Freestyling is an art form unique to the genre of rap. It was central to the rise of hip hop and has continued as a tenet of the movement ever since. However, clearly, some folks still get the whole ordeal a bit muddled, but fear not, Big Daddy Kane has laid out the true philosophy of a freestyle for all you sinners out there.
Entering rap in 1986 as a member of the Juice Crew, he might not have been there at the very start, but he certainly rode the first wave and, ultimately, he still resides as one of the greatest ever lyricists to emerge from the genre. Thus, he is uniquely placed to voice his views on where the movement has subsequently gone wrong when it comes to playing around with freestyle.
In an archived interview online, Big Daddy Kane offered up a word of advice for all would-be rappers hoping to follow in his trailblazing footsteps, remarking: “That word freestyle is like a new term, because when we started in the ‘80s, when we said we were doing a freestyle rap that meant that it was a rhyme that you wrote that was free of subject matter.”
Adding: “It’s not a story about a woman, it’s not a story about poverty. It’s basically a rhyme just bragging about yourself, so it is basically free of style. That’s really what a freestyle is. Rapping off the top the head we just called that off the dome when you don’t write it and just say whatever comes to mind.”
Before concluding: “When we used to rap off the top of the head that was something we would do just playing, you know, on the corner, just to see who messed up first. This here rap thing is an art form and with art you paint a picture and when you look at the greatest lyricists who did their thing, they wrote their rhymes.”
In short, Big Daddy Kane seemed somewhat peeved in his own laidback way, that modern rap has put the playful element of practice to the forefront and failed to do the due groundwork of pen, paper and considered inspiration. Rhymes coming off the dome was something fit for street corners but if you wanted to offer up depth to compete with the spoken word progenitors like the poet Gil Scott-Heron then time, effort and some sort of coherent intent was required, proving that Big Daddy Kane is not merely one of the best to play the game, but he also sees it well from the touchline.