Battle rap has changed a lot over the years. Watching two MCs freestyle insults back and forth on a beat in front of a raucous crowd used to be an integral part of hip hop. Rappers made albums, rappers hopped in on cyphers and rappers battled each other for dominance. This was the world that Aaron Solomon, a Jewish-American teenager from Brooklyn, walked into when he decided to make a name for himself. Calling himself Iron Solomon, his ultimate goal was to make music, using his wit and his love for the art form, to craft an identity for himself. Battling other MCs was just another part of the scene for him.
Soon, it became apparent that battle rap had separated from the mainstream hip-hop scene. They stopped using beats to rap over, opting to let their rappers spit a cappella to allow for more complicated rhyme schemes and harder-hitting punchlines, untethered by the constraints of a time signature. The whole scene became grittier, more personal and more cerebral, which excluded many “casual” rap listeners. But it was in this world, not the music one, that Solomon found his legend status.
After beating Immortal Technique in an overtime battle to win a tournament, Solomon made concerted efforts to record all of his battles and send them to other battle-rap leagues. He marketed himself and was proactive in finding battlers and audiences. What he brought to the mic was not only different than his competitors, it was revolutionary to the game itself. Most people simply went punchline to punchline without connecting them. People laughed if you called someone a faggot, gasped if you said you slept with your opponent’s girlfriend and cheered when you made fun of the clothes he was wearing. Then Iron stepped to the plate and wove together bars connected by a motif or common source of wordplay, a technique that would grow to become hugely popular in the later years.
Evidence of this technique can be seen in his battle with a rapper named Math Hoffa. Using his opponent’s name, Math, Iron raps most of his round using grade school as an angle and source for wordplay.
“Cause back in high school, I smashed this chicketty
To cut, she cut science class to visit me
We had the chemistry, attracted physically
Taught her sex ed and wood shop, now Math is history
He passed this bitch to me, you failed, she follow me
I mapped it instantly, it’s called geography
Social studies, the whole globe’ll love me
But you’re only famous to your local buddies
So get focused dummie, it’s just the start of the lecture
I play the part of professor, in your hardest semester
Get your pocket protector, protect your pockets
Withdraw your wallet, direct dough-posit
Collect your profit; your digits subtract
I divide your pie so my division could snack
Pay you no mind, I never listen to math
Plus – I’m ADD, in addition to that”
With an extremely clean rhyme scheme that flows mechanically, and an angle with which to take down opponents, Iron was able to flex his wit and place himself in the top tier of the current leagues. But as the 2000s came to a close, he became less and less involved with the scene. His ultimate goal had always been to make music, and while many battlers were no longer concerned with making albums, Iron nonetheless decided to walk away from the game he had redefined.
The world of battle rap moved on without him. Leagues like King of the Dot (KOTD) rose to prominence in this time. These leagues, unlike many that preceded them, gave their battlers a month or more heads up for most of their battles, giving them time to research their opponents and construct intricate bars to attack them. The few hundred dollars that Iron would get for most battles were nothing compared to the KOTD-sponsored events that gave their battlers a few thousand just for showing up. The internet’s increased ubiquity also raised viewership tremendously, further separating battle rap from hip-hop music as it grew into itself as its own genre of performance.
Other rappers came and replaced Iron as the best or most revolutionary, a new roster of talent with their own personas and reputations to uphold. It seemed that Iron’s time was done. But then, years later, at the end of 2015, Iron shocked the world by announcing his return to the scene. He called out known veteran Daylyt and challenged him to a prize fight. Battle rap fans held their breath to see if Iron could keep up, or if he would be left in the dust. His first performance was rusty, but still impressive, leaving fans with mixed feelings. It was clear that Iron hadn’t been totally left behind by the evolution of the sport, but could he still compete with the top tiers? Would his return tarnish his legend status?
Then came his second battle after returning, his battle against Dizaster. Dizaster is one of the best battlers in the world and of all time. He has had a dominance over KOTD for years that is matched by few others. His style is incredibly aggressive, complicated, long-winded and offensive. After Iron’s passable performance against Daylyt, people weren’t sure if the cobwebs would be dusted off enough for Iron to stand a chance. But Iron shut all the doubters up that night.
This battle is one of the greatest battles to ever have been recorded. It is vicious, epic, long and recorded with top-of-the-line equipment in front of an insanely hype crowd. Not only did Iron stand stoically as Dizaster performed one of the most incendiary and racist series of verses anyone has ever seen, but he returned with some of the most well-crafted personal attacks Dizaster has ever received.
He attacked Diz’s rapping style, his convoluted rhyme schemes and his angry, racist persona. He explained how Diz’s spot in the elite was a farce, how Diz is a culture vulture who doesn’t give the game the respect and intelligence it deserves. He detailed the ways in which Diz and rappers like him were all products of a style originally generated by Iron. His rhyme schemes were immaculate and precise and his content was so biting that even Diz found himself laughing and grinning. Finally, at the very end, Iron addressed his legend status and absence from the game.
“See, when you was still tryna steer through the bottom tier
And the future of battle rap was not as clear, I was here
Been a pioneer the entirety of my career
I made this backpack shit take off: I’m the Rocketeer
I spelled out this path to give y’all some direction
Put myself on the map so you could follow the legend
What I deserve I achieve with just a verse and a beat
I didn’t work for a fee, and what I earned wasn’t free
Went on a murdering spree, hit every curb in the street
When it was 30 degrees I was still burning MCs
In terms of this league, my words and my schemes
Are the birds and the bees, the sperm and the seeds
What emerged was this league
So you’re the MC you are because you are birthed from my breed
I didn’t quit and come back, I took maternity leave
I fathered your whole existence, Diz, you learned this from me
You played the role of an heir you’re unworthy to be”
With an explosive end, Iron’s status as one of the best in the world was immediately reinstated. Since this battle Iron has had three more, all against top tier MCs, all of which he arguably won. So regardless of whether you think Dizaster or Iron Solomon won in their epic battle, and regardless of where you think Iron deserves to be ranked in KOTD, one thing has been made clear. Iron Solomon is back.