Rapping is an amazing musical talent that is bound to bring you plenty of attention and admiration. Imagine this scene; you are at a house party, some guy in the corner has just been boring everybody with his rendition of Wonderwall on the guitar, when you step up to the mic.
Now, out of nowhere, you start dropping sick rhymes and improvising an amazing freestyle rap about your friends and the house party itself. The crowd would go crazy with envy admiration and you would be the unrivalled king of the party. Pretty good eh?
Of course, freestyle rapping is a hobby and a talent that can buy you much more than just jubilation at house parties. It can also give you significant musical direction, giving you an outlet to expand creatively, and spread your musings on the world in a fashionable, fast-paced way.
Many people love the freedom and flexibility to express themselves that freestyle rap gives. Compared with other forms of music and art, there are relatively few rules or limitations. You don’t have to filter your words, and once you get in that state of pure, unfiltered ‘flow’, it is one of the best feelings in the world.
In this comprehensive article, we’ll give you the ultimate guide to acquiring this amazing talent and getting started with freestyle rapping.
Initially, this might sound a bit counter-intuitive, since rap is supposed to be such a personal endeavor, where the music and inspiration comes strictly from within. But in reality, no man is an island.
We cannot ignore that most of our visions and themes, as well as stylistic flourishes, comes from other, external sources. We appropriate ideas and borrow styles, and there is nothing wrong or ignoble about that.back to menu ↑
Listen to lots of rap
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To become a true artist of the freestyle rap form, you should first study the masters of the art. This can be one of the most enjoyable stages of learning how to freestyle rap and can be especially motivating for inexperienced people.
Look up videos and songs from your favorite rap artists. If you can, find less produced, more ‘real-world’ videos of them indulging in the art. This way you can see how they really improvise, and string together sentences, without all the studio polish and refinement.
You need to listen to as much as possible and try as many different artists and genres as possible. Variety is key, as you need early exposure to loads of different styles and themes, so that you can find the genre that really suits you.back to menu ↑
Listen to unknown artists
Of course, it helps to start with the most famous rap artists on the planet, but you can also dive a little deeper. Search for videos and examples from lesser known artists. You should even search for obscure genres and videos from little-known venues.
The internet is your best tool for this research. You will be surprised at the amount of skill and talent that is out there, even if it is not paraded front and canter by the music industry.
You can learn as much from a hap-hazard rap battled filmed on the streets of L.A as you can from a heavily produced album from a huge rap artist.back to menu ↑
Listen with Intention
When you do find quality music that appeals to you, you need to listen to it deliberately and consciously. This might take some time getting used to, and no doubt you will have to listen to each song multiple times.
There are so many features of freestyle rap that it can be hard to pick them all up in one listening session. Use a notepad to record special features that stand out to you. For example, you should listen out for the underlying beat, the spoken rhythm, the cadences and intonation of the rapper, as well as the themes that he touches on and the imagery used.
All this adds to the sense of the rap and can have a major effect on the audience, even if they don’t realize it. As a wannabe freestyle rapper, you first need to appreciate what makes good freestyle rap and be able to discuss and critique the technical and artistic elements of a good rap.
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Intentional listening to rap is the best first step to learning how to freestyle rap, but the second step might be a bit more surprising. To really master the art of freestyle rap, you should also read loads.
It might surprise you, but some of the biggest rappers on the planet are also voracious readers. You don’t necessarily need to devour ‘War and Peace’, but you should read regularly and read varied works, such as articles, short stories, novels and poetry. Yes, even poetry!
Rap is essentially just a more dynamic, modern form of poetry recitation, so there is a lot you can learn from studying some of the great works of poetry such as Yeats, Shelley and Byron. Reading is necessary for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it helps to expand your vocabulary greatly. Words are the backbone of freestyle rap, so the more vocab you have in your arsenal, the more bombs you can drop. Also, reading introduces to new themes and ideas, which you might not be exposed to in the course of your normal life.
Reading immediately expands your horizons, meaning you can rap authentically about more than just your daily 9 to 5.back to menu ↑
Get the beat down
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Once you feel confident that you have read enough and listened to enough quality freestyle rap, you should start to think about the beat behind the music. Rap is heavily rhythm driven, so you need a thorough understanding and intuition for the beat to really be a great rapper.
The vast majority of rap is written in four-four time, also known as common time. This means that there are four beats in every bar, so you should be able to count an even ‘One-Two-Three-Four-One-Two-Three-Four’ in every measure of the song.
Try finding the beat in a bunch of different songs, by counting this in your head (or aloud if you need to). Repeat this exercise until it feels totally naturally. You need to keep this beat in the back of mind when you are rapping, which can be one of the most challenging aspects for new rappers.
Don’t worry if you lose track at certain points in the song, just try and restart the count and pick it up again.
Some songs use slightly different time signatures, but this is mostly used by more advanced rappers and shouldn’t be tried by novices.back to menu ↑
Start rapping on the first downbeat of each bar
Once you have the beat down and secured in your head, try inserting some simple phrases. These can be any sentence at all, they don’t need to sound interesting or even make sense. You just need to get used to breaking up the sentences suitable to match the beat.
Begin each sentence on the downbeat (i.e. on the ‘One’ of your count), as you can usually add a bit of emphasis on this beat. Don’t worry about your lyrics or intonation at this point, you should just focus on getting the flow and feel to match the underlying rhythm.
If you can control the beat and never lose time, then you are halfway to becoming a great freestyle rapper.back to menu ↑
Feel the Flow
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There are two main ways to approach writing rap lines. Some people like to sit down and methodically write out reams and reams of lines, carefully crafting each simile and metaphor, and consulting various references.
Others like to take a more free-form approach. If you are just a beginner then you should experiment with both approaches, to find which method suits you better.
To truly understand how to freestyle rap, you need to approach a state of pure ‘flow’. Most rappers will tell you that this is one of the most creative and exhilarating states of mind that you can achieve in life.
It can be difficult to describe, but it is definitely something that you will recognize when you get there. Flow is a state where new ideas, words and phrases seem to assemble themselves and transmit themselves directly to your mouth.
It is a state of effortless creative production, where your brain is whirring so fast and efficiently that you are not even consciously aware of the process. Essentially, you can cut out the process of laboring thought and your subconscious mind just presents the finished phrases for you to vocalize.
Attaining this state is difficult and requires a lot of effort behind the scenes, but the results make it worth it.
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Find a creative space
Don’t be disheartened when you can’t find this ‘flow’ when you first start. Almost nobody can at first. But that doesn’t mean that the freeform approach is not valid. You just need to dedicate more time.
Play an instrumental beat in the background, decide on a general theme or broad direction for your lyrics, and just experiment saying anything and everything that comes to your mind. Eventually you will stumble across some decent lyrics.
Many people prefer to do this standing up, because sitting down at a desk can stifle their creativity. It can be difficult but try and quieten the conscious part of your brain. You need to minimize the amount of thinking that you are doing, so that the sub-conscious, creative giant beneath can awaken.
Lose yourself in the moment and the rhythm. You don’t even need to link each lyric to the previous one. In a real creative, freestyle session, you can throw all the regular rules of logic and structure out the window. It can help to be isolated, so find a space far away from friends or family at first.
Also, your environment should be creatively stimulating as well as comfortable, as this can affect your sub-conscious mind. If you put real effort into this free form approach, then it will pay dividends in the future.back to menu ↑
Prepare out some phrases beforehand
The other approach to learning how to freestyle can be just as rewarding.
This involves a lot more conscious thought and deliberation, but it can result in some really great lyrics and prepared lines that will suit a host of different situations.back to menu ↑
Video: “How to use Metaphors and Similes in Rap Songs”
Similes are one of the most powerful weapons that rappers have in their arsenal. A simile, as you might remember from your English class, is a comparative phrase using the words ‘like’, ‘as’ or ‘than’.
For example, the phrases ‘as cold as ice’ or ‘hotter than the surface of the sun’ are examples of similes. But these are pretty prosaic examples, when used in a rap context they can be much more exciting and dynamic.
Some of the best lines in all of rap are actually similes. For instance, this line from Mr.Man is a great example of a simile: “I drop the greats like clumsy waiters drop plates”. Also, this terrific line from Big Boi actually features two uses of simile: “I’m cooler than a polar bear’s toenails … bend corners like I was curve, struck a nerve”.
Similes add so much color and texture to rap. They can also add a much-needed dose of humor, and they are usually easy to understand and imagine for the audience, unlike more involved metaphors.
Make an effort to come up with as many funny metaphors you can and consider how you can deploy them in freestyle rap. Just take two things with one silly common feature, and you’ve got yourself a great simile.back to menu ↑
Similes are an example of word play, which is when you use your wit and knowledge of language to make a comedic point. Word play is absolutely vital in freestyle rap.
Not only does it usually make your audience laugh, which immediately gets them on your side, but it also shows that you are witty and sharp. Word play can be very hard, and improvised word play is even harder.
If you can master the art of word play, you will always have a willing audience to hear you rap.back to menu ↑
When most people think of rap, they think of rhyming stings of sentences together. As someone who wants to get involved in the world of freestyle rap, you probably already know that there is a lot more to rap than that.
Rhyme is generally a necessary but not sufficient condition for good freestyle rap, and if your lyrics are trite and meaningless, then all the rhyme in the world won’t save you. But if you know how to deploy rhyme then it can be really powerful.
It can act as a strong hook that audiences can latch onto, and also makes your bars sound more controlled and memorable.back to menu ↑
Use full rhyme, slant rhyme and assonance
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Part of understanding rhyme is knowing that there are multiple flavors of rhyme. We are all familiar with the simple use of ‘full rhyme’. This is the most common form of rhyme, and it includes such words as ‘bring and ring’ or ‘clock and mock’.
But there is so much rhyme outside of the strict confines of full rhyme, you just need to explore it a little. For example, slant rhyme is very commonly used in freestyle rap. These are words which share consonant sounds but don’t necessarily share vowel sounds, hence they are not considered full rhymes.
For instance, ‘roar and choir’ or ‘vowel and bowl’ are examples of slant rhyme. There are various other types of rhyme as well. For example, assonance is a common feature, and is equally applicable to written poetry and freestyle rap. Assonance is when words share vowel sounds.
Often multiple words in a sentence can share the same type of vowel sound, leading to a very beguiling type of internal rhyme. Assonance can be found all over the world of hip hop and rap, for example Eminem uses assonance in the verse of his song ‘Patiently Waiting’; “They think they’re crazy, but they ain’t crazy let’s face it, shit basically they just playing”.
In this one line the extended ‘a’ vowel sound makes multiple appearances. Assonance can help to emphasize certain words and it helps the phrase to roll off your tongue as well.back to menu ↑
Make use of Alliteration
There are many other quasi-poetic devices that you should try and incorporate in your freestyle rap. Alliteration is one of the most popular of such devices. Alliteration is when multiple words in a sentence begin with the same letter.
For example, ‘Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore’ is a widely quoted example of alliteration. This is not just meant to be a tongue-twister, it actually serves an important purpose. Alliteration can grab the listeners attention, and really hammer home a point.
It can also give your rap an almost chant-like quality, which emphasizes the importance of the subject. Many great rappers make use of this. For instance, Saigon and the legendary Kool G Rap have used it extensively; “I pause for you people to peep the letter P/Poetically put in a paragraph so perfectly”.
It can be hard to employ this in freestyle rap but try and focus on matching nouns with an adjective that starts with the same consonant sound such as ‘broken bells’ or ‘crazy crowds’. This can immediately make you sound like a seasoned freestyle rapper.back to menu ↑
Lose your filter
One of the biggest problems that most novices have when they start rapping is they run out of things to say. This is usually because they are consciously self-filtering. This means they are thinking about what they are going to say, and if they think it sounds stupid, they just stop.
This is a very human reaction, but unfortunately, to be a great freestyle rapper, you need to get over this tendency. If you want to be a great freestyle rapper, you need to lose all your vocal inhibitions. Get into the habit of saying something, anything to fill the dead space.
Don’t worry if you think it sounds stupid, literally anything is better than dead silence. One helpful tip is, if you can’t think of what to rap next, say that. Say something like, ‘I can’t think what to say, my brain’s gone dry’.
This might actually prompt your next line and can lead to a great recovery.back to menu ↑
Start your bar with a prepared line
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The trick to knowing how to freestyle rap is often to have a few go-to lines to start you spitting. This is not cheating, and is a technique used by most of the best freestyle rappers in the business.
You can either have these lines prepared well beforehand, or you can think of them in the interlude of the music.
Freestyle rapping is partly a confidence game and knowing where to start will give you a much-needed stable launching pad to get your confidence up. Try and make these lines as generic (but still interesting) as possible, so that they can be used in a wide variety of situations.back to menu ↑
I’m so … lines
To help beginners learning how to freestyle rap it can help to insert a few easy sentence structures to get you going. One of the most common of these is the ‘I’m so (blank)” line. This allows you to either big yourself up or be self-deprecating.
It is a very easy format to incorporate into your freestyle, and it gives you ample room to expand into nearly any topic. What’s more, by using simple adjectives it is easy to come up with rhymes, which gives your speech flow and rhythm.
There are other lines like this which are commonplace in the world of freestyle rap. For example, you could say ‘I like (blank) cuz they’re so (blank)’. In general, it is better to avoid being too clichéd, but it is totally acceptable for novices.back to menu ↑
This is a common mistake that novice freestyle rappers make. Because they listen to famous names, they think they have to rap about their fortunes and drugs. But unless that reflects your actually life, that is going to sound inauthentic and a bit ridiculous.
You should try and rap about what you know, no matter how boring you might think it is. This way you will sound more sincere and people are likely to take you a bit more seriously. You can work your way up to grander themes.back to menu ↑
Emphasis is Key
Intonation is one of the most important skills you will learn when studying the art of rap. You need to know when to speed up and when to slow down. You should also learn when to add emphasis to words, to really hammer home a point.
This can add urgency or focus to a certain part of the song and helps to bring the audience along with you. It is a vital component of good freestyle rap.back to menu ↑
You will hate your voice at first
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This is pretty much a universal rule when it comes to freestyle rap. Every great rapper feels very uncomfortable when they first hear their rap voice. It takes time to develop and find your rap voice, so go easy on yourself.
As you improve and develop your intonation, rhythm and vocabulary, you will gradually become more comfortable with how you sound.
How To Find And Improve Your Rap Voice
Of course, you will be nervous at first, but practicing in front of people will help you develop a lot. At first you should practice in front of friends and family, exclusively people you trust.
Ask them to be constructive but also to be honest about what elements of your freestyle worked and what didn’t.back to menu ↑
Practice, Practice, Practice
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your rap career be. You need to devote a lot of time and effort to develop all the skills listed above.
Be deliberate with your practice as well. Create a practice schedule and stick to it. Gradually you will reap the benefits of this hard work.back to menu ↑
Learning how to freestyle rap can be one of the most rewarding things you can do musically. It is an amazing skill that will instantly make you a star in the eyes of your friends. There are lots of stages to this process, as outlined in this article.
It starts with the desire and the motivation. From there you need to truly immerse yourself in the world of rap. Listen to different artists, copy and critique their style, pick out the features they use and try to emulate them.
Find a comfortable creative space to practice and start to rap aloud. This will probably be disorienting and disheartening at first, but remember to focus on the progress you make, not on the work you have left to do.
It might take a while, but eventually you will be dropping bars like a pro and will be able to teach others how to freestyle rap!
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