For some reason, listeners just can’t seem to get enough of improvisation in music. Jazz musicians are highly regarded for their ability to engage audiences on the spot with creative melodies, hip-hop musicians have also been expected to provide listeners with a creative improvisation, commonly known as a “freestyle.” When a rapper freestyles, the expectation is that he will formulate rhymes in a live fashion, as opposed to reciting previously thought-out and arranged lyrics. The freestyle is considered a true test of a lyricist’s skill because it requires that the artist think on his feet and utilize his raw talent, as opposed to having the time to research and prepare material.
However, as the hip-hop genre has progressed, there has been a general consensus among followers that most rappers no longer freestyle; instead, they think of lyrics in advance and perform them in the style of a freestyle, meaning that they simulate a spur-of-the-moment feel by mimicking grunts, randomness, innovative flow of language, and seamless incorporation of mistakes that are all qualities of freestyling’s natural, unrehearsed state. For example, on an online discussion site, rap fans debated the topic “Does Freestyle really exist?” to which one fan responded, “spittin’ really off the top today is rare. They generally rehearse and work prior to the battles or cipher.” Overall, listeners are disenchanted by perception that hip-hop artist are no longer providing fans with an authentic freestyle listening experience.
However, when a rapper’s freestyle is seen as authentic, the response is extremely positive, as is the case with newcomer to the rap scene, Asher Roth. From watching a video of his freestyle at world-renowned New York-based hip-hop radio station, Hot 97, viewers/listeners can tell that Roth is literally creating his lyrics in the heat of the moment. His authenticity is illustrated by lyrics such as “I just bit a sandwich the other day ‘cause I liked it. It was good. Had avocado in the middle. Got my fatty acids in and those omega-threes.” Roth’s discussing such mundane events demonstrates that, at that second, he was unable to think of something more pertinent to say so he mentioned such trivial information just to continue in his flow and keep listeners entertained. This is seen as authentic and original to listeners. Similarly, Roth demonstrates his authenticity when he improvises the lines “Mike Jackson, Rest in peace in heaven. We miss you already and you’ve only been gone three hours.” Roth’s ability to channel very recent events demonstrates that he is spontaneously generating the subject matter of his raps. Furthermore, use of these spontaneities is a testament to his skill because he is able to seamlessly incorporate his ideas into the freestyle despite the constraints imposed by the necessity to work with the beat provided. This creative energy and exhibition of skill is what makes Roth the “it” rapper of the moment.
Asher Roth – Freestyle on The Funkmaster Flex Show
on June 25th 2009