The Last Maven

Reading the Room

A woman hiding in a hoodie, photo by Talen de St. Croix on Unsplash

When it comes to freestyle, reading the room is an essential practice. It’s a form of situational awareness that greatly affects maneuverability as an emcee and as a man. As I enter certain establishments and situations, I instinctively analyze the environment because this will determine the actions that follow.

For example, when at a restaurant, will I be more comfortable being stared at inside while I wait for my food or will I be better off just waiting outside? Can I touch the miscellaneous items left around for customer engagement or should I stand there anxious and inactive just so they won’t think I’ll steal? When waiting in line and an older white woman cuts in front of me should I say something? Will the combination of my irritation and vernacular come off as ghetto? Will I be another example of why they don’t like people like me? Do I just let it slide? Even though people like me have been letting it slide for centuries? Which version of me am I allowed to be at this moment? The version with a bachelor’s degree that speaks to White people like I grew up in THEIR neighborhood? Or the version that doesn’t mention a degree because it shouldn’t matter if I have one for you to treat me with respect? When we protest and see an excessive use of force by those sworn to protect and serve, can I help de-escalate the situation? Will I be handcuffed and paraded down the street or will I never see my son again? The answers elude me.

Life is indeed a freestyle, but who says that freestyling is easy? Freedom is a luxury that everyone isn’t allotted. Every moment is layered with decisions. What kind of decisions do we need to make to really be free?

[Photo by Talen de St. Croix on Unsplash, thank you!]

Off the Top

Over the years, the definition of freestyle has varied in the Hip Hop community. Originally, freestyles were written rhymes meant to showcase skill, but they lacked any real thesis; they don’t need a particular subject matter. This view is closest to its denotative meaning. Defined by Merriam-Webster as “a competition in which the contestant is given more latitude than in related events.” This definition is often used in sporting events which have a variety of categories, such as BMX, swimming, or dancing. If we look at rap as a competitive sport, let’s say swimming, a love song could be a breaststroke and a song of triumph could be a butterfly-stroke. Freestyling would be the only competition that gives to you the freedom to utilize both styles or something else entirely.

Today’s definition of freestyle has a new connotation. It represents the idea of spontaneity and inventiveness. Some say that it’s only a “true” freestyle if it’s improvised on the spot, much like Jazz. In this way, freestyle is often prevalent in our everyday lives. Walking the unbeaten path, answering interview questions, “going with the flow”, an “off the top” rhyme, and last minute decisions are just a few ways to freestyle. A series of random reactions can be deemed a freestyle, but it is also something that can be developed into a skill, with practice. Everyday we face a mixture of both calculated and random events, how we weave through these situations can define us. You can flow with it or against it. Either way, life is a freestyle.

[Photo of “Cypher from Scratch” in Antwerp, Belgium by ChaseMusicBE, licensed under CC BY 2.0, thank you!]