Thursday, October 13, 2011

Open Mics

Complex Magazine has compiled the 50 best hip hop radio freestyles.

While some might argue that radio is now a dying medium, it's undeniable that the AM/FM dial was the first outlet to bring hip-hop to the masses. Starting in the early 1980s, pioneering DJs like Mr. Magic, Red Alert, the Awesome Two, and Lady B gave a voiceless community the chance to be heard, and inspired future generations to pursue rapping as their full-time occupation.

Since that time, many legendary hip-hop radio shows have sprung up around the world, and during those late-night or early-morning time slots a new art form was born: the radio freestyle.

Many of hip-hop's greatest beefs were spawned live and direct over the airwaves. In the pre-MP3 era, cassette copies of these one-of-a-kind performances passed hand to hand, cementing reputations, and becoming the stuff of legend. Nowadays it's all done digitally, but the objective remains the same-total domination, no mistakes allowed.

Read more here.

I'm usually not a fan of these lists ranking artists or performances, but this one seems uniquely appropriate. During the years when I began to discover my place within hip hop culture, the music was moving through an period of creative and cultural uncertainty. We were a few years removed from the golden era, caught in the spectacle of East Coast vs. West Coast, and witnessing a surge of material emerging from southern artists like OutKast and Goodie Mob. As I explored hip hop more and more, these freestyle sessions served to maintain hip hop's artistic underpinnings; freestyles are the roots that fend off the erosion of rap music's relevance.

There are plenty of stand out performances on this list. However, for me the most impressive clip is #47, Q-Tip and Black Thought's "Dilla Dedication" freestyles. Perhaps it due to this month's featured emcee, but I was especially taken by this performance. Additionally, Black Thought freestyles are less frequent than you may think, so it's great to hear him rhyme in this forum. And on that day, Tariq went absolutely berserk!


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