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Old School Archives

Revisit rare freestyle footage from 'Yo! MTV Raps' in 1995

The meaning of the colloquial term ‘freestyle’ has often been debated. Many insist it means rapping verses on the spot that are not pre-written, while others claim that it means spitting pre-written rhymes but in a free-flowing way that is devoid of structure. However, in a 2009 interview that went on to be transcribed for the book How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC by Paul Edwards, legendary Brooklyn rapper Big Daddy Kane stated that “In the eighties, when we said we wanna freestyle rap, that meant it was a rhyme that you wrote that was free of style, meaning there’s not8 a subject matter, it’s not about a woman, it’s not a story about poverty, it’s basically a rhyme just bragging about yourself, free of style”.

He continued to address the ‘not pre-written’ school of thought, revealing, “off the top of the head, we just called that off the dome, when you don’t write it and just say whatever comes to mind.” So in a statement declared that “really a freestyle is a rhyme that you write. 

What this Brooklyn rapper declares is the definition of a ‘freestyle’ is in complete contradiction to Brooklyn rapper Papoose, who, in an interview with Justin Hunte  (former Editor-in-Chief of HipHopDX) for ‘The REAL Definition of Freestyle’, stated that “In my opinion, there are two definitions of freestyling. Hip hop is a culture, it’s a way of life. It’s not just the music, there are so many different elements of hip hop. When you grow up in that culture, and you’re an up-and-coming MC, anytime you ran into another MC you respected, you exchanged verses, and we called this a cypher. Some guys had dope rhymes, and there were some guys who could just speak about what was going on at that current time off the top of their heads. We’d reference them as ‘Oh, he’s a freestyler’”.

Here Papoose effectively declares that a freestyler is someone who raps rhymes that are not pre-written. The debate could go on all day. However, one thing that all MCs can agree on is that a freestyle is a great medium to showcase your talent.

Whether it’s with tongue-twisting rhyme schemes or hard-hitting metaphors and double entendres, a freestyle is how you display your skillset. There have been so many legendary lyrics rapped at freestyle, whether it’s Biggie Smalls on a Brooklyn corner or Busta Rhymes in a cypher against Ol Dirty Bastard. So for this article, we’re digging into the freestyle archives by taking it back to 1995 to rewatch some rare freestyle footage from ‘Yo! MTV Raps’.

In 1995 ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ celebrated its 7-year anniversary, and in true hip hop fashion, MTV saw fit to celebrate with an Allstar cypher featuring some of the biggest names in hip hop. Rakim kicked off with a verse that ended up appearing (although slightly edited) on his album The 18th Letter, on the track ‘It’s Been A Long Time’. Rakim was followed by the legendary lyricist KRS-One. The green-eyed maverick of hip hop, Erick Sermon, then rapped his verse, and Chubb Rock followed. MC Serch closed the Allstar freestyle. 

However, words can not describe the importance of the freestyle in hip hop. You can watch the rare freestyle footage from ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ in the video below.