Published On: Thu, Mar 7th, 2013

Rap Battles Originated In Medieval Scottish Pubs…Seriously

Rap battles are an evolution of ‘flyting’, the ancient Scottish art of exchanging poetic insults for entertainment or to settle a quarrel.

Professor Ferenc Szasz, a History professor at University of New Mexico who specialises in the cultural impact of Scotland on the Western world, published a study on the historical context of Robert Burns.

Szasz claims that the tradition of flyting was exported to the US by Scottish slave owners, where the practice was adopted and developed among the slave population.

Flyting was a form of public entertainment in 15th and 16th century Scotland, often described as verbal jousting.  The battlers themselves were called Makars.

“The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting – intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to what one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth,” explains Szasz.

“Both cultures accord high marks to satire. The skilled use of satire takes this verbal jousting to its ultimate level – one step short of a fist fight.”

The Flyting Of Dunbar And Kennedy is the most famous recorded joust, in which two Makars spit obscene rhymes at each other before the Court of King James IV. It has been described by historians as “just over 500 lines of filth”. The Dunbar Flyting also includes the first recorded use of the word ‘shit’ as a personal insult.

Professor Szasz points to an American civil war poem, printed in 1861, as the first example of Flyting in the US.

Professor Willie Ruff of Yale agrees that African American music traditions were heavily influenced by Scottish culture.

“Two people engage in ritual verbal duelling and the winner has the last word in the argument,” he says, by way of comparison, “With the loser falling conspicuously silent.”

Flyting isn’t dead though – far from it. The Scottish rap scene continues to grow, with acts like Hector Bizerk now breaking into the mainstream.   Here are a couple of fine examples of modern day flyting.