This is a book about improving your rap freestyle skills.
Everyone can freestyle. When you have a conversation with your friends or family, or even when you talk to yourself: you’re freestyling. You don’t have a script, you don’t have anything written down. You’re telling your stories, sharing ideas and expressing yourself. This is when some of your best material comes pouring out: when you are comfortable, when you feel natural. What we’re going to do here is build up your confidence when other people are listening to you; when you’re on the spot; when you’re amplified or being recorded; when you’re actually being heard. As you get better at freestyle, your new skills will help you express yourself to friends, family and strangers — as well as in job interviews, at work and giving speeches. You will be better at thinking in the moment, sharing your ideas, projecting your voice, and you’ll tell your story with more confidence.
Freestyling in particular develops these skills by channeling your expression using a framework of beats, rhythm and rhyme. It’s dynamic improvisational poetry. When we freestyle, it feels like we open up a gateway into our subconscious. We don’t have time to think it over so there’s no self-imposed filter. New rhythms and tempos catalyze new ways of communicating. Sometimes what comes out is embarrassing, sometimes it’s scary or sad or hilarious, and if you’re lucky, sometimes it’s brilliant. We also might get to know about what’s lurking under the surface of our consciousness and how to channel it better. We keep things positive, supportive and peaceful. If oppressive viewpoints emerge, we take a moment to assess and respond to any racism, sexism or other negative mentalities that could derail the safe space we are working to provide.
We can’t teach you how to be a rap superstar, make records, make money, or get famous. That’s not a path we know or follow. We hope this book will help you to improve your freestyle, and you will be able to bring those skills to improve any game you play, whether it’s performing on stage, busking on the streets, building community, public speaking, business meetings, peer counselling, interpersonal communications — whatever. You will be better at getting your thoughts flowing freely, and be able to share them in diverse contexts. What you do with those new skills is up to you.
Consider: Freestyling is a crucial part of hip-hop culture. We respectfully acknowledge all the people who founded, created and built it. We are indebted to those visionaries and those who continue to steward the hip-hop culture we love. This book doesn’t hope to teach you about hip-hop. We are not hip-hop authorities and we do not claim to have invented anything regarding freestyling. We produced this book in order to give something back and share the insights we have had while collaborating with hundreds of MCs during our weekly drop-in sessions over the years.
You can read more in the last section, “Taking it to the Next Level”. If you really want to learn about hip-hop, there’s music to listen to, great books to read, documentaries to watch, people to meet and lives to live that can teach you. This is just the beginning.
How to use this book
This book is divided into three main sections. We’d like it if you read the whole book, but we also encourage a non-linear approach, so feel free to jump around to any page you like at any time.
In this introduction you’ll read about what the Freestyle Focus Group is all about, and how we approach freestyle. If you are interested in starting you own freestyle crew and hosting your own freestyle sessions, the second section is for you. If you already have a crew and just want to get going, jump ahead to the section on freestyle exercises for you and your crew. They’ll keep you busy and challenge you to improve your skills during freestyle sessions. Finally, after a great freestyle session, you’ll want to deepen your understanding with further reading to inspire your practice and take it to the next level.
You can try our practice exercises by yourself, but it’s a lot more fun and more powerful to get a group of people to practice together. We see freestyle as a social activity. So find a space, invite some friends, and try out some freestyle exercises together.
If you’ve never freestyle rapped before, we hope this book gives you the confidence to get started. If you’re already an experienced freestyler, we think this book will help you share your creative talent with more people. It can even improve and diversify your skills.
The content in this book represents the ideas, methods and practice that we use every week in our drop-in freestyle rap workshop, and we’ve used it to introduce a lot of people to freestyle and share their thoughts and ideas in a positive environment. Of course, it’s not the only way to do it, but it works for us. We encourage you to try out our ideas, but don’t be afraid to experiment and try out your own.
Ready? Let’s get started.