Freestyle Rap: The Essence of Creativity

Yesterday, while perusing my Twitter feed, I stumbled upon a video with SiriusXM dating back an interview done in 2013. Said interview was with Childish Gambino. He rose to fame in 2011 with his album Camp. However, the video depicts what he’s most known – his incredible free-styling abilities.

Story | Madison Lippincott

Photo | Flickr/Neil Conway

And by freestyle skills, as seen in the video above, I mean the flawless back and forth flow between spitting lyrics and casual conversation he demonstrates through the whole 2-minute-and-change clip.

Some may think that you’re born with talent like this, that you come out of the womb freestyling and practicing until you’re perfect has nothing to do with it. However, that is quite the contrary.

A study conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders branch of the National Institutes of Health found that freestyle rap stimulates many areas in the brain, especially those associated with creativity. They claim this to be because “freestyle rap… requires an artist to freely improvise rhyming lyrics and novel rhythmic patterns.”

That spontaneity required to make freestyle rap what it is triggers a process in the brain that focuses on re-evaluation and revision. This entire process from beginning to end is not only unique but also considerably complex.

Just like the cliché of “practice makes perfect”, this convoluted cognitive process polishes many different brain functions that mainly take place in the prefrontal cortex, including improvisatory reflexes and increases brain activity in areas responsible for language, emotion, motivation, and even motor skills.

12 rappers were examined for this study. However, this is far from the first time that rappers have participated in the thought process that maybe there is more behind freestyling than just throwing some words together and hoping the rhythm and rhyme match up.

In his book, Decoded, rap legend Jay-Z comments on this very phenomenon: “It fits my style to rhyme with high stakes riding on every word and to fill every pause with pressure and possibility. And maybe I just have ADD, but I also like my rhymes to stay loose enough to follow whatever ideas hijack my train of thought, just like I like my mind to stay loose enough to absorb everything around me.”


Essentially what Jay-Z and the National Institutes of Health are getting at here is that in lieu the confidence of knowing ahead of time that your lyrics are, in your opinion, fuego, rappers should be literally going with the flow. This spontaneous flow is believed by the authors of the study to actually alter the state of mind of those who freestyle: “Ongoing actions, moment to moment decisions and adjustments in performance may be experienced as having occurred outside of conscious awareness.”

And that’s not even all – researchers believe they may have stumbled upon something much bigger than understanding the brain under the pressure of spontaneity. The scientists at the National Institutes of Health have come to believe that, because of their freestyle rap discover, they’re on the verge of understanding the very concept of creativity.

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