MARC: This is Yale’s Freestyle Collective.
MARC: The collective met on a Wednesday, at 9 PM, in LC 104, one of the smaller seminar rooms with a long oval table and chalkboards all around.
VINCE: At Yale, there was actually a Freestyle Collective that existed before this one for a couple of years, but most of the people graduated in 2015 and the last people graduated in 2016.
MARC: That’s Vince Mitchell, a senior in Stiles: one of the founders of the Freestyle Collective
MARC: The baton’s been passed to Andy Hill, a senior in Berkeley.
ANDY: Yeah, so, Vince and Ugonna (Eze, PC ’16) actually started it last year, but I had never met Vince. But then a lot of us actually met in Radical Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, which is an Af-Am Department class here—AFAM 204.
VINCE: Going to this new class that was basically about rap–and I saw so many people that were interested in rap—I was just like “hey, let’s do a freestyle cipher.”
ANDY: And we kind of just had our first meeting of anyone in the class who wanted to give freestyling a try, plus me and Vince who had been freestyling for a while.
MARC: Here’s Cesar Garcia, a senior in Stiles:
MARC: So, what’s a cipher?
JOSH: Yeah, I thought originally it was just a freestyle circle where people would share experience through free-verse rap.
MARC: That’s Josh Hayden, also a senior in Berkeley.
ANDY: Yeah, there’s two different aspects and ways that people go about ciphers, where one is kind of like the peace circle idea: rap, everybody get better, just put out your experience, tell stories, do a lot of stuff like that. And then there’s another way you can do it, which is how a lot of people think about ciphers and people getting together and battling, and actually trying to take on another rapper and prove yourself.
MARC: There were eight rappers at the cipher I attended. They were at it for more than an hour.
JOSH: We sometimes— Vince will just write random words on the blackboard, and you either incorporate that into your rap, but it’s actually even more funny when people incorporate it into the roasts of other people. Not out of ill spirit, but just to see how you are able to use your words and sort of formulate some sort of idea with it. I don’t know; it’s a lot of fun.
MARC: Some of the topics that Vince put on the board this time included: The Wire, Naruto, Hot Cheetos, Malibu, gumbo, Durfee’s, Forrest Gump, Credit D Fail. They rap about all kinds of things over all kinds of beats.
ANDY: Favorite beat to rap over? Excellent question. The answer is actually the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song. And it’s just a lot of fun––definitely a difficult rhyme, but if Biggie can do it anybody can do it, I don’t know, that’s my thought process. One of the things that people just don’t know is that you can just rap over things that are not meant to be hip-hop songs sometimes. That’s always a fun, different thing to do, like a lot of songs have heavy bass and heavy drums and you’re just playing the breaks. That’s what they’ve been doing since the foundations of hip-hop.
JAKE: I like “Life” by J Dilla. That’s one of my favorites.
MARC: And that’s Jake Diaz, a freshman in Branford, the first rapper you heard from.
JAKE: I pretty much exclusively rap over old, smooth, nineties rap.
VINCE: I’ve heard Danny Brown say this: “I can rap over pots and pans,” and I really do feel that. I feel that way. I like everything, but there are some staples. Like, have you heard East Flatbush “Tried by Twelve”? That’s a staple in freestyle because it’s got I think it’s 88 beats-per-minute, and it just goes really slowly and you can pick your thoughts out. But obviously the faster stuff––we started with playing Kendrick Lamar’s “Rigamortus”, and we do that just because it’s like a tongue twister. I guess it lubricates everything else after that.
ANDY: I don’t know, I think freestyling to me is kind of a meditation for me, and there’s really no other way that you can totally free your mind and keep it as blank and totally 100 percent in the moment as when you just don’t know when the next rhyme is going to come from.
JOSH: It’s been very much a learning process for me. It’s really cool seeing how you progress, and I think that’s been my favorite part: getting to know myself in a different way and seeing the progress over time.
MARC: The Freestyle Collective tries to meet weekly. All are welcome.