Why Did Tolkien Write So Many Rap Battles?

J.R.R. Tolkien is widely regarded as the father of fantasy. His epic tale of Hobbits and rings revolutionised the genre and served as the inspiration, on some level, of practically every fantasy novel written since. Whether authors admit it or not, they’ve probably adapted his depiction of Elves or included some clueless Halflings. But one thing not a lot of authors have followed is Tolkien’s love of rap battles.

Anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings will already be well aware of Tolkien’s proclivity for poetry, but he took things a step further in The Silmarillion, his history of the First and Second Ages of Middle-earth that was compiled and posthumously published by his son, Christopher.

We’ll start with Finrod Felagund. Newer Tolkien fans may recognise him from The Rings of Power, as his untimely death at Sauron’s hand is the narrative thrust for Galadriel’s vengeful actions over the course of the first season. However, what The Rings of Power conveniently skipped over was that, before Sauron captured and tortured the Elf lord and one of his werewolves killed him (spoiler alert for a 45 year old book I guess), they had a rap battle.

This is a part of the reason I want season two of The Rings of Power to go back in time, but that’s a story for another article. The linked article, in fact. I went back in time and wrote it, just for you. There’s so much good stuff in The Silmarillion, and I’d hate to see it wasted. But that’s besides the point, we’re here to talk about Sauron, or, as I call him, the Eminem of Middle-earth. If you don’t believe me, then read this short passage of verse that Tolkien wrote about the encounter, and tell me it isn’t a rap battle:

"He [Sauron] chanted a song of wizardry,

Of piercing, opening, of treachery,

Revealing, uncovering, betraying.

Then sudden Felagund there swaying

sang in answer a song of staying,

Resisting, battling against power,

Of secrets kept, strength like a tower,

And trust unbroken, freedom, escape;

Of changing and of shifting shape,

Of snares eluded, broken traps,

The prison opening, the chain that snaps,

Backwards and forwards swayed their song.

Reeling and foundering, as ever more strong

The chanting swelled, Felagund fought,

And all the magic and might he brought,

Of Elvenesse into his words."

Describing this battle of words in the form of a song is some Inception rap-within-a-rap shit, but you can’t tell me that this isn’t a rap battle. “Backwards and forwards swayed their song,” is clearly how a man born in the 19th century would describe Tupac vs Biggie and you can’t tell me any different.

Songs in Middle-earth are often imbued with magic. Here, Finrod empowers himself with his words, and many readings suggest that his song is literally aiding strengthening him as well bolstering his morale. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the Hobbits sing A Walking Song (you might know it as the one that Pippin sings as Denethor eats his tomatoes in the films) and restore their courage while being chased by the Ringwraiths. Again, whether that’s a literal or metaphorical boost is debatable, but songs are a core part of Middle-earth, and the magic within the universe.

This is no mistake. The very universe was created by another rap battle. The Ainulindalë is the song that Eru Ilúvatar (he’s basically God) sings to create Middle-earth, Valinor, and everything else in the universe. A chorus of Valar and Maiar join him in perfect harmony, until one rebels. Morgoth, then known as Melkor, begins to sing discordantly. He’s Sauron’s boss, the Dr. Dre to Sauron’s Eminem, and from the moment of his creation, plucked from the mind of Ilúvatar, he’s trying to dissent and usurp. The choir of the Ainur tries to outsing him, but he brings some Maiar onside, corrupting them with themes of sadness described as, “loud and vain and arrogant, braying triumphantly against the other as it thought to drown it.”

While opposing choirs may not seem like a traditional rap battle, N.W.A. basically did the same thing to former member Ice Cube with 100 Miles & Runnin'. Rap battles are baked into the very creation of Middle-earth, and it’s surprising that none happen in The Lord of the Rings. Songs hold immense power in Middle-earth, and rap battles can be as cataclysmic as the most devastating battles using traditional weapons like swords and Balrogs. It’s a shame that Tolkien adaptations and fantasy stories inspired by his work so often leave them out.

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