Freestyle is a style of improvisation with or without instrumental beats, in which lyrics are recited with no particular subject or structure.It is similar to other improvisational music, such as jazz, where a lead instrumentalist acts as an improviser with a supporting band providing a beat. Improv/freestyles are improvised in this way.
In the book How to Rap , Big Daddy Kane and Myka 9 note that originally a freestyle was a spit on no particular subject – Big Daddy Kane said, "in the ’80s when we said we wrote a freestyle rap, that meant that it was a rhyme that you wrote that was free of style... it's basically a rhyme just bragging about yourself."Myka 9 adds, "back in the day freestyle was bust[ing] a rhyme about any random thing, and it was a written rhyme or something memorized". Divine Styler says: "in the school I come from, freestyling was a non-conceptual written rhyme... and now they call freestyling off the top of the head, so the era I come from it's a lot different". Kool Moe Dee also refers to this earlier definition in his book, There's A God On The Mic :
There are two types of freestyle. There's an old-school freestyle that's basically rhymes that you've written that may not have anything to do with any subject or that goes all over the place. Then there's freestyle where you come off the top of the head.
In old school hip-hop, Kool Moe Dee claimed that improvisational rapping was instead called "coming off the top of the head",and Big Daddy Kane stated, "off-the-top-of-the-head [rapping], we just called that 'off the dome' — when you don't write it and [you] say whatever comes to mind".
Referring to this earlier definition (a written rhyme on non-specific subject matter) Big Daddy Kane stated, "that's really what a freestyle is"and Kool Moe Dee refers to it as "true" freestyle, and "the real old-school freestyle". Kool Moe Dee suggests that Kool G Rap's track 'Men At Work' is an "excellent example" of true freestyle, along with Rakim's "Lyrics of Fury".
Since the early 1990s onwards, with the popularization of improvisational rapping from groups/artists such as Freestyle Fellowship through to fresh fest competitions "freestyle" has come to be the widely used term for rap lyrics which are improvised on the spot.This type of freestyle is the focus of Kevin Fitzgerald's documentary, Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme , where the term is used throughout by numerous artists to mean improvisational rapping.
Kool Moe Dee suggests the change in how the term is used happened somewhere in the mid to late 1980s, saying, "until 1986, all freestyles were written,"and "before the 1990s it was about how hard you could come with a written rhyme with no particular subject matter and no real purpose other than showing your lyrical prowess."
Myka 9 explains that Freestyle Fellowship helped redefine the term – "that's what they say I helped do - I helped get the world to freestyle, me and the Freestyle Fellowship, by inventing the Freestyle Fellowship and by redefining what freestyle is... We have redefined what freestyle is by saying that it's improvisational rap like a jazz solo".
Although this kind of freestyling is very well respected today,Kool Moe Dee states that this was not the case previously:
A lot of the old-school artists didn't even respect what's being called freestyle now...any emcee coming off the top of the head wasn't really respected. The sentiment was emcees only did that if they couldn't write. The coming off the top of the head rhymer had a built-in excuse to not be critiqued as hard.
Many rappers learn to rap through improvised freestyling, and by making freestyling into a conversation or a rhyming game which they play frequently as a way to practice, as described in the book How to Rap .Reasons for freestyling include entertainment, as a therapeutic activity, to discover different ways of rapping, promoting oneself, increasing versatility, or as a spiritual activity. Improvised freestyling can also be used in live performances, to do things such as giving something extra to the crowd and to cover up mistakes. In order to prove that a freestyle is being made up on the spot (as opposed to something pre-written or memorized), rappers will often refer to places and objects in their immediate setting, or will take suggestions on what to rhyme about.
Freestyles are performed a cappella,over beatboxing (as seen in Freestyle ), or over instrumental versions of songs. Freestyling is often done in a group setting called a "cypher" (or "cipher") or as part of a "freestyle battle". Due to the improvised nature of freestyle, meter and rhythm are usually more relaxed than in conventional rapping. Many artists base their freestyle on their current situation or mental state, but have a ready supply of prepared lyrics and rhyme patterns they can use as filler. Freestyling can also be used as a songwriting method for albums or mixtapes.
A freestyle battle is a contest in which two or more rappers compete or "battle" each other using improvised lyrics. It is a prominent part of contemporary hip hop culture, with precursors in poetic battles over the millennia in genres as diverse as Japanese haikai and Norse flyting.In a freestyle battle, each competitor's goal is to "diss" their opponent through clever lyrics and wordplay, with heavy emphasis being placed upon the rapper's improvisational ability. Many battles also include metaphorically violent imagery, complementing the "battling" atmosphere. It is considered dishonorable or shameful to recite pre-written or memorized raps during a freestyle battle, because it shows the rapper to be incapable of "spitting" spur-of-the-moment lyrics. A live audience is key, as a large part of "winning" a battle is how an audience responds to each rapper. Appointed judges may be used in formal contests, but in most cases the rapper who receives the largest audience response is viewed as the victor.
In modern times, with the rise of leagues such as King of the Dot and Ultimate Rap League, most battles are written with some freestyling incorporated into the verses. This allows for more intricate rhymes and insults.
As hip-hop evolved in the early 1980s, many rappers gained their fame through freestyle battles. Battles can take place anywhere: informally on street corners, on stage at a concert, at a school, or at event specifically meant for battling (such as Scribble Jam or the Blaze Battle).
A cypher or cipher is an informal gathering of rappers, beatboxers, and/or breakdancers in a circle, in order to jam musically together. The term has also in recent years come to mean the crowd which forms around freestyle battles, consisting of spectators and onlookers. This group serves partly to encourage competition and partly to enhance the communal aspect of rap battles. The cipher is known for "making or breaking reputations in the hip hop community; if you are able to step into the cipher and tell your story, demonstrating your uniqueness, you might be more accepted".These groups also serve as a way for messages about hip hop styles and knowledge to be spread, through word-of-mouth and encouraging trends in other battles.
"Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of "flyting". According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.
Rapping is a musical form of vocal delivery that incorporates "rhyme, rhythmic speech, and street vernacular", which is performed or chanted in a variety of ways, usually over a backing beat or musical accompaniment. The components of rap include "content", "flow", and "delivery". Rap differs from spoken-word poetry in that it is usually performed in time to musical accompaniment. Rap being a primary ingredient of hip hop music, it is commonly associated with that genre in particular; however, the origins of rap precede hip-hop culture. The earliest precursor to modern rap is the West African griot tradition, in which "oral historians", or "praise-singers", would disseminate oral traditions and genealogies, or use their rhetorical techniques for gossip or to "praise or critique individuals." Griot traditions connect to rap along a lineage of black verbal reverence, through James Brown interacting with the crowd and the band between songs, to Muhammad Ali's verbal taunts and the poems of The Last Poets. Therefore, rap lyrics and music are part of the "Black rhetorical continuum", and aim to reuse elements of past traditions while expanding upon them through "creative use of language and rhetorical styles and strategies". The person credited with originating the style of "delivering rhymes over extensive music", that would become known as rap, was Anthony "DJ Hollywood" Holloway from Harlem, New York.
Old-school hip hop is the earliest commercially recorded hip hop music. It typically refers to music created around 1979 to 1983.
Richard Martin Lloyd Walters, better known as Slick Rick, is a British-American rapper and record producer.
Nathaniel Thomas Wilson, better known by his stage name Kool G Rap, is an American rapper from Queens. He began his career in the mid-1980s as one half of the group Kool G Rap & DJ Polo and as a member of the Juice Crew. He is often cited as one of the most influential and skilled MCs of all time, and a pioneer of mafioso rap/street/hardcore content and multisyllabic rhyming. On his album The Giancana Story, he stated that the "G" in his name stands for "Giancana", but on other occasions he has stated that it stands for "Genius".
William Michael Griffin Jr., better known by his stage name Rakim, is an American rapper and record producer. One half of golden age hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential and most skilled MCs of all time.
Mohandas Dewese, better known by his stage name Kool Moe Dee, is an American hip hop MC prominent from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. Kool Moe Dee was a member of the rap group Treacherous Three, and also one of the first rappers to earn a Grammy Award and was the first rapper to perform at the Grammys.
Antonio Hardy, better known by his stage name Big Daddy Kane, is an American rapper and actor who started his career in 1986 as a member of the rap collective the Juice Crew. He is widely considered to be one of the most influential and skilled MCs in hip hop.
How Ya Like Me Now is the second solo studio album by American rapper Kool Moe Dee from the Treacherous Three. It was recorded at Battery Studios in London, England and released on November 3, 1987 via Jive Records. Production of the album was handled by Teddy Riley, Bryan "Chuck" New, LaVaba Mallison, Pete Q. Harris and Kool Moe Dee. The record peaked at #35 on the Billboard 200 and #4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. It is his best-selling album to date, achieving platinum certification by the RIAA. The album has spawned three singles: "How Ya Like Me Now", "Wild Wild West" and "No Respect".
Freestyle Fellowship is an American hip hop group from Los Angeles, California. It consists of Aceyalone, Myka 9, P.E.A.C.E., and Self Jupiter. They are part of the Project Blowed collective.
The Treacherous Three was a pioneering hip hop group that was formed in 1978 and consisted of DJ Easy Lee, Kool Moe Dee, L.A. Sunshine, Special K and Spoonie Gee, with occasional contributions from DJ Dano B, DJ Reggie Reg and DJ Crazy Eddie. They first appeared on record in 1980 on the B side of Spoonie Gee's single Love Rap.
In rapping and poetry, multisyllabic rhymes are rhymes that contain two or more syllables An example is as follows:
I've got a bad taste / It gives me mad haste.
Michael Troy, better known by his stage name Myka 9, is a rapper and producer from Los Angeles, California. He is a member of Freestyle Fellowship, Haiku D'Etat and Magic Heart Genies. Known for years as Mikah Nine, he changed the spelling to Myka Nyne with the release of A Work in Progress in 2003. Since Magic Heart Genies' album Heartifact in 2008, he has been credited as Myka 9.
There’s a God on the Mic: The True 50 Greatest MCs is a 2003 book by the old school hip hop MC Kool Moe Dee, where he ranks what he believes to be the Top 50 greatest MCs of all time, giving a breakdown of each artist. The book also features a foreword from Chuck D and includes full color photos from hip hop photographer Ernie Paniccioli.
Battle rap is a type of rapping that includes bragging, insults and boasting content. Battling can occur on recorded albums, though rap battles are often recited or freestyled spontaneously in live battles, "where MCs will perform on the same stage to see who has the better verses".
A hype man, in hip hop music and rapping, is a backup rapper and/or singer who supports the primary rappers with exclamations and interjections and who attempts to increase the audience's excitement with call-and-response chants. Music writer Mickey Hess expands the term as follows: "a hype man is a figure who plays a central but supporting role within a group, making his own interventions, generally aimed at hyping up the crowd while also drawing attention to the words of the MC".
How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC is a book on hip hop music and rapping by Paul Edwards. It is compiled from interviews with 104 notable rappers who provide insights into how they write and perform their lyrics.
Troy Donald Jamerson, better known by his stage name Pharoahe Monch, is an American rapper from South Jamaica, Queens, New York. He is known for his complex lyrics, intricate delivery, and internal and multisyllabic rhyme schemes.
Chopper is a hip hop music style that originated in the Midwestern United States and features fast-paced rhyming or rapping. Those that rap in the style are known as choppers, and rapping in the style is sometimes referred to as chopping. The style is one of the major forms of Midwest hip hop, though by the early 1990s it had spread to other parts of the United States including California and New York City, and it has spread across the world since.
5 Deadly Venoms of Brooklyn is a mixtape created by five New York City DJs, P.F. Cuttin', Mister Cee, Tony Touch, DJ Premier and Evil Dee. The mixtape was recorded in 1997 and released by Tape Kingz on cassette tape. The name of the album is a reference to a well-known kung-fu movie Five Deadly Venoms.
Hip-Hop Evolution is a Canadian music documentary series that originally aired on HBO Canada in 2016. Hosted by Juno Award-winning artist Shad, the series profiles the history of hip-hop music through interviews with many of the genre's leading cultural figures. The series is produced by Darby Wheeler, Rodrigo Bascuñán, Russell Peters, Scot McFadyen, Sam Dunn and Nelson George. It won the 2016 Peabody Award, and the 2017 International Emmy Award for Best Arts Programming.