If you’re a rapper and your last name is Battles, it’s pretty easy to hype yourself as a battle rap specialist. Whether that surname is your given name or a chosen alias, dropping the Battles name reminds the listener that you may be able bring another rapper down via verbal dexterity and intimidation. It would ostensibly follow that battle rhyming would be the strong suit of Indianapolis artist Mark Battles. After all, he does have a forceful way of saying “BATTLES” at just the right time. He also cites Eminem—a preeminent battle rapper in his own right—as his prime influence. Not to mention, Battles has chalked up half a million views of his “I Don’t Like” freestyle on YouTube, where he brags “focus on my craft cuz I’m tryna to buy a chariot, I run the underground like Harriet, bury it.”
Forget those expectations. One listen to Saturday School, Pt. 2 confirms that Battles is actually not into confrontation. He’s barely into anything that could be considered hard at all. This is a man devoted to achieving success first and foremost. Diligence in school and avoiding the bottle’s temptation apparently help him on his path. On “All For You”, Battles sets himself apart from most other rappers by crediting the high school classroom as his inspiration.
If this all sounds a little too much like something out of a Lebron James Family Foundation PSA, then you wouldn’t be far off. There is a sense of openness to most of Saturday School, Pt. 2, which allows the listener to glimpse Battles’ almost saccharine outlook on life. “Forgive You” sees Battles pardoning his stepfather for abusing his mother because he’s “too blessed to hold a grudge.” On multiple tracks, we learn that the 21-year-old artist has three kids by three different women. His burgeoning music career is his attempt to provide for them as best he can.
Despite some of these hardships, the way Battles casts his biography is too preachy to give him much of an edge. It’s sad that there’s not much room in popular rap today for an artist who writes about his life without putting up a hard façade. But, by the same token, there is not a lot that is particularly unique about his content. Even with all the witty braggadocio, Battles has a way of rapping about his life that still comes off sappy.
There are silver linings,. One is Battles’ lyricism. There’s a ton of wordplay on Saturday School, Pt. 2. Each track features those kinds of biting punch lines that land on a self-congratulatory pun. On “My Vibe,” Battles packs them in: “It’s time to show ‘em who matter, I’m like a deadbeat dad, I ain’t close to these bastards.” And when Battles pulls out the Marvel allusions (“I stay low key I’m like Thor’s brother”) his warm, methodical flow keeps him from sounding overly nerdy. It’s one-liners like these that fans quote regularly as tweets on Battles’ Twitter feed.
It’s also notable that Battles, at a young age, has worked hard to craft a pretty catchy brand as a companion to his music. His “Fly America” trademark provides enough aviation imagery to fill endless lyrics and hoodies. It’s also his metaphor for staying cool while striving for success. Battles has a ways to go before calibrating a fitting rap persona, but there’s enough good material on Saturday School, Pt. 2 to show that he may be ready for takeoff.
ZIP: Mark Battles – Saturday School 2