Vol 2: Everyday Struggles—Hip Hop’s New Counter-Culture


Welcome back to Music for the Rest of Us—an exploration of dope music made with artistic integrity. If you missed the first edition, you can read it here. In short, this column is dedicated to music that’s about something more than just the turn up.

Before the DealI just finished listening to Mark Battle’s new release: Before the Deal (BTD). If you aren’t familiar with Mark Battles, he’s a dope MC out of Indianapolis that makes music you’ll want to add to your rotation, as opposed to listening to it once then forgetting it’s on your phone. His latest project, BTD, happily met my expectations. My first intro to Battles was his mixtape Shelter Food which instantly made me a fan of his casual, less is more, flow. A lot of cats who try to say something worth listening to either spend too much time using random words plucked from the dictionary, or they rap fast whilst saying nothing.

Yay or Nay? In BTD, Battles presents a self-portrait, giving a glimpse into what he prioritizes, what drives him, and what it means to be the master of your destiny as an MC in 2016. In a nutshell, this album is all about perseverance and drive in the face of slim odds. The beats aren’t earth-shattering, even though there are a few gems that’ll have you nodding your head. If you like to put an album on, press play, and let it take you on a journey, you should definitely give this album a listen. It’s a definite Yay!

BTD is about the battle, no pun intended, of being a Black man from humble beginnings. This isn’t anything new, but what’s refreshing is it outlines what it takes to win in today’s Hip Hop without being a wack stereotype. Cats have been lying on wax about their millions for a minute. And even for the few who rode those lies to actually making millions, their hyperbole does nothing for youngstas in the trap… other than ensuring they remain in the trap.

Who is the enemy in this battle? In the second track on the album, “This is Me,” Battles gives notice that he recognizes game and is prepared for the fight. He sees what awaits him on the path to stardom: lies, rumors, betrayal, and pressure to make ignorant music. The beauty of being an indie artist is you make music that you feel. That authenticity builds your following but then at some point non-artists will tell you what you need to say, wear, and be in order to be successful. It’s like Chappelle’s Show seasons one and two when Chappelle had creative control (wildly successful) vs. season three when other people tried to force their way into the creative process (epic fail). Battles has a clear voice as an artist, and if you try to add artificial flavors to it, he’s not trying to deal with you.

Why fight the battle? This album isn’t about bottles and fly whips and other things thousandaires spend their money on—to the amusement of the truly wealthy. BTD gives you a glimpse of the odds Battles faced, from being a young father, to the soul crushing economic conditions of the inner city, to the ever-present dark side of the hood that consumes too many lives. In understanding the scarcity that comes in a market-based economy, Battles gives zero fucks about people who don’t have his or his fam’s best interest in mind. “No Love” is two proverbial middle fingers to any and everyone he sees as being on the other side, obstructing his family’s well-being. His family will not live trapped in poverty. Not on his watch.

What Does Success Look Like? On the track “Wit It,” Battles indulges in classic Hip Hop braggadocio, articulating his appreciation of his own greatness. To avoid the champagne and fancy car clichés, he stays more high level and talks about the mentality of being great. He gets a bit more tangible in his definition of success on “Grounded.” This track is a two minute and sixteen second mission statement that can be synopsized like so: I’m here to make money to open doors for my family, not to get caught up with groupies and fame.

Like all art, there is plenty to critique—including Battles embracing being non-committal romantically, yet desiring to have something meaningful with women. But beyond the nitpicking, there’s so much good in this album for heads to enjoy.

If you want to hear more music from artists like Mark Battles, be sure to check out the Vaytus app in the iOS App Store.

Music for the Rest of Us is an exploration of dope music made with artistic integrity— music that’s about something more than just the turn up. Written by Aniefre Essien.

By Aniefre Essien

Aniefre is a Los Angeles native with varied interests ranging from the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira to an undying love of Lakers basketball, even in the lean years. He's an alum of both San Francisco State University (BS) and the University of Michigan (MBA), and is a firm believer in education as its own reward.