an audience and the battle raged on until one person quit. The Dozens battles were—among other things—clever, brutal, aggressive, and offensive. It is the creator of the modern 'yo mamma' jokes that are popular in today's battles. The Dozens could result in raucous laughter or violent outbreaks. It is one of the main stepping stones leading from flyting in the 16th century to rap battles today.


It's Art

Both flyting and rap battles have structure. Without it, it would be madness. It's a type of art that may not be widely accepted by large amounts of the public, but it is art. It's not that easy to spit out a rhyme at the drop of a dime. The two contestants must have wide vocabularies, and a deep understanding of their language. They must be quick-witted in order to participate or they would be knocked out of the battle in seconds.


Rappers Today

One recent battle pitted Shox the Rebel from London, England against Soul from Fife, Scotland in a British league Don't' Flop. This is a prime example of modern rap battles. They are in a large room surrounded very closely by the audience. There is no music, only their voices, and the reactions of the audience. This particular battle was judged by seven impartial judges.

Other battles may be judged by the reaction of the audience, such as how much they cheer or boo the contestants.

According to Hip Hop DX, the Iron Solomon vs. Rum Nitty battle won the title ‘best rap battle of the year’. It was so exclusive, that it is not even available on YouTube. Anyone who is a fan of rap battles will have seen it. URL (Ultimate Rap League) hosted this epic battle, and it has been deemed a classic because it is layered and intelligent, rather than just a 'pure puncher' battle between amateurs. A 'pure puncher' is a rapper who is known only for their punchlines and not their clever rhymes.


Here are a few snippets from the legendary battle between Iron Solomon and Rum Nitty:

Iron Solomon

'Like, in your Ave battle, you got paid...
To wear a Loyalty Over Money shirt
And wasn't you 4th Homi Bloque-
See, that's the stuff that always boils me
Paid to rep a clique you was never with
That's literally money over loyalty!
Yo, and Swave a real one
He just tryna raise these children, pray they ain't reptilian


Rum Nitty

'Bullet hit his frame, then lift again
And give Aaron a shot like I missed the rim
Drop you instantly
That'll drop you instantly
You thinkin' it's a game? Then two will sit you down: The Documentary!
Too many runnin' from Nitty
Duckin' and dodgin' the coffin
For the record, they tryna juke boxes like a club in the '50s'

The history of how our modern rap battles have emerged can be linked back to the ancient art of flyting. Flyting has not been wiped out, it has simply evolved.

Keep reading. Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.


Grace Kirkby


Grace Kirkby


Isabelle Chan


Isabelle Chan


Grace Kirkby

Tame Impala Thumbnail


Grace Kirkby