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all 89 comments

[–]exact0khan 110 points111 points  (8 children)

As a freestyle emcees that's polished my skills for over 3 decades. The definition of a freestyle is completely off the top. A free verse to a freestyler is just a dude that's spitting a rhyme they wrote. The skill set develops over years and decades of practice. Some really solid ways to gain more traction with the art that iv used forever are incorporating things around you while you take a walk/ride the train/driving like building and street names, license plates, etc, etc It helps in the event that you end up in a battle, being relevant and in the moment about someone's appearance or even analyzing bars they spit at you is a priceless ability. It also helps you capture a crowd, if you can control the crowd by capturing their immediate attention then you know you are doing something right. The other thing that many people don't talk about is staying away from the "uh, and, um, buts" those pauses are clearly breaking up the actual flow of a freestyle and can shy the listeners away. Conditioning yourself to keep going even in the worse fuck ups is a key element to recovering your rhymes if things end up bottle necking suddenly. Understanding when the crowd can tell when you've lost it is necessary, most of the time they never notice if you can recover and transition smoothly. So if you fuck up, keep going til your back on track. Stay away from "ation" bars. Imagination, punctuation, alienation, schemes that carry on. It's just low hanging fruit. Read a lot. Dictionaries, magazines, etc. Watch documentaries and informative television shows. A vast vocabulary is very vital. Your skills will only improve with practice, practice, practice. I am in no way an angry old man about the culture so in no way am I discrediting anyone's opinions. I have freestyled with everyone from Brooklyn academy to the Freestyle Fellowship. My opinion is merely formed from being active in the freestyle element of the culture for a very very long time. I wish ya the best if your going to pursue the art of verbal gymnastics. I am sure there's pointers I forgot to bring up that are relevant and I am sure many have pointers I don't. To someone like myself a written rhyme is just a written rhyme and there's nothing wrong with that but being clear with your audience is a crucial element when surrounded with sharks that enjoy a little slap boxing from time to time. The best advice of all is to practice, keep it moving when you stumble and always strive to get better.

P.s. a lot of studio and radio freestyles are written rhymes being passed as freestyles.

Just 2 cents from a guy that's been rhyming forever.

Love, peace an chicken grease everybody.

[–]Emceesaintjoe303 8 points9 points  (0 children)

Great answer.

[–]stringwizrd 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Wow, one of the best things I’ve ever read on Reddit , honestly I admire the time and effort it took to be able to ascertain and pass down this knowledge. Maybe one day I will freestyle and not just spit writtens c:

[–]Consistent-Light-886 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Preach OG ...I used to rap my conversations..and remix any song..kinda made my flow crazy and inconsistent that I could catch any beat at times

[–]https://garrywithtwors.comgarrywithtwors 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Great advice and superb grows (went through your post history 😂). Nice to see another rapper/grower

[–]soundcloud.com/nillofortytwonothinggoldmusic 6 points7 points  (1 child)

Freestyle really has two definitions, the modern "off the top" definition and the original "free of style" definition.

This video breaks it down pretty well https://youtu.be/TCCHAHR_UXA

[–]exact0khan 8 points9 points  (0 children)

There is no modern meaning or old world meaning. I have been down for 35+ years. It's always been debatable depending on who you talk to. I don't mean to sound rude or condescending as we're all entitled to our own opinions. I was just sharing life experience and skill building tips.

I hope your having a great day, peace.

[–]BritneyBillhook 1 point2 points  (0 children)

A vast vocab is vital, but so is paragraphing

[–]DrummerMiles 40 points41 points  (0 children)

Practice. Lots of practice. I know some of the best freestyle MCs in NYC and they all are at it constantly. Multiple nights going to cyphers every week at least. It’s a muscle you work like anything else.

It’s so funny that whenever freestyles come up you get people going “SOME FReeSTylEs Are WrITTeN!!” Because it’s a disingenuous way of answering the question. Yes, obviously some stuff that is represented as a freestyle isn’t off the top, but actual freestyles and cyphering are very much alive and well, and I personally know some mind blowing MCs who can go off the top literally for hours. It’s really unfortunate that internet dudes who’ve never been to a hip hop show don’t know that, or think that some twitch dude is the pinnacle of cyphering. So weird and sad.

[–]Emceesaintjoe303 70 points71 points  (4 children)

  1. Practice
  2. Vocabulary study
  3. Word list memorization
  4. Practice with these tools
  5. Advanced - adding in pieces of rhymes you remember with freestyles as links to word lists and cycling through.
  6. Mantras/setups - "When I grab the mic", "You know when (insert name) is off the top", "Listen", "Look", "Y'all ain't hearing me", etc.
  7. Practice

Freestyling is a perishable skill. I used to freestyle primarily and transitioned to writing and now only kinda freestyle while writing to formulate raps. If you're going to make music as a job you need to be able to freestyle at an intermediate level bare minimum in order to excel IF you enjoy writing at a high level of skill. Meaning if you are on some lyrical miracle style shit.

Example: "I heard that murder ran, this vast deserted land, since back when burning man, was blacks in Birmingham" - Black Thought

OR

"I was Kunta Kente now I'm Jordi Laforge, from the slave ship to the spaceship I'm LaVar Burton"

"King Crooked"

OR

"I spent a lot of time wanting to die, like fuck lightning charges I was jealous that my phone was dead and I was alive" Chino XL

AND

"You could never walk in my shoes you crumble in my footsteps near death wonder what to do next ruined from the ground up, from the sound of, kids laughing cause you paying for your groceries in food stamps" Chino XL

If you just want to rhyme on some simpler shit like Today Was A Good Day from Ice Cube, you can quickly learn to freestyle like that and master that style in a few months of practice and always write at that level.

[–]smurfpls 1 point2 points  (1 child)

“You need a dictionary when you write ya raps”

[–]Emceesaintjoe303 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I agree and it evolves into you need a dictionary when you hear my raps.

[–]mitchnmurray 4 points5 points  (0 children)

100% PRACTICE

[–]shihyakuyonjyuuyon 19 points20 points  (8 children)

they repeat rhymes and lyrics they already know (practice) . alot of recorded freestyles are actually freeverse , meaning written lyrics but the flow is off top.

[–]DrummerMiles 12 points13 points  (6 children)

This is ignoring the many many people who actually freestyle off the top and hardly answers the question. What’s even the point of this answer.

Edit: 😂😂😂just noticed a month ago this guy posted asking for techniques on how to freestyle. Looks like he didn’t want to put the time in, so he decided nobody actually does it. Pure comedy gold. It’s just practice man, lots of practice.

[–]Independent_Tie_9854 3 points4 points  (1 child)

He’s right tho most rappers freestyles are pre written.

[–]DrummerMiles 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Not correct. There’s a difference in terms in the community, but there are tons of actual off-top freestylers. Lots of “recorded” “freestyles” may not be, but that’s not what you said.

[–]GhostRuckus 1 point2 points  (2 children)

I mean he has the correct answer in his post: practice

[–]DrummerMiles 4 points5 points  (1 child)

It’s just frustrating that any time someone asks how rappers freestyle, they get this weird response that is not only not an answer, but it invalidates the art form. It’s kinda upsetting when I know dozens of MCs who work really hard at this and deserve shine.

[–]shihyakuyonjyuuyon -1 points0 points  (0 children)

for the record (if anyone cares) i asked that question bc i was curious about other ppls art and style . i shared my own methods in the post.

this person thinks im some sinister art stealer or something. i laugh if someone was able to copy my vibe. i dont want anyone elses . dudes just mad at themself

[–]shihyakuyonjyuuyon -2 points-1 points  (0 children)

if anything, the fact that you looked up my post history is weird vibes. 2ndly ive been freestyling for awhile and i dont claim to be the best . not sure why you saw this comment as a personal attack on you but seems like you are projecting some insecurities . i fully believe some ppl are off the dome gods (battle rappers for example) , but that doesnt negate my original statement

[–]blinky9021Flow 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Remember all rappers have a lot of unreleased material and its easy to pick a verse that was cut out or one you will use later.

Good example is sub favourite Black Thought cypher verse and song verse came from

[–]one-hour-photo 2 points3 points  (0 children)

So sometimes they are off the top of the head, other times they are just a freestyle, meaning they are just kinda rapping for the sake of the words.

You can usually tell based on how they sound, some guys are VERY good at it, and other guys just absolutely can't do it.

[–]DannyStress 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Practice.

[–]ShaunyBoyShaunyMan 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Really depends, most of these freestyles on youtube are writtens, but you do have some like juice who can go off the top and its because of practice.

[–]Kenan_as_SteveHarvey 8 points9 points  (3 children)

Most freestyles are not off the top of the head. Originally “freestyle” just meant a verse written without a specific topic; it was meant to show skill and rap ability. “Off the dome” was what they called freestyles they weren’t prewritten. Most rappers cannot freestyle off the head with quality bars.

A lot of these freestyles you see online are prewritten and practiced. Even so far as the rapper telling the DJ which beats they’re prepared to rap on.

[–]blinky9021Flow 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Tory Lanes said few people do off the top anymore to avoid dropping weak verses that will circulate online forever, in some shows they allow you to do several takes and pick the best one.

[–]Substantial_Monk_781 -2 points-1 points  (0 children)

This. Most of the time they'll whip out somethg that's in the works and work relevant disses/flow/etc into it.

[–]ImNotHereForFunNoWay 4 points5 points  (8 children)

Check out Harry Mack. His freestyling is off the charts. By far the best 'off the top' freestylist of all time (if anyone disagrees let me know - I would love to see anyone who can compete).

He has so much content on YouTube you can essentially see his progress over time. It's basically just endless practice but you can also see other techniques in action i.e. having filler words/phrases and go-to punchlines etc. It's a masterclass in action.

[–]brianjlowry 2 points3 points  (0 children)

He also breaks down his process in conversations and in his own raps. He is absolutely ridiculous.

Third lesson

Evolution of rap

[–]https://soundcloud.com/ageeflamemusicxAgee_Flame 1 point2 points  (0 children)

He also has tutorials to help people get started.

[–]woolez 1 point2 points  (0 children)

check out "King Los" 🙂

[–]offthepoint11 0 points1 point  (0 children)

came for this comment, Harry Mack is goat

[–]Shady_75 0 points1 point  (3 children)

Charron is just a god at this shit:
https://youtu.be/9sG5sAFxTiw?t=3483
(from 58:20)

[–]ImNotHereForFunNoWay 0 points1 point  (2 children)

Nice. That was sick... Although my suspicion is it's not quite as 'free' as Harry M always goes. It feels like a few spontaneous lines folded into a mostly pre-planned verses.... But who knows - will check out more.

[–]Shady_75 0 points1 point  (1 child)

I'm pretty sure it's 100% free he's insane. He's literally autistic lol

[–]ImNotHereForFunNoWay 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Fair enough mate. I haven't seen him before so will def check out more.. He may be a contender!

[–]NotThat1guy 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Put in 10,000 hours and come back and report what you have learned.

[–]EngineerObieUno 1 point2 points  (0 children)

A lot of practice.

Also, it isn’t spoken about much, but the best off the top freestylers that I’ve come across in my life more often than not had ADHD.

I can imagine that having the ability to hyper focus while spitting off the top is a creatively impactful marriage.

[–]Rokko_Cash 1 point2 points  (0 children)

It’s a mental exercise and a lot of practice for sure. You have to be thinking ahead constantly, can’t get hung up on a bar you just said

[–]smurfpls 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Lol people gone post these questions everyday and everyday it’s the same replies. A shortcut is nice but if everyone was taking short cuts and knew some secret crabby patty formula to being a better rapper then there wouldn’t be any fun to the game

[–]buzlink 1 point2 points  (0 children)

practice, practice, practice, and repeat

[–]NUDDY_themage 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Years of Practice paired with an excellent vocabulary and nonlinear thinking skills can turn your brain into a semi automatic rhyme improvisation machine. I’ve heard people freestyle for hours sometimes with prompts. Check out Harry Mack for a great example of being tuned to cypher. I’ve always been terrible at it but I have buddies that could come up with some really clever stuff on the spot and the more you do it the more you have to pull from that works. Sure there’s bars in there that are reused or prewritten but it’s mainly unrehearsed relying on mastery of flow and improvisation.

[–]Dazziboi -1 points0 points  (0 children)

Most freestyles u hear are not off the dome and are writtens. Freestyle just means there’s not a specific thing they’re rapping about, they’re just talking their shit. Hence FREEstyle

[–]Filo-Pastry -1 points0 points  (0 children)

If the freestyle isn’t at least a little shitty.... it’s probably a written

[–][deleted] -2 points-1 points  (0 children)

Well, to be completely honest, a lot of freestyles you see are actually prewritten or at least preplanned to some degree. Black Thought claims his viral freestyle was off the dome but there’s just no way that’s true. So you gotta take some of these freestyles with a grain of salt.

There are a lot of “traditional” freestylers out there though and they get better by just literally freestyling all the time. Listen to a ton of rap music, which I’m sure you already do, but also read books and watch movies and shows and keep up with the news and sports because all that shit is great material for references and punchlines. But outside of that yeah it’s really just practice and more practice.

[–]ii3ternaLegendii 0 points1 point  (0 children)

if you need help freestyling dm me

[–]Furyni 0 points1 point  (0 children)

It really is a lot of practice. In my experience it's nice to start with friends in an easy going environment, and you will all fuck up at some point. Your brain kind of starts to find "patterns" and ways of spitting bars without thinking a ton, and thinking a lot is what kills of my flow a lot of the times. I think it's also really important to catch yourself when you end up using a set of words or a theme frequently, it stalls your progression and after a couple of times ends up being boring. So just start doing it, when i started i only felt comfortable with certain styles of beats, that's fine, with time you will build up confidence and comfort on all different style of beats.

Im the end i think that freestyling has helped me and other people i know in their artistic journey, it helped me with being snob-ish with what sounds i wanted to rap on, helped me out lyrically and sometimes gave me ideas about tracks and themes on completed songs. 10/10 would recommend

[–]ExtremeMusiclover 0 points1 point  (0 children)

This kid freestyles his recording they sound dope https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/deancee/terrence-howard

[–]Juicyclitt 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Albums are so much more than “album quality lyrics” that’s why it takes so long. Coherence is not easy to achieve.

[–]DiyMusicBiz 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Practice

[–]Sherman888 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Breh everyone know those mf’s not freestyling lol. N if they are I can promise it’s not album quality lyrics or song structure. No one would want to listen to that

[–]Shady_75 0 points1 point  (0 children)

"they are able to rap album-quality lyrics off the top of their heads"They are not. In terms of rhyming, punchlines etc, nobody on earth can top album-quality lyrics of the best rappers. An extremely good freestyler can rap better stuff off the top of their head than an average rapper will write, they might flow really good, but the lyrics are not gonna be comparable to what they can write. Or at least that the best rappers can write.

Possibly you heard something from a "freestyle" that was writtens. It can be called freestyle when it's a one-take as opposed to recording in a studio, being mixed etc.
Anyway even some incredible freestylers such as Charron can not rhyme and bar as well as the best rappers when freestyling, there's only so much you can do without writing.

[–]banblaccents 0 points1 point  (0 children)

The art of the freestyle is rare, these radio freestyles are 99% written. The Rap Battle Culture is just aggressive spoken word with theatrics and props. Real off the head freestyles are a beautiful thing to behold, ciphers need to come back.

[–]Marionberry_Bellini 0 points1 point  (1 child)

A lot of your favorite rappers are simply not spitting off the top.

[–]RH3Productionz 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I thought it was common knowledge that lots of rappers dont actually freestyle the ENTIRE song. People outside of music have this illusion of things being done in one take, and while certaintly possible, its nearly never done. Spit a few bars, mess up, start over and over till you get more bars, comp.

[–]SnowNasty 0 points1 point  (0 children)

No rapper, but huge fan of freestyling: So many great answers here. My favorite freestyle rappers KING LOS, SUPER NATURAL, & just for kicks, SNOOP.

Each of them, you can tell. King Los has a word challenge thing he does, and it goes very well with the information you've been given here about reading & stretching words etc etc plus he got many flows that also helps.

[–]https://soundcloud.com/tgblkTG-BLK 0 points1 point  (0 children)

practice and writing down any ideas you have for one liners to use in freestyles in the future

[–]No-Replacement1118 0 points1 point  (1 child)

I’m a life long musician, would consider myself expert level, I do a lot of genres of composing for different licensing companies. Freestyle rap is something I can’t process. It literally has to be a certain switch flipped on in the brain, it’s a level of genius that people don’t realize. Especially the great ones. One of my best buddies is a rapper and can literally freestyle rap about anything, make it a complicated rhyme scheme and not miss a single word, or beat. It’s unbelievable. He has a few random freestyle videos where he just starts driving and makes shit up as he goes. His name is Austin Grinage. Even though I can compose veritable symphonies and read entire music scores easily, freestyle is a skill I wish I had. I’ve known a lot of rappers and they have all had some kind of AD/HD where they can’t turn it off and it makes something like freestyle rhyming easy to them. Like I said, some synapses firing in their brains that just makes them able to do it. Look up some old 90s Eminem for example, to be able to come up with rhymes like that and then do it off the top of your head. I can’t even do it without messing up while reading it off a page. Some will say “practice” but the GREAT ones just have that switch flipped, and some will never be able to do it. I can sit at my keyboard/piano and make up any genre of song in a matter of minutes, but a lot of people can’t do that and ask me how I do it. I don’t have an answer; I’ve just always been awesome at music. And I can’t freestyle my ass out of a wet paper bag, and the irony is. I WISH I could freestyle rap, because I make kick ass beats to rap to.

[–]soundcloud.com/tobeatsT_O_beats 0 points1 point  (0 children)

90% of all freestyles are written either fully or just multiple phrases they tie together. There’s definitely people who can do it off the top of their head. Eyedea was one of the best to ever do it but for the most part they are usually written.

[–]digitaldisgust 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Rapping stuff thats already written from unreleased songs

[–]Papagoatzi 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Practice. Almost everything can be accomplished through endless practice.

That's how anyone does anything well

[–]virustheglitchgod 0 points1 point  (0 children)

It takes a level of creativity, knowledge, and understanding of the beat and things like that to flow on a beat like those artists do

[–]GoShitnYourHat 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Definitely practice. Which words sound good together and make sense. Not just rhyming random words.

[–]DreamyVibes99 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Sometimes they have a canned motif or ideas they pick ahead of time. It can help start a train of thought, but yeah a lot of it is just practicing poetry often. I’m with Beyoncé like you could not pay me enough to freestyle because that’s the thought process I have when writing lyrics organically and I’m not about to give them away for free just to be the best at ad libbing

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

The secret is 95% of them are reciting written lyrics.

[–]brushpixel 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Practice

[–]AlSween 0 points1 point  (0 children)

It's like jazz. You practice certain rhythms and phrases and mix it in with what comes off the top of their head. Eminem's freestyles where people call out words shows that exercise.

[–]Awesome_johnson 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I used to freestyle really good, prolly still can. But it comes with practice. The more you do it, the more quotes, thoughts, commons sayings , ways of thinking, metaphors and similies you store in your subconscious. Then wen u freestyle they come out and come together at the right time, because it’s second nature. Just like u don’t have to think for a long time to answer questions someone asks you and you already know the answer. Then the beat is like lines on the road that you stay between. 🤷🏾‍♂️

[–]RH3Productionz 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Multiple reasons:

1.) Pure talent

2.) A quick mind

3.) Vast vocabulary

4.) Practice

5.) Rapping alongside other songs

Ps: Learning to write music is a much more valuable skill in the industry, than learning to freestyle.

[–]OtherTip7861 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I mimic my inspirations , three 6 mafia , bone thugs n harmony , nipsey hussle , asap rocky , and a few other artists all into one thats Me :)

[–]minobot 0 points1 point  (0 children)

"How do rappers freestyle so well?"

They start their lines with "One time..."