Ill Will Is Still Battle Rap’s Best Kept Secret

Stop me If You've Heard This Before...

“We don’t talk about Ill Will enough.”

Or if you’ve heard “Ill Will is so underrated’. Or if you’ve seen or heard a conversation about the best current battle rappers and a bunch of names get rattled off before someone says “What about Ill Will?’

At some point, when everyone says someone is underrated, that must mean they aren’t or no longer are if everyone agrees. It’s hard to understand a world where Ill Will, 4x time Champion of the Year list maker (peaking in 2019 with a #2 finish, the same ranking he would get from The Source that year), is still not treated with the reverence of someone who’s basically a multi-time All-Star and an MVP award finalist. 

But it’s the truth. Not because there’s a bunch of people who don’t think Will is great or speak negatively about him. It’s because the conversation about Will usually revolves around him being one of the best and most dangerous currently when he’s more than that. Ill Will is one of the best and most important battle rappers of all time. It’s not hyperbole or exaggeration or saying it because he may be a personal favorite. The skillset and the resume support this.

A Certified Hall Of Famer

Will is in rarified air when it comes to his skillset as a battler. He’s a Pat Stay, Charlie Clips, and Hollow Da Don level jack of all trades. Humor, wordplay, creativity, charisma, performance, an ability to weave in and out of different pockets and cadences, and rebuttal skills, but Will also has an additional layer of grit and believability that sets him apart from those names. Big room, small room, grudge battle, random booking. Ill Will shows up 9/10. And his peers understand his skill and talent level and treat him with the respect it commands. It’s searchable to hear Tsu Surf talking about Ill Will and describing him as “high risk and low reward”. Citing how dangerous and incredible Will is, but because Will isn’t at the top of the heap in terms of buzz or name value, it’s a battle where guys may feel a win over him doesn’t give back what could be lost if put them on a highlight reel.

He may not be the first name someone thinks of when telling the story of battle rap in the 2010s, but there’s a chapter or two in that book where his name has to be mentioned. Will has one of the most iconic Proving Grounds performances vs Johnnie Alcatraz and was the winner of the first iteration of UFF. His rise through URL is one of the most meteoric the league has ever seen. He eventually touched the NOME and Summer Madness stages in 2013 and 2014, and yeah his first URL run ended on a sour note with his departure from the platform, but his impact during that first run is undeniable. 

He also in a lot of ways lays the blueprint for an Eazy The Block Captain and his approach to independence. Will obviously isn’t as promo-heavy as Eazy, but Will found himself in a situation in 2014 where he was unhappy with URL and what he thought he was worth versus what they believed he was worth. Will winds up leaving the URL. Despite winning UFF and being on the biggest stages in battle rap, he wanted to take things into his own hands and the gamble winds up being more than successful.  Eventually, Will is such a valued commodity that there have been stretches where he’s battled all 3 major leagues in the same year (URL, KOTD, RBE). That’s something only the most elite and solidified names in battle rap can pull off.

Will Sitting On The RBE Throne

The part of the book highlighting the rise of RBE is another section where his name is a must include. RBE has heavily leaned into the question of “who’s the king of RBE?” in the past. Guys like Bigg K, Rosenberg Raw, Showoff, O-Red, and others all have more than credible cases to that throne, but Ill Will is right there in the mix for it as well. And when you lay out everything Will has done on RBE, it’s a list of accomplishments and a resume that’s hard to argue against.

A mix of classic battles and clear wins, facing a varying level of talent. From newer stars like A Ward and Chef Trez to certified legends like Hollow Da Don and Calicoe. A case could be made that his A Ward and Calicoe battles are the best RBE battles of all time and people wouldn’t dismiss them. He’s done it all on RBE. And obviously, this extends beyond his RBE resume. He’s commanded the highest level of competition everywhere he battles, including URL and KOTD. He’s even battled twice in a night! Elite-level dominance and not just displaying the skills we know he has, but improving and refining his skills. 

There were points in Will’s career where despite how talented he was, he was prone to a really bad airball from time to time that could really derail his momentum. Now Will’s material is airtight and as consistent as anyone’s in the world. The flaws in his game don’t really exist anymore. It’s like trying to find a way to exploit Kawhi Leonard. What is someone supposed to do to target an elite 3 level scorer and a great defender? Similar to Kawhi though, the best hope for opposing teams is that Ill Will isn’t active. 

ill Will vs King Los

This leads to Will’s upcoming battle this Sunday with King Los. Will registers his 20th career RBE battle against King Los. (Tied for most RBE battles with Bigg K). Will’s track record against people from the music industry has been stellar and an example of the level of content battlers should bring for those situations. So many times we’ve seen guys step in the ring with people who aren’t battle rappers or are people returning to the art form after a significant time away and not being able to walk away saying they got clear wins? 

Admittedly, there was a tiny bit of dialogue about Will vs 40 Cal at the time. But time seems to have indicated that Will won that battle. JAG had been on an extremely impressive string of performances on RBE before running into Will at Max Out 2. The result there was pure domination from Will. A performance that was in the running for Body of the Year for 2021 (via COTY deliberations). JAG had a debatable with Math Hoffa, beat O-Red, but ran into a buzzsaw in Ill Will.

It makes King Los an interesting guy to throw against Will because there’s a very valid claim that Los has been the best industry rapper returning to battle rap in terms of showings and performances. He may not have ever hit a peak as high as Mickey Factz’ rounds vs DNA or have the unparalleled statistical dominance that we see from Cassidy, but on a material level and looking at how comfortable he is while battling, Los might have the best case among those types of guys.

If there’s anything that shows how well adjusted Los is, especially in a small room like we saw vs DNA at Volume 8. A battle where it’s been mostly viewed as debatable against one of the greats of our culture, who’s hit new highs in the last 3-4 years. Will should be the favorite, he is and forever will be the more seasoned guy in this setting. But Los is not someone to dismiss and take lightly and maybe because of the lack of promo on Los’ end for the most part, people aren’t talking a ton about what Los could be potentially bringing to the table. On a card with Bigg K vs Murda Mook and Rosenberg Raw vs Charlie Clips, the lack of promotion by Los and Will makes it even easier for the battle to fly under the radar, but it has potential to be a very interesting battle and another feather in the cap for Ill Will.

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