How To Freestyle Rap – What You Must Do To Learn!
In this article you will learn the most efficient way to learn how to freestyle rap.
What is Freestyling?
There is debate and to some degree, uncertainty about what freestyling actually is when we are talking about it with regards to rapping.
Originally, back in the 1980’s, the term ‘freestyle’ referred to a pre-written rap verse that was not on any particular subject matter, written for the sole purpose of demonstrating skill. Today however, the definition of ‘freestyle’ has changed, at least amongst rap purists. In the 1990’s groups such as “Freestyle Fellowship” pushed the boundaries and the definition of ‘freestyle’. It is thanks to their innovation that ‘freestyling’ is generally considered to be improvised rap lyrics performed off the top of the head.
One can debate the true definition of freestyling in this day and age. There are many examples where the term is used for a rap that isn’t improvised, but for the sake of this article I want to assume that it means ‘improvised rap lyrics made on the spot’.
Do Rappers Need to Freestyle?
I am personally of the opinion that at least to a certain degree every rapper should be able to freestyle. That being said, it seems that many rappers today do not see the importance of learning to freestyle. There are many understandable reasons for this. Freestyling was once deemed a necessity for any MC hoping to gain cultural clout and an intention of gaining attention generally. Especially for purposes of winning a rap battle contest for example. However the cultural clout of rap battling is far less significant at the time of writing this, than previously. Even during rap battling’s burgeoning online period the battles were far more pre-planned and set within a much more pre-written format. This was due to the fact that they were events often planned weeks to months in advance to drive the social media traffic. That sense of necessity to freestyle is no longer there.
There are also a lot of famous and successful rappers that are unable to freestyle. In fact many rap purists might argue that many well known rappers of today actually aren’t very technically skilled at all.
Although personally I’m not one to judge the validity of another’s personal choice of self expression and artistry whether that be deemed ‘technically skilled’ or not. Regardless, one could then argue the validity of learning to freestyle as it is not a necessity to becoming successful. There is also the argument that it is too difficult and too time consuming to learn to do compared to the potential benefits. The arguments I often hear are, “Why should I freestyle, if so few successful rappers are able to do it?” And, “I’d rather take my time crafting my lyrics to make something that doesn’t just sound good the first time you hear it, but sounds good time and time again.”
So Why Bother Then?
These are all reasonable arguments but I would assert that learning how to freestyle rap isn’t something that has to be very time consuming to learn to do. Many would agree that it is a skill that can give any MC a distinct advantage, especially if they are able to write good lyrics as well as improvise. I am not suggesting that one should neglect writing and pre-planning lyrics in favour of always freestyling. I am not saying one should necessarily strive to be the best freestyle MC there is either. What I am saying however, is that by learning to freestyle combined with an ability to write, one does seriously put themselves head and shoulders above the rest.
The art of freestyling was something that always intrigued me and I actually started learning to do it very shortly after I started writing. My advice if you are starting out, is to learn to do both at the same time.
It is often seen as being some sort of opposition to written lyrics. I don’t think it should be. It shouldn’t be a case that one should choose to be a freestyle MC or a written MC. One should in fact do both! The biggest reason in my opinion is because they can go hand in hand and one can actually help the other!
Some people have this idea that freestyling takes away from ones ability to write good songs and vice versa. In my experience I can’t find anything further from the truth! In my opinion I would say that freestyling helps your ability to write and writing helps your ability to freestyle but it takes practice on both sides.
So How Do I Learn How to Freestyle?
The important thing to remember is that a rapper improvising is no different from a piano player improvising. A piano player’s ability to improvise is only ever as good as the number of chords and scales they have memorised and their awareness of the numerous ways to use them. Like a piano player needs to know and memorise chords and scales and how to use them, a rapper needs to memorise rhymes, words that flow together and how to use them. When you get to an advanced standard, your mind will become like a rhyming dictionary and you will be able to rhyme words together you might not have thought of until that moment. Regardless, that does take a lot of time and practice in order to get to that level.
OK, great now tell me how to do it!!
I’m quite an advocate for the concept of ‘deliberate practice’, championed by professors Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. In my view, part of deliberate practice entails what I call ‘physical preparation’. There is no better practice and learning curve than actually doing something for real in real time. So with regards to freestyling, you get better at it by actually doing it.
That being said there is little more to learning than just trying to do it. The method for learning to freestyle should be as follows;
1.Find an instrumental
You can do this by going on YouTube or by finding a backing track. YouTube is probably the easiest option. You will find tons of rap instrumentals by searching for it on the YouTube search engine. In fact you can listen to rap beats from yours truly on YouTube!
2.Try your best to freestyle over it
Once you have your instrumental, your aim is to simply attempt to freestyle over the top of the it. If you’ve never freestyled before, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to freestyle for very long before saying a word you can’t think of any rhymes to follow on with. This is fine and normal, don’t get frustrated!
3.Find the word you’re stuck on
As soon as you get stuck, simply remember the word by writing it down on a piece of paper.
4.Consult rhyming dictionary
Go to an online rhyming dictionary such as rhymezone.com or consult an actual rhyming dictionary book and look up the word you are stuck on. This should bring up numerous rhymes that go with this word. On many occasions you’ll be surprised how many rhymes there are for many of the words you get stuck on. Some of these words may in fact be quite obvious to you in hindsight. This is fine and all part of learning.
5.Write all the rhymes down
Once you have looked the rhymes up, your aim is to write them down all on a piece of paper. I find actually writing the words and rhymes helps me memorise them far better than typing them on a computer or smart phone.
6.Practice freestyling again with your new found rhymes
Now that you have the words written down, your next mission is to play the instrumental again and freestyle once more, this time trying to incorporate as many of the words you wrote down as you can. Do your best to make sense with these new found rhymes. It’s important to only use words with meanings you actually understand.
As an additional tip to help you improve even quicker, I recommend recording yourself each time you freestyle then listening back. You can pick mistakes you made and where you need improvement a lot better this way. Also, if you keep your recordings, you’ll be able to hear how much you’ve improved as you listen to past recordings and compare them to new ones!
I would say the above method is the best and most important for learning to freestyle.