From Black Thought to Lauryn Hill, 10 Incredible Freestyles That Rocked Hip-Hop
These days the term freestyle means one of two things—either a rapper is pulling rhymes off the top of their head or spitting a verse that was written for a specific moment.
Whether it's the former or the latter, hip-hop fans have been treated to some extraordinary one-off verses throughout the years, like that famous scene of The Notorious B.I.G. freestyling in front of a Brooklyn bodega back in 1989. Or Black Thought going in for 10 minutes on Funkmaster Flex's show in December 2017.
Maybe we love these kinds of moments because it shows the rapper as an MC, not as a star or famous person. Or it's possible that we like to see rappers spit their lyrics raw without studio effects to see how long their delivery can remain flawless.
It's kind of like watching a person on a high-wire act perform without a net. You sit back, hold your breath and when everything is over, you walk away amazed.
Of course, there's been a bevy of incredible freestyles over the years. But for now, let's take a look at 10 very memorable freestyle moments, whether the MC came off the top with a stellar verse or delivered solid written bars.
Some of these clips are well-known, others are a bit more obscure, but either way, it shows just how beautiful it can be when it's just a rapper, a beat and a microphone.
It was 2014 and Lupe Fiasco stopped by Sway in the Morning to talk about the work he was doing with the telethon Stand Up To Cancer.
Eventually, he launched into a 10-minute, off-the-top freestyle that folks were buzzing about for quite some time afterwards.
"You gonna kick a written or a freestyle?" Sway asked Lupe before he began.
"Freestyle," he replied. "I don't know how [not to come off the top]. When people say "freestyle" I freestyle."
Then he went in.
"I put it together like God put birds together, with feathers and bones and beaks / That's how I do every time that I speak, so who flew the coop? / It was Lupe out the roof of the Coupe / With the top down maybe in the trunk, though / Where the emcees was kicking that bump so / I had to come through and hit them with the jump, oh," he spit.
What make these verses so dope is that it comes from two rappers, who at the time, were at the top of their game, not to mention the charts.
The scene was taken from the 2000 hip-hop documentary Backstage and clearly JAY-Z and DMX didn't have to prove anything to anyone when they delivered these two very fresh verses. But that's what makes the rhymes so special.
Of course, the question remains, who had the hotter verse? You can jump to the 1:43 mark of the video to refresh your memory.
In the year 2000, director Kevin Fitzgerald released the hip-hop documentary Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, which starred artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Pharoahe Monch, The Roots and Yasiin Bey, who spit a fun, yet mind-blowing rhyme.
His freestyle also showed just how much charisma he had, which of course helped catapult him to fame and worldwide respect.
"Brown skin I be / Rocking it when I be / In your vicinity / Raw style synergy / Recognize symmetry / Con try to injure me / Broke him down chemically / Ain't another ten emcee talking 'bout how bent I be / Styled it like Kennedy / Late like a ten to three / When I say when I be / Girls say 'Been aqui," he spit in the documentary.
If you recall, BET's now defunct 106 & Park had a segment called The Backroom, where rappers spit in an empty room.
In 2013, Nitty Scott showed how she developed her reputation for being a no nonsense spitter, and absolutely killed every line.
"Hotter than a plate from out of state / Rolling up a doobie on a rapper's mixtape / Jewels told me to get 'em now I got him / These weak MCs run for cover when I spot 'em / Shoe fly swat 'em / Better get these letters when I jot 'em / Up top aura but we coming from the bottom," she rhymed during the segment.
Some might say that Method Man doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for being a top-tier MC.
In 1997, in the extraordinary rap doc, Rhyme & Reason, Meth delivered a short, potent verse that was filled with grit, cleverness and political commentary, which proved he was a lyrical force from the very beginning.
Yasiin Bey didn't need anything more than a beatbox to go in during his freestyle, and neither did Blu or Fashawn, who spit after a show in Fresno, Calif.
Fashawn rhymed first and talked about his childhood and overall come up.
"Skating through the complex, two story paradise / Soaked up game used to hang with the parasites / Twelve years old on the corner with a pair of dice / Who would've thought years later I'd be tearing mics," he rapped.
Blu went next.
"I spread my wings on strings and fly around like a pilot guiding sound / I cause riots when recite it, but I be silent when I write it down / Rodney King with a dream, quit trying to pipe me down," he spit.
There's obviously thousands of dope battles that we could've pulled from, but this is certainly one of the most memorable.
It was a showdown between two of the most respected freestylers of their time, Supernatural and Juice, and each wowed the crowd with impromptu rhymes that exceeded most people's written. But in the end, Super Nat was the victor.
This scene is also from the documentary Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme.
It's too bad that Q-Tip didn't spit, but that didn't take away from the classic moment that was captured in 1995.
This was such a classic moment that director Curtis Hanson had to use parts of it in the Eminem biopic 8 Mile.
At the time, the legendary rapper was filming for MTV and he and best friend, the late Proof, created a hip-hop moment that would go down in the books.
It also didn't look like either MC was even trying hard, which makes the clip even more impressive.
"I deflated one too many egos, not bros that go for solo / Calling females ho-s when they mama raised them dolo."
Even though Pras and Clef closed out the rhyme session, Lauryn stole the show and displayed some of that raw talent that would make her the group's breakout star.