Freestyle, A Ghanaian Perspective


My verses cut across

Knife through a loaf

You can’t bite on this

I don’t sell bofloat

Or ballfloat, whatever

Maybe both, aveda kedabra

It’s obvious, I hail from Ghana

Where there are buildings, internet, cars, jaguars      Image

Not the stereotype showcase of Africa

By the media

But then again, whatever

***-__-***

I sit at my desk

Pen in my hand

Walking around

I shake the ground

Heavyweight Ali

Badass Mugabe

Alcan eye drop

I spit lines, make your eye pop

Thinking so hard, ‘bout this article

I’m half nerd, without spectacles

Freestyle I wanna spit about

Obviously I’m lame, verses like a roundabout

Let me leave it there, before I tire you out

You have better things you brain could do

But I think I got you glued

Na ma own small juju oo. :p

*******

Okay I tried, maybe too little (or maybe too much?), but nonetheless I tried. I tried to freestyle a rap verse. I wrote just about whatever came to mind, so I guess it can qualify as a legitimate freestyle.

Freestyle rap has long been a hallmark of hip-hop culture, more specifically freestyle rap battles. Rephrasing, freestyle rap for a long time has been an integral part of hip-hop, whether mainstream or underground, where I believe it is most practiced.

From the little info I gathered, there are two very different interpretations of freestyle rap. There is the old school, and in my own words, the contemporary.

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The old school is associated with old school hip-hop, obviously! In those old school hip-hop days, the ‘80s era, freestyle rap was basically pre-written or memorized verses an MC had. It was something of a portfolio of one’s lyrical ability. The rap at this time embraced braggadocio (it still does), and didn’t focus on any particular subject; it was as random as it came, and yet, written. Any cat (MC) who came off the dome or the top of his head was considered lazy, untalented and plain wack! I figure this was so because, while coming off the top is amazing, it takes some real creativity to let go of so many ideas, in favor of specific ones that make it to paper, and still sound lyrically good. To be able to come up with unique styles must have been an added zing.

Contemporary freestyle however, popular from the ‘90s onwards, is the exact opposite of its precursor.  Freestyle today is about improvisations and spontaneity, the crowd pleaser being witty, funny, spur-of-the-moment punch lines. If your lines sound like they’re pre-written, then you can start kissing whatever credibility you had and hope to build on gone. Often at battles and ciphers, cats rap about or around a particular topic, however random it might be, but within an (agreed upon) scope. Of course there is the ever present braggadocio. Nonetheless, a few lines are pre-meditated, perhaps ruminating in a cat’s head for a bit, or a killer punch line conjured a while before. These come in handy, for when the cat is about to choke, call them life lines! These appear infinitesimally though (think about the credibility!).

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Eminem’s 8 Mile is an awesome movie that beautifully captures the new age/contemporary freestyle phenomenon,

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as well as BET’s 106 & Park Freestyle Friday sessions.

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You would expect me to talk about battles next I presume? It’s a good thing if you do, but no, it is not. Reggie Rockstone is  hugely credited for the merger of hip-hop and Ghanaian hi-life music, burgeoning a new genre called hip-life; which have it as you may, seems to be morphing into a whole new( if you like), genre: GhRap.

Not many agree GhRap is a genre, but merely a subset of hip-life, enveloping English and pidgin rap, with a native touch to it.

If hi-life or its subset took their influence from hip-hop, then I must say it is only natural that freestyle crosses over. Only problem is, I have no idea what kind of freestyle goes on in this country. It baffles me, it really does! I am clueless as to what sort is practiced here, whether the old school or the contemporary, or perhaps hip-life is carving a new definition for the term?!

A few years ago before the release of his ‘Rapperholic’ album, I heard Sarkodie ‘spitting’ some freestyle verses on Yaw Sakyi’s Rundown show. Those verses are memorable; one verse was something about how he was told by a girl his mouth stank, of rap! I was so elated hearing those lines, I couldn’t really contain it. Then a few months later, those lines were in a song, the whole other bunch;“ditto ditto”!

Perhaps I’m biased towards Sarkodie, because I forgive him. My forgiveness because, it is not unusual for rappers to later incorporate, verses from previous freestyles into their new songs (but the whole nine yards?).

Moving on, nearly all the time I have heard artistes asked to freestyle, they simply perform their already released songs. Either they’re incapable, or do not deem their fans worthy to hear their dexterity. Terrible, I know!

Some are smart enough to blend released material with maybe new ones in a unique way, all the while glued to the script; the general direction at least.

Now the bunch that got me started on this piece, I have no idea what category of freestyle to place them in. On radio a few weeks back, I heard a prominent artiste asked to freestyle (he is probably Indian :p), the host’s intentions I believe to generate some extra hype for the artiste and the upcoming event for which he was slated to grace. What did he do? Well, he quarter performed his ‘own’[sic] hit song! Abysmal I tell you, abysmal!

Imagine This Guy Dropping Verses

At one point, I was under the impression the record wasn’t written or sung by him. This is not the first, and for a long time, I doubt it’ll be the last.

Why artistes can’t just emulate super producer, singer and rapper Jayso, who categorically stated he would rather not freestyle, I have no idea. Pride maybe? But I think they’re hurting their pride more when instead of showcasing spontaneous lyricism, they perform!

Or maybe I’m lost and need my head checked! Perhaps hip-life as a genre needs to redefine freestyling, or perhaps, give whatever it is her children keep doing a new name. Or did hip-life and her child (GhRap) emanate from the old school hip-hop days? I doubt it very much.

Do any Ghanaian artistes freestyle? I know two do! J-town and C-Real are two sub hip-life artistes I have heard freestyle the contemporary way, totally nailing it. I know there is a whole legion of talent out there in possession of the same ability. I cannot forget dancehall artiste Samini, whom I least expected to freestyle, tear the roof down when he was asked by Sammy Forson to do the honors. It was definitely genuine, with Samini jumping from pidgin to English to Raga!!!

Our artistes whom I have high hopes for, should please put in more effort when it comes to such things, or perhaps the genre really needs to define the term freestyling, so my disappointment in their general lyrical dexterity is quelled.

Who doesn’t love to listen to Jin, Ludacris, C-Real or any dope emcee freestyle their heads off, for the listening pleasure of the fans?

Casual Addition:

Some rappers have even reached a point where their mind is the only tool they need to jump on a song, no pen, no paper; welcome the wordsmiths! Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, J-Town are but a few people I’m aware “genuinely” freestyle on their songs, and the songs still manage to reek of perfection, albeit teeny bits of gibberish.  I hear Efya does same in her songs, and she doesn’t rap.

Not that writing lyrics before recording is bad (or vice-versa), I think it is more difficult, letting go of your inhibitions on paper is quite colossal, compared to doing it in the spur-of-the-moment ( which is more difficult is highly debatable though). Take Eminem and Jay-Z for instance, two distinct masterpieces and yet, just the same contended amount of respect and credibility for their lyrical dexterity.

Freestyle eh… this documentary is …..awesome..

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4 thoughts on “Freestyle, A Ghanaian Perspective

  1. Pingback: The Rise & Fall of the Rap Freestyle | Top heavy hits

  2. Pingback: The Rise & Fall of the Rap Freestyle

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