Freestyle rap is a sub-genre of hip hop. When freestyle rapping first began to emerge it was defined by unassociated content, so really any song could be called “freestyle”. But definitions change over time and eventually freestyle rap came to be a sort of impromptu, on the spot rap either solo or in a group.
Usually the most talented rappers are able to pull of a freestyle, however there seems to be a culture gap between song-writing rappers and freestyle rappers. Over the last 15 years there have been some notable examples of freestyle rappers, among them being Supernatural (who holds the Guinness World Record for longest freestyle rap), Illmaculate (2-time world champ), TheSaurus, Eyedea, and Juice. Even though these freestylers are widely respected none of them have ever had a popular album.
But freestyling still takes a significant amount of talent and skill, and can gain you a reputation pretty quickly. Freestyle battles, for example, have become popular and give an up and comer a chance to show off his skills with some more well-known talents. In a freestyle rap battle the two participants have two, rapid-fire one-minute long rounds where they try to outwit and out-rap their adversary. When a rap battle is televised it generally has to be toned down a bit, with rules about profanity and misogyny, which can lead to some creative thinking. However there are online shows featuring rap battles as well that allow for dirtier, nastier lyrics.
Freestyle rapping has also been featured on the radio. Wake Up Show is a nationally syndicated radio program featuring King Tech and Sway, it’s considered an important part of rap culture and invites up and coming rappers to come show their stuff. They’ve also featured more well known artists such as Xzibit, Eminem, Tech N9ne, KRS One, and Atmosphere to demonstrate their freestyle skills.
If you want to learn how to rap, freestyling can help a rapper plan out their song. It can be a good weapon against writer’s block, many rappers will just freestyle until they find a beat or lyrics they like, trying out different rhymes until a song is constructed. It’s rumored that rapper Jay-Z doesn’t write anything down, he just freestyles in the recording booth and then arranges the results into a finished song. But then this raises an interesting problem: if he’s freestyling, and then editing that freestyle into a song, is it still a freestyle? Or is it just songwriting aloud instead of on paper?
Rappers who freestyle, in on street corners or over mixtapes, are sort of a throw back to the beginnings of hip hip. It’s a sort of organic style that is completely focused on the moment. While some rappers are going platinum and relaxing in their riches, hard-working freestyle rappers are out there improving on their skills day in and day out.