This Utterly Fierce Sign Language Rap Battle Will Have You Cheering Out Loud

This Utterly Fierce Sign Language Rap Battle Will Have You Cheering Out Loud
Source: YouTube
Source: YouTube

A lot of what happens on popular late night show Jimmy Kimmel Live! is pretty attention-grabbing. But Tuesday night's rap battle featuring rapper Wiz Khalifa and a trio of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters was amazing in a different kind of way. In what may be a first for late-night television, Kimmel put together an extraordinary rap battle set to Khalifa's popular number "Black and Yellow."

Between the three of them, interpreters Holly ManiattyJoann Benfield and Amber Galloway have worked at concerts across the country for artists including Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Lil Wayne and Snoop Lion. With a few notable exceptions, interpreters generally operate just outside the mainstream spotlight. And that's too bad, because these ladies can really bring it. 


While they were careful to follow ASL grammar, classifiers and signs for other conventional words, what made their performances so special was a shared enthusiasm, not to mention some seriously fierce moves. 


Maniatty has been interpreting at concerts for a decade and Gallego is something of a celebrity in the ASL world, after having interpreted at more than 300 concerts. Both Maniatty and Gallego don't censor the language in their performances, and Gallego says what they have to sign most during rap concerts is the f-word.



A complex sign-based language, ASL is the backbone of American deaf culture. While hearing loss is caused by a number of different things, every year two to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or with significant hearing impairment.

While concrete statistics appear difficult to nail down, estimates of the number of Americans who communicate primarily through ASL range anywhere from 500,000 and 2 million people. 

Though this rap battle was supposed to have a "winner," after watching the performances it was pretty much impossible to pick a champion. Instead, the interpreters all got a huge ovation. Keep it up, Kimmel: We want more of that!

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Smriti Sinha

Smriti is a multimedia journalist trained at the Columbia School of Journalism. Before moving to New York, she was a sports reporter at The Indian Express in New Delhi. She continues to cover issues in sports, women's and LGBT rights.

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