BY JACOB "34" KOERTGE • JANUARY 13, 2019
Last month, Ambrosia For Heads revisited a 1997 conversation between LL Cool J, Redman, DMX, Method Man and MTV News’ Abbie Kearse. The interview unpacked the varying definitions of a freestyle, pulling opinions of the MCs from some different eras and backgrounds. As can be seen and heard by the definitions given from these early Rap veterans, the debate over what is and what isn’t a freestyle has been argued over and redefined since the beginning. To better understand the issue at hand, Justin “The Company Man” Hunte, takes a closer look for the first TBD episode of 2019, with some additional input from Papoose, Reason, and others.
Back in ’97, LL Cool J opined, “A lot of times, when people talk about freestyle, it’s interesting, because being a student of Hip-Hop and growing up on Hip-Hop, I learned that ‘freestyling’ back in the days, really, was when you write a rhyme, and then you say it.” Next, DMX offered his take, “It’s just talkin’ mess, not talkin’ about any particular subject, just talkin’ about how good you are. That’s freestylin’ to me.” And later, “Freestyle, to me, is a style—not speaking on any particular subject, just on how nice you are.” Although he is in agreement to the previous two MCs, Redman added, “Sometimes it’s off the top of the head, but sometimes it’s just lyrics that can be about anything. You can write a freestyle, just talkin’ about anything, any particular subject. You can jump from subject to subject.”
Even as told some 20 years ago from the genre’s leading artists, freestyling still seems to have multiple definitions. Hunte asks Brooklyn’s Papoose, an artist who has proven himself to be highly capable of keeping the artform alive on mixtapes, by some definitions.