Freestyling-not-enough

Sorry, Freestyling In Beatbox Battles Isn't Enough.

Freestyling has been a part of every subculture of hip-hop, from breaking to turntabling, ever since ciphering (jamming) became popular. 

This is an open discussion about freestyling in beatboxing and beatbox battles. I want to talk about the origins and assumptions surrounding this topic, and what place freestyling has in present-day beatboxing.

Credit: Zach Paris

History of Freestyling

Shortly after emceeing gained traction in the 70's and the 80's, the East Coast hip-hop scene introduced battle rapping. Freestyling in rap battles, although not necessarily required, has always been a signifying factor in who the stronger battler is, due to being able to comment on the other person's appearance and character on the fly. It also allows the rapper to reverse a line used against them in the following round. Since rap battles are almost entirely braggadocious in nature, freestyling can be integral to the success of the battler for the reasons stated.

Denis the Menace just dropping in to say hi

A post shared by Human Beatbox (@humanbeatboxdotcom) on

In the present-day rap scene, freestyle battling is mostly underground. However, a lot of radio hosts have freestyle segments with popular rappers that often find their way to YouTube. With the rise of the current generation of rappers (trap and mumble rap), many people challenge the credibility of these artists as emcees due to their inability to freestyle rap.

 

What Does This Have To Do With Beatboxing?

Well, the beatbox battle scene can be most directly associated with the rap battle scene, as that is what inspired its inception (although beatbox battle formalities emulate breaking battles moreso). In beatbox battles today, there is a battle of how important freestyling is, and it what scenarios. When is it okay to freestyle on stage? Does being able to freestyle effectively make you a better beatboxer? A better battler?

 

Although early beatboxing and beatbox battles did require a small amount of freestyle ability (counters have always been a strong battle tactic), beatboxers were often known for their signature techniques like Kenny Muhammed's "Wind Technique" or sets like Rahzel's "If Your Mother Only Knew." These weren't off limits for these beatboxers in any setting, battles or otherwise. Freestyling was never an integral part of beatbox battles, old or new school.

With beatboxing stemming so directly from the rap scene, it's shocking how little beatboxing and beatbox battles rely on freestyles at its core. That's not to say freestyling doesn't have its place in beatboxing, though.

Setting Matters

In ciphers across the hip-hop subcultures, freestyling is a commonality. It wouldn't be unusual to do a prepared piece, but in such a relaxed setting, people feel comfortable enough to mess around. You're not competing for a prize, you're just jamming with your friends.

Credit: HONEYCOMBeatbox

Whenever beatboxers hit the big stage, with pressure coming from all sides (judges, audience, prize pool, videography), beatboxers want to perform their best. Not only that, but it's expected for them to do their best. This is why it's common (and recommended) for beatboxers to have as much prepared material as possible in this setting.

What's the Point of All This?

With the growth of our subculture, and with the rise in the level of competition across the globe, battles are getting harder and the stakes are getting bigger. Where great beatboxers used to get by freestyling their way to the top, they are now finding it's not even enough to climb with.

Structure is showing its head as one of the most indispensable factors across all judging criteria, as it influences everything from musicality to flow. Freestyling has its place, but beatboxers with more prepared sets are seeing more success. But why?

Beatboxing Is an Instrument

Unlike emceeing, where the music exists and the rhymes are to be written, beatboxing is writing a song from scratch. Instead of being an accessory to the music, its ground-up music creation: from the beat patterns to the melody, from the sounds to the silence. Where you may hear a guitar solo in music, there's always a consistent back beat and melody. Beatboxing, although it can be both, is at its core that consistency.

Credit: Tom Thum

If you aren't the best freestyler, that's okay in beatboxing. Some of the best musicians in the world can't put together an improvised solo, but that doesn't take away from their legitimacy. Just remember: you're making music. That's all there is to it.

~

Remember, this is an open discussion! Feel free to comment your thoughts or start a conversation in the forums! If you'd like more articles like this, or maybe a full-length video on the topic, let us know.

3 comments

  1. Nagual 3 September, 2017 at 08:48

    This statement comes from a limited understanding of what the mind is capable of and how the creative process works. Most of beatbox performance nowadays is ego driven. This means that the expression of the energy and emotions created by the beats and songs are mostly focused on pride, competence, security. We have the false idea of permanence when in fact in this universe nothing is permanent, everything changes. Thats why we have static personalities. We bound ourselves to forms, traces, characters. In beatbox we bound ourselves to routines. And we repeat them as if it were us. Nowadays people do beatbox as if they were reciting information, just in the logical mind. What happens is that it gets boring, not because the song is good , bad, well structured, ingenious. But because it is not fresh, not new, the person who is performing it is bored of repeating the same pattern, the same information over and over again pretending it is the most epic thing. This has all happened because of the conditions we have been imposed as a childs in our school and society education, all based in performance, instead of enjoying what one is doing. And public has gone confused because they have forgoten what real spectacle is. That is risk, creativity, spontaneity, improvisation, skills, flow of awareness. Nowadays everybody is scared to do freestyle on stage because they have just packed their art into some signature sounds and styles and routines and songs and they barely move from there, when in fact the whole repertory of an artist and a beatbox artist is the whole infinity. Notice the energy of a man who is confident with himself improvisating, what he transmits, if in control of his energies is pure joy, flow, higher states of energy. Notice a man who has repeated same song many times, sight scattered, low presence, repetition, stagnation, purposelessness. This is where the scene is now, ego driven. If want to evolve the movement of beatbox it has to evolve to consciousness driven. When we are enjoying what we are doing, there is no need to seek security in previous information, we can explore our freedom without fear of being judged or failing. People have to start moving from having their confort zone in their songs and routines and securities and have to start pushing their limits till they are able to improvise for minutes or hours on end, just like Bobby McFerrin or Paco de Lucia with the spanish guitar. Yes , he had some signature beautiful songs but what he most loved was improvisating, and thats why the people loved him. RIP Paco de Lucia 🙂
    Start feeling comfortable in your body and open your heart while beatboxing. That is what the Spirit of Beatbox is about.
    Pd: I hope your ego is not very triggered by this information and your consciousness has started to overpower it.

  2. Calfx 1 September, 2017 at 11:10

    I think there is definitely potential for beatboxers to freestyle in a battle. As someone that does it extensively in battles, I would comfortably say the shortfall of it is down to maintaining the focus of doing something different every time. As the article says it’s about a comfortable environment, and a battle is the direct opposite of that- you’re trying to win. It’s too easy to get comfortable with what you know, so more time you will end up repeating material.

    The other problem with freestyling in a battle is that no-one really knows you are unless you’re weaving the word ‘freestyle’ or doing something to indicate that it is that, so being prepared doesn’t seem any less natural than something off the top. But-
    if there’s a focus on bringing a certain atmosphere or moving certain rhythms & flows to a crowd then anything’s possible. I like that the new gen is focused on full-blown composition to give an more of an artistic feel to battling & showcasing, the new school is in good hands with this new creative wave of talent.

  3. Nagual 1 September, 2017 at 09:23

    What about a person in control of his subconcious mind enough that can bring into reality full structured songs? I believe this is posible if getting out of the conditioned mind and emotions that society dogmas impose. A free individual can just play beautiful music without having anything prepared before, just let his Spirit express the beauty of life.

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