A lesson in confidence and awareness from freestyle rap battles

A guest post from Mike Lawrence:

I had a big audition recently and was listening to Eminem's "Lose Yourself" (It works) and was fascinated by the whole idea of freestyle rap battles. I started to look some clips up on Youtube and what I saw was pretty amazing. The amount of creativity used by some of the rappers was downright inspiring. The way they'd use everything in the room to take a guy out while still keeping it in a rap structure. It's like in stand-up how you can riff using everything but it still has to be funny.

Here's a good example from one of the most impressive guys I saw, Iron King Solomon-

Solomon clearly wins this battle. He completely dismantles Flamez in every way. He uses all sorts of techniques (Lookalike jokes, jokes about his clothes, even breaking the fourth wall). He's completely aware of everything around him while and most of what he's saying works perfectly in the moment while Flamez' raps are generic and could be used anywhere. Nothing he says is specific at all.

I also like how in freestyle rapping you have to hit hard and keep hitting. It's a competition where if you show any lack of confidence, you're done, which is essentially how Jin beats Hassan in this battle

Hassan started off strong, but just ran out of steam. He wasn't fast enough and whatever he was rapping, he wasn't able to build on, where the truly great rappers will say something and just keep expounding on it.

After watching a lot of these videos I felt excited and recharged to hit the stage and use some of the skills of confidence and awareness when there's a situation I have to address like a sour room or a heckler. Of course I won't actually rap. Leave that to the professionals.


Cody Hess said...

I haven't watched the videos *yet*, but Mike Lawrence is the f'ing MAN.

Daniel Shar said...

I've been reading this blog for a while, but this is one of the first times I've felt like I knew enough to throw in my two cents.

I've been doing stand-up for a little more than a year. I struggled pretty badly with stage fright for a long time, and I've always just generally been a shy dude with a lack of confidence. Concurrently (and somewhat ironically), I've been a big fan of rap (and the battle scene especially) for years.

In April 2009, I made a comedic rap video that easily surpassed the attention/response/success of everything I had previously done comedically. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXpeqHHPzGQ if you watch this, do it in 480p -- it makes a big difference)

Then, in the summer of 2009, I agreed to and participated in a series of pre-written rap battles at a local comedy show. I won all of these by consistently out-joke-writing my opponents. I treated them like rhyming roasts and it paid off.

This run culminated with a rematch at a full-blown rap battle event, the first of many for a local league that is actually starting to take off in the rap battle world (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiM2vgUwoCI). Immediately after this battle, I defeated two of the other rappers in freestyle battles, basically just riffing on their appearances and flipping their lines to me for three rounds each.

The point I'm taking too long to make here is this: I recommend rap battling for anyone who struggles with performance anxiety/joke writing.

Seriously. As weird as it sounds, I think this whole sequence of events did wonders for me in both of these capacities.

I was forced to take on this sort of swagger or bravado that I never really had before. I faked it for these battles, but soon found that I no longer had to fake it when doing stand-up. And I don't mean that to sound like I'm cocky and feel like I'm going to kill every time I'm on stage or feel like I could beat anyone in a rap battle. I just mean that I'm totally at ease and comfortable on stage now.

In terms of the writing, when you have one target that you need to write three rounds of material for, it really forces you to explore every possible angle you can think of, attack those angles in as many ways as you can, and then weed out the funny. It's hard work and will make you appreciate the return to your regular joke writing process, where (presumably) syllables aren't as important and you can write about whoever and whatever you wish.

Goddamn I am long-winded and I use a lot of hyphens and parentheses. Future opponents are gonna kill me on that shit.

Cody Hess said...

I assume Solomon is the fellow with the yellow polo and the shirtless guy was the generic shitty (albeit violent) one.

Mike Lawrence said...

Yep Cody. Solomon's the white dude.

And Daniel,great addition to the piece. Congrats on all those battle wins

Unknown said...

Hey if we're posting rap battles, then please check out my stint on Sirius Shade 45:


[SPOILER] Ya boy soce pulls off the victory.

I will say that when I'm up there rapping, it's easy as cheese for me to be comfortable and crackin jokes and being silly, then the moment I try to do material, I completely freeze up, but to be fair, I have done thousands of hip hop performances and only around 20 stand-up gigs so far.. give it time.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Great guest post, Mike! I agree, Eminem always pumps me up before a performance, especially "Lose Yourself". And if you want to consider comedy and rap going hand-in-hand, look no further than Slim Shady. His approach to use comedy in rhyme and imagery in his videos got everyone's attention.

Freestyle Love Supreme, Miss CKC (comedian Carolyn Castiglia) and Soce are top names in that category in NYC.

Related, I can't wait to read a post here about crossing over. Musicians who want to be comics, stand-ups that want to be sketch artists, lawyers that want to be dancers. This feels like the decade of So You Think You Can Do Something Completely Different Than What You've Worked On The Last 20 Years

Anonymous said...

I've always thought about how similar these battles, which revolve so heavily around punchlines, have more in common with stand-up than the average person would expect.

Matt, Serius Jones is another battle rapper very worth looking at. He's especially interesting because the way he raps sounds a lot less rhythmic, and a lot more like someone who's just talking regularly. In this sense, he's the most stand-up-y rapper you'll find, I think.

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