Freestyling and battle rapping are among the longest standing traditions of hip-hop, but recently there’s been some debate in online circles about just what constitutes a freestyle in the first place. Some are convinced that it means a rapper must improvise rhymes as they go, while others believe that a freestyle is simply a freeform verse that doesn’t have a concept, theme, or length constraints. No less an authority than legendary battle rapper Supernatural weighed in on the debate during his appearance on People’s Party With Talib Kweli, which is out in full above.
At the 1:18:00 mark, co-host Jasmin Leigh asks Nat to break it down, which he does in his signature, thoughtful style. “Off-the-head is the purest form of freestyling,” he explains. “But freestyling can also be a coherent written rhyme with no particular direction.” Kweli backs him up by providing the example of rappers going back-and-forth with verses, but not necessarily trying to make a song. “A true freestyle,” says Nat, “is living in the moment. Rhyming about what you’re rhyming about and allowing it to flow… Once you start to tap into that realm as an artist, you can only become a better artist.”
Some of the artists who have mastered the art include Big Sean, Cardi B, Eminem, Young MA, Megan Thee Stallion, YBN Cordae, and Juice WLRD, whose collection of impressive off-the-head freestyles resurfaced in the wake of his death — including one all-new freestyle in which he rhymes for 14 minutes straight.