The skill it takes to write rhymes, not to mention freestyle them in the moment, is tremendous.
It’s intimidating enough that I hesitate even to write about it here for fear of someone challenging me (I’m a lover, not a battler).
Before freestyling, which came before rhyming for me, I’d only written free-verse and thought, in my stuck-up high school frame of mind, that rhymes were a sign of poetic weakness. Only Shakespeare rhymed and anything modern, and legit, would come with patterns only discernible in the voice of a particular poet. Anyway, music and poetry were two totally, utterly separate things.
But knew I needed to dive deeper into hip hop. More than just listening to important voices and enjoying innovative music, I wanted to add the missing auditory piece that would connect constellations of visual elements on the page with the linguistic meat and potatoes. And so, it started.
With time and a lot of falling short and embarrassing myself, and I’ll make this claim because I’m confident in my experience, I even flowed. I never got a nickname, though, which should probably tell you something. But I did gain a stronger ear than I ever had with solely reading or listening to poetry.
In the least, I added something to my voice that those who only read poetry don’t have to the point that I don’t sound like I’m trying to sound like e.e. cummings or Susan Howe when I’m writing.
There is this transcendent moment after you’ve been freestyling for months, years, and have never hit a beat or you constantly miss opportunities for rhymes, or just a single coherent thought, when all of a sudden, like a wind to a limp sail, something peculiar happens. There are no impediments, no mental blocks or over-rationalizations about what is being said and there is no sense of pride or purpose—the words just flow.
And that’s it, man. That’s IT. To feel words in an outpour. To know you are saying things but not think about or contemplate what they are. To be a forward leaning vessel for the words to spill out of rather than trying to contain them. To connect with what you are doing and to be the things that you are doing. It’s freedom. It’s an artistic high.
It’s letting go of control and recognizing a continuity of rhythmic harmony. It’s an amazing feeling and is even more amazing to witness someone else get there.