Battle Rap Going Mainstream?

As the man behind the Tupac hologram and last year’s aborted George Zimmerman/DMX boxing match, Alki David is no stranger to controversy. Now the 46-year-old Greek billionaire has another wild idea: He wants to bring battle rap, the hip-hop competition where MCs have to outperform their opponent with razor-sharp rhymes, to the mainstream.

In 2014, the battle rap industry grew significantly. With the Eminem-backed Total Slaughter ushering battles into the world of pay-per-view cable TV, and mainstream artists such as Joe Budden (former Def Jam artist of “Pump It Up” fame) and rapper-actor Fredro Starr (member of ’90s rap icons Onyx and star of Moesha) jumping into the ring to compete, there are more ways than ever to see competitive rhyming in action.

Still, battle rap has never come close to the popularity of rap music itself. Even with hip-hop icons such as Eminem, Diddy and Drake directly investing in battle leagues, competitive, head-to-head rapping exists as something of an island off the coast of the greater hip-hop nation.

David, whose billions are the result of his family owning Coca-Cola bottling factories in 28 countries, might have the resources, entrepreneurial savvy and passion to change that.

“To be a good battle rapper, you have to have a talent that is musical,” he says. “It’s a poetic talent. It’s 21st-century poetry.”

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