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Sark vs M.anifest: The Making of a Rap Battle

For even the most modest of rappers, unwarranted claims seep out like water from a faulty pipe. Rap is a show of divinity/kingship and is akin to conquering.

Rap, especially battle rap, is built on braggadocio. The best of them, irrespective of their ideals, project an aura and an authority comparative to a King; I am the best, you can only see the Father through me.

For even the most modest of them, these unwarranted claims seep out like water from a faulty pipe. Rap is a show of divinity/kingship and is akin to conquering.

Forget everything you’ve heard; Rap beef is fought on ideology. The good versus the bad, the hood versus the not-so-hood, made in Ghana versus the love for foreign, the idealistic versus the non-idealistic.  There are always two extremes to tap into, and the best know this. Don’t get me wrong, to be in the conversation for an actual beef, the kind that easily boils over, means you are at a level that you’re a competitor, just.

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Beyond the skill, there is an embedded urge to conquer your tribe and be known and accepted, defending your beliefs or ideals. Take a look again 6all the famous rap beefs and find the common themes that run through them. These themes are not necessarily what started the beef, but the songs (disses) are counter to what the opponent’s life is. So, when JAY-Z accuses Nas of not living the life but witnessing it from his folks’ pads, there is a conflict of ideology. He furthers this when he says ‘ when I was pushing weight, back in ’88. You was a ballerina, I got your pictures I seen Ya’. Jay Z creates a conflict between those who have lived the street life and sold a hundred bricks vs the book smart rappers and the genre enthusiasts, who watch from far, deepening the conversation on what a rapper should be or look like.

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When Kendrick Lamar’s Not Like Us sits at number one on Billboard Hot 100 after only 5 days of streaming, it is a war not necessarily against Drake but against the systems and people who back guys like him to reap black culture. Two ideals, real and fake, come into play again.

In Ghana, one of the most significant changes in our rap culture, a moment so divisive, was the battle between M.anifest and Sarkodie, two great rappers in their own right. But before this beef, Sarkodie had been the undisputed rap king, easily disposing of EL who had just been crown artiste of the year at the VGMAs. After the first round of bouts, M.anifest was rightfully in the conversations for the best rapper in the land. M.anifest wanted his moment at the top, so much that his human instinct showed. For most music enthusiasts, Sarkodie’s Bossy was a jab at E.L. for his comments on the VGMA stage, but M.anifest saw a moment to conquer and took it. But who could blame him, his critically acclaimed debut, ‘Apae: The Price of Free’, was three years old and its follow-up, ‘Nowhere Cool’ was set to be released in a few months, he needed the moment. A bold move although uncharacteristic, changed the rap game and put M.anifest in ‘the great’ conversations.

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Again, M.anifest understood the makings of a rap beef, as an us versus them situation. You don’t win on skill only, by creating the idea that everyone who isn’t for you is against you, you do something so human that the competition simply falls for it without realizing it. M.anifest sees himself as someone who goes against the grain, not copying the West. This is not only in fashion and style as touted by Sarkodie but in ideology. There are a lot of Ghanaians, although in the minority, who constantly claim and work towards this end of Western neo-colonialism. They do this in what they consume, what they wear etc., an educated class looking to break from the influence of the West. These people became the M.anifest clan. The people who bumped their fists when M.anifest rapped ‘copying the west looking a mess’ at King Sark. Sarkodie hadn’t thought of an angle, he was just upset that somebody with a fashion sense as bad was bold enough to claim he was the greatest rapper on the land, rap, a western export based on showing off, M.anifests crime was daring to be different in a circus of wannabes. God MC was a strategic poke at the throne, and it worked. Fans had picked their favorite and claims on flow, better content, etc. were only excuses to back their choice.

M.anifest benefited from this show of verbosity more than Sarkodie. In rap battles between two people with different volumes of support, the least supported wins. Your supposed favourite win is only a confirmation of your ideals. In an us versus them situation, us always wins.  Us as in King Sark, us as in M.dot.

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