Rap’s roots lie, not in the Bronx, but in Scotland, according to an American academic, reports The Telegraph.
Rap battles, wherein two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of “flyting”, according to Professor Ferenc Szasz, who claims Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.
“The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting – intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth,” said the professor. “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.”
Szasz, who specialises in American and Scottish culture at the University of New Mexico, made the link in a new study examining the historical context of Robert Burns’ work.
The most famous surviving example of flyting comes from a 16th-century piece in which two rival poets hurl increasingly obscene rhyming insults at one another before the Court of King James IV. Titled the Flyting Of Dunbar And Kennedy, it has been described by academics as “just over 500 lines of filth”.
Professor Szasz cites an American civil war poem, printed in the New York Vanity Fair magazine on November 9, 1861, as the first recorded example of the battles being used in the United States.
Professor Willie Ruff, of Yale University, agrees that Scottish slave owners had a profound impact on the development of African American music traditions.
Comparing flyting and rap battles, he said: “Two people engage in ritual verbal duelling and the winner has the last word in the argument, with the loser falling conspicuously silent.”