This quick guide on how to freestyle rap will equip you with some top tips to up your rap game.
The advice in this article is compiled by looking at some of the best freestyle rappers out there and exploring their musical methods.
To learn anything is to practice. Freestyle rapping is no different. The following tips reveal some of the best, tried and true techniques that will help build up your rapping confidence and ability.
Freestyling is not an easy hobby but with dedication, and by following this advice, you’ll be developing your skills in no time. Let’s go.
1. Rap more
This may seem like an obvious step, but hear me out. The best way to get better at anything is by practising, so step 1 in your freestyle journey is to buckle down and rap often.
Listen to your favourite songs and rap along. Think about whose flows feel the most natural to you. The more diverse your artist selection is, the better understanding you’ll get of your style. Are you more of an Eminem or a Biggie Smalls? Both are great rappers, but they are incredibly different from each other.
Once you have more of an idea of your rap nature, go to YouTube, and search for beats to practise your rapping to. Pick beats you’re more familiar with, from your favourite hip-hop producers, and see how your flow fairs. You could even try rapping the words you know to get familiar with how you deliver.
When you’re practising your rhymes, find somewhere private. Feeling like you’re not being observed or listened to will allow you to practise freely without restraints. I’ve seen people utilise their cars… but please make sure to concentrate on the road!
2. Avoid Mental and Creative Restrictions
When deciding you want to start freestyle rapping, trying to think of a rhyme for every line may seem like a daunting task. So, don’t force it.
Instead, see if you can stop yourself from rhyming and focus more on the narrative of the story you’re telling. The best raps come from feelings and experiences so think about what the subject of your freestyle will be.
Once you’ve released the pressure you put on yourself to think of rhymes, you’ll notice your narrative skills taking centre stage. When you’ve then worked out how to quickly and effectively tell a story, you can start incorporating rhymes.
As well as rhymes, don’t fret if you find yourself pausing during your freestyle. No one comes out of the womb rapping like Harry Mack – it takes time. If, when practising, you trip over your words, accept that that’s a natural part of the journey. Shake it off and carry on. Don’t take a break, go straight into your next line and chalk it up to experience.
Letting go of both rhyming and timing will make your practice a much more pleasant and effective exercise. Getting better is about powering through your mistakes, and not giving up when you make them.
3. Record Yourself
If you’re not used to it, recording yourself and watching it back is gag-worthy. If you’ve never done it before, the first few times will make you cringe, but I promise you, every time you watch yourself back, you’ll find yourself getting less focused on what you look and sound like and more so on what you’re trying to analyse.
Personally, I regularly talk to the camera to create social media content. I’ve only been doing it for a short amount of time yet I’ve already noticed a vast improvement in the way I present myself. The same thing applies to rapping and to any spoken performance.
Firstly, record yourself rapping a song you know. Watch it back and see how you feel about it. Are there any words you don’t pronounce in a way you’d like? Does your flow feel stilted and unsure? Through videos of yourself, you’ll be able to pick up on things you do or don’t do more than if you’d never recorded yourself.
When you’re ready, move up to freestyling on camera. The added pressure of being recorded will naturally make you stiffer. But only at first! Recognise it and push through and you’ll start to notice a difference.
4. Read and Write
Reading will expand your vocabulary. Having a wide vocabulary will help your freestyling in multiple ways.
For one, you’ll find yourself with a much richer word bank that you can refer to when trying to create rhymes.
For two, when thinking about the narrative of your rap, you’ll have more words to accurately express exactly what you’re trying to say. If you feel ‘sad’ every time, your freestyle will soon become boring and naive. However, if you throw in some ‘melancholy’ or ‘woe,’ you will create a much more vivid story in the mind of your listener.
If you’ve recorded a freestyle, write it down. When you read it back, make comments about what you like and what you don’t. For example, you may think that a certain line isn’t hitting in the way you want. Rewrite the line and notice what you’ve done differently. Notice how you have changed the line. Ask yourself what you can do in future freestyles that will incorporate the notes you have made.
5. Pick A Random Topic Or Object
For your first test, pick a random topic or object to freestyle about and do your best to keep a flow about it. You can start easy and pick a subject like relationships, but if you want to challenge yourself, pick something much more niche. For how long can you rap about a lamp?
Getting more and more abstract in your topic selection will help develop your ability to think outside the box, allowing your freestyles to become more interesting eventually.
Try this as a routine: every day pick a random topic from your room. Give yourself a few minutes to think about what you might say about it. Record your freestyle, continuing as long as possible. This challenge isn’t about coming up with the most interesting raps. Instead, it forces your mind to explore new angles.
Watch your recording and, going back to point three, analyse it. After a week, you’ll see where you falter. Do you get to the sixth line and start to run out of ideas, for example? After a while, you’ll see that your freestyles will go on for longer!
6. Senses, Similes, and Metaphors
If, after the exercise mentioned above, you find you’re running out of ideas, consider utilising your senses: seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling. Let’s say you’re rapping about an apple. Talk about how it tastes and smells, talk about its colour and how it makes you feel.
Of course, not every sense will be relevant to every object or topic but considering them is a great way to spin new ideas.
Rapping and poetry are more aligned than you may think. While rapping about an apple, it may come to light that it feels like a metaphor. Using metaphor is a tried and true technique that many rappers use to accentuate their wordplay.
If you find yourself at a complete loss, similes are a great way to create a bit of easy imagery for your listener. Be careful as some similes can come off as cheesy but if done well, they can be highly effective.
Have a look at how other rappers use literary techniques in their tracks to learn from them.
7. Learn From and Imitate Freestylers
Now, I’m not suggesting that you straight up copy other freestylers, but there’s no harm in adopting some of their techniques in your own raps. Analysing the best is a great way to learn. Not only will it make you a more diverse performer, but it will also make the process of learning more enjoyable.
Think about a freestyle you may have seen in the past. What about it made it stick with you? If you can identify what it was that impressed you, you can incorporate that technique into your raps.
Analysing your favourites will also help you identify where you’re lacking. There are four main factors to take into account when learning how to freestyle rap: songwriting, rhyming, delivery and flow.
Songwriting includes storytelling, song structure, and wordplay. The ability to rhyme well comes from having a diverse vocabulary. Delivery is how the performer makes their voice sound. Flow dictates the way the words marry the melody. Write down who you think does each of these things best. Ask yourself why they do these things so well.
8. Seek Advice and Critique
No successful rapper got to where they are without receiving constructive criticism. As hard as it may be, putting yourself out there is the best way to get instant, unfiltered critique.
At first, you may want to only show those you feel comfortable with, like friends, family, or other rappers within your circle. The internet can be a brutal place if you can’t take things on the chin easily. Your nearest and dearest will be much kinder.
Once you feel confident enough to post yourself online, you can ask people for their opinions. People online will not hold back so you might get some of your best nuggets of advice from them.
When you’ve only been rapping in your own company, you will have a very narrow view of your ability. Gaining criticism opens your perspective on how you perform.
Criticism will help you grow as a performer as well as an artist. Entertaining online will build your confidence until you’re ready to perform live. Live performances will further highlight your strengths and weaknesses until you eventually become a seasoned artist.
As a bonus, people seeing your journey may endear them to you and leave them curious to follow along on your journey.
9. Delivery, Diction, and Flow
I briefly mentioned delivery and flow in point 7 but they deserve their own point entirely.
Developing your distinct sound is an important step of freestyling. How often do you hear a rap song and know immediately who it is – I’m guessing almost every single time.
Your delivery is how you perform the lyrics in such a way that moves the listener emotionally. Your delivery also dictates your vocal styling. Snoop Dogg’s delivery is iconic. You know when Snoop Dogg’s on the mic and you can tell what kind of track you’re in for.
Diction refers to the choice of words and phrases used in speech or writing. Or rapping! This is where wordplay comes into your flow. Kendrick Lamar has been praised for his word manipulation abilities which is a skill that many consider not only impressive but an important part of rap. It certainly earns you cool points when you can think of clever wordplay a few lines ahead when you’re freestyling.
How you ride the beat and the rhyming choices you make are your flow. Arguably, flow is the most important aspect of your rap as it’s the body of how it sounds.
All three of these features will influence the quality of your piece. Practising and studying each of them will elevate your rap game tenfold. Start by writing down some lyrics and rapping them over different beats. Try out different deliveries and see if there’s one you like more than the rest. Think about how it feels as you say it. Does it seem true to you as an artist? This brings us on to…
10. Be Yourself
This may sound sickeningly cliché but if you want to get better at rapping, being truthful with your content is essential.
Let me explain. If you go through your entire freestyling training with the hopes of trying to be the next so-and-so, you’ll reach a point where you realise you won’t be. In truth, no one is the next ‘someone else’ because we all have different experiences, different talents, and different minds.
It’s better if you realise sooner that being an individual artist is the best way to go ahead in your career.
That’s not to say that you can’t take inspiration from your favourite performers. Learning from them is a crucial step (see point 7) in your journey but don’t let yourself become a clone. People get excited by originality so make sure to bring a good helping of it.
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