With Sway’s Blessing, SF Rapper Frak Is Ready to Level Up

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rom there, Frak delved into battle rap, perhaps the niche where he’s best known today. Though part of hip-hop culture, battle rap is closer to spoken word and theater than music — opponents rap mostly pre-written verses a cappella. Some, like Frak, eke out victories through sneaky humor and clever wordplay, while others embrace the role of villain with overbearing body language and volume.

In a New Yorker column, writer Jay Caspian Kang once called battle rap “a community of problematic dudes who stand around on a stage and yell insults at one another for an audience of other problematic dudes.”

“Some people condescend it in that way, as do I. But I actually do think if aliens came to Earth like 20,000 years from now, I think battle rap is the most evolved writing that’s ever happened in society,” Frak says.

Frak at Billy Goat Hill in San Francisco on Feb. 7, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

With a month to prepare before each battle (“It’s a … stressful process where I become a shitty boyfriend and disappear into my own world,” he says), rappers do extensive opposition research to land the lowest of blows. Potentially offensive topics like race, religion and sexuality aren’t off limits.

In Frak’s case, opponents tend to go after his relative privilege, his whiteness and his Jewish identity (they’ve also made digs at the fact that his dad is an astronomer). In a way, getting constantly called out for things he can’t change has pushed him into a sort of radical self-acceptance. People might assume he’s a hip-hop outsider — cognizant of his place in a Black art form, he refers to himself as a “guest in the culture” — but his sincerity and meticulous craftsmanship inevitably disarm doubters when he grabs a microphone.

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