What do you know of the unorthodox?
One weird thing about Battle Rap is that so few of the terms we use daily have centralized definitions. For example, I’m sure if I ask you to show me a “Punch” you’d easily be able to pull up multiple examples. If I ask you to define what a “Punch” is, I’m sure it’d be just a little more difficult. This applies to a lot of words we use, and it makes conversations about battles harder to have. We’ll often be a half-hour into a conversation about a battle before someone asks “Wait…What exactly do you mean by Lyrical?” Then another ten minutes is spent defining terms so that an actual conversation can take place.
In the most literal sense, unorthodox means breaking convention or tradition. In this way, the term itself has a lifespan because what was unorthodox yesterday might become the norm tomorrow and we’ve seen this paradigm play out many times. There’s been multiple battle rappers we’ve been quick to apply the unorthodox label to — many of them warranted for their time. For example, how many times was Nu Jerzey Twork described as unorthodox? (#FreeTwork) Of course, for the time in which he broke into the scene, his aggressive and performative style combined with his witty writing created an incredibly potent skillset that nobody else really brought to the table. I think most would agree, however, that the success of Twork’s style brought with it many imitators who could only partially capture the magic that made his style so enrapturing. And while Twork remained the king of his own mannerisms and techniques, the style itself began to somewhat homogenize the landscape.
Over time, what was unorthodox became the norm.
At the beginning of this article, I talked about how so many of our definitions in battle rap are decentralized and vague. In a similar vein, “Performance” is a term with a breadth that’s way larger than the way it’s used. When we talk about a battle rapper being a “Performer”, people generally mean that they use a lot of theatrics, but that only scratches the surface of what makes a great performer. So much of what makes a transcendent performer is in the vocal delivery, cadence, and ability to build atmosphere and Sheed exemplifies these traits. His persona is signature in the truest sense of the word. His vocals vary by the second, often switching into the wholly unnecessary but fire accents, cadences, and vocal inflections. His theatrics are captivating and purposeful, it rarely feels like he’s going through the motions.
And the succinct nature of these flow snippets is so interesting to me because he doesn’t have to do this. He switches so fast and so often that it’s almost bewildering, each rhyme pattern and tempo as unique as the last. It really solidifies just how eccentric of a battle rapper Sheed is, not to mention how these flows act as a platform for those previously mentioned 1 or 2 line punches he’s so proficient at. When you combine all these attributes together, it creates such a different experience for the viewer, where nothing is predictable and surprises lurk around every bar. Where you can be following along so attentively with his flow that you just barely catch the witty punch he slipped into the mix.
For now, I think battle rap’s future is bright. I think that we’re beginning to see a new era rise, one that’s much less gated. And while that means we will definitely see our fair share of disappointments, we’ll also be seeing higher highs. High risk can yield high reward and I think that Sheed Happens is the poster child for that philosophy and, currently, the most unorthodox battle rapper we’ve yet seen.