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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Explaining Freestyle Rap, and exercise in stream of consciousness.

Last night, I had a long conversation about what it is like to free style on stage.  "How do you follow a rhythm, tell a story, and make it rhyme?"

At first, I thought it would be quite simple to explain the parallel thought processes that I have when I free style.  But before long, I was made aware that I was using the skill set as part of the definition.  It is really hard to talk about the art of the free style without giving examples.  Yet, these examples are what make it inaccessible from the uninitiated.  

So, I tried a different approach; making a simple rhyme, and then outlining all of the thoughts that go into that rhyme.

One plus three
fortify the city
them against me
all odds seem shitty
Will I cease to be?
Now's not the time for pity
One
My opponents make a run
Two
I try to beat them black and blue
Three
You talking to me?
Four
INCOMING- hit the floor

and this is how the above verse comes to exist.  One plus 3 is a math equation that equals 4.  When I think of 4, I often associate 4 with "4 corners."  4 corners can be a defense, the pillars of the walls about a castle, my bed, a metaphor for the underlying principles of some argument, i.e., the four corners of modern music theory are rhythm, frequency, . . . .

I chose the image of a castle surrounded by a series of walls.  Each wall joined in a 90 degree angle at the corner.  When a castle is attacked, you have to fortify the perimeter.  That is how I got from 1 plus 3 to fortify the city.  FOURtify the city.

When does a city need to be fortified?  When it is under attack.  Usually it is a war (them against me).  There are a lot of ways to describe a war, but Them Against Me is what I chose because it rhymes. The plurality of Them versus the singular nature of ME is an unfair fight.  Thus, "all odds seem shitty."  

I could go on explaining each thought and connection, but I think you get the idea.  The part I cannot explain is how to have all of these thoughts in parallel, while rapping, and keep sync with the music.  It probably has something to do with experience, brain compression algorithms, thinking in pictures instead of words, etc.  By the way, I often mention that I think in pictures.  I am not sure if this is accurate, but my understanding of a picture is that it contains a lot of data. So, thinking in pictures gives the brain to compress the free style synthesis process.

When we experience the world with our eyes, the brain processes information at alarming speed.  In fact, I am not sure what the limits of the brain are, but as an example, imagine driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour.  Is it possible?

Of course it is.  We instinctively block out and compress all irrelevant data.  Then we focus on the data that affects our decision making.  Yet, we can also listen to some Massive Attack, carry on a conversation with other passengers in the car, realize that we are thirsty, smoke a cigarette, and wonder if the girl in the next lane has a nice ass.  

This blog post started as a facebook note.  So I am including the original comment thread because I think it adds to the conversation.

  • Jen Davis I can hear these words come out of your mouth as I read this. You're awesome.
    March 31 at 8:27pm · 
  • Elizabeth Hiatt This is a perfect example of how much wittier/smarter/clever you are than me!
    March 31 at 9:44pm · 
  • Jim Batcho purity
    April 1 at 1:24pm · 
  • Gino Brann Interesting. I wonder though how those thoughts can fit so seamlessly within the rhythm. I mean, trying to stay within the flow while thinking of the next thing you want to express. I think that'd be the hardest thing.
    April 1 at 2:57pm · 
  • Marcus L. Williams Gino Brann, I think it relates back to thinking with pictures and not words. Because our brain can compress images so easily (we have been doing it since birth), the two time consuming steps are translation to language, and syncing with the music.
    April 1 at 3:19pm · 
  • Marcus L. Williams This might sound odd, but music is one of the few things in life that defy the limits of Time (with a capital T). You can anticipate the melody, hear the sound, and remember what you just heard. We do this constantly in parallel. I can imagine it is much like playing the guitar or dancing to Miami Bass music.
    April 1 at 3:21pm · 
  • Gino Brann 
    Yeah I suppose it is like dancing or playing an instrument, in terms of getting in the flow and all that. With language is there's so much imagery involved and I've personally never been good at conceptualizing visually or spatially. Maybe...See More
    April 1 at 3:34pm · 
  • Marcus L. Williams a comma or pause can go a long way. Watch out! Baby! or watch out , baby . . . Those sound totally different and mean very different things. When you alter the space between words, you can prevent people from compressing what you say or allowing it to be white noise. Pacing and stutter etc., can make normal words interesting and unavoidable.
    April 1 at 3:39pm · 
  • Jim Batcho That's the rhythm aspect. I always appreciate space in music because then what you play or what you say has more impact. But notes are notes, language is a whole other thing. I've never understood how people can do that.
    April 1 at 3:42pm · 
  • Gino Brann Yeah, the space....that's the funk.
    April 1 at 3:42pm ·  ·  1 person
  • Jim Batcho That's what George Clinton taught me. Not to name drop, but he had me really hold back on the note. Pull that time back as far as possible and then zing it. Goes not just for drums but every instrument, including the voice.
    April 1 at 3:45pm · 
  • Marcus L. Williams George Clinton taught me how to smoke a joint in a college auditorium. Ok, he did not teach me per se, it was more like he taught all of us.
    April 1 at 3:57pm ·  ·  2 people
  • Violet Lea This is interesting, I could probably never put 'freestying' into words, I don't do it near as much, and sometimes it's good for me and sometimes I fail. My simplest explanation would be that the more relaxed I am, the better I flow. I can't flow if I'm nervous... and this is in both vocal and verbal rhyming context. Or any form of expression for that matter. Thanks for sharing and see you tomorrow.
    April 1 at 4:11pm · 
  • Violet Lea ps
    April 1 at 4:11pm · 
  • Violet Lea my favorite rhyme you did was, "I had my first threesome when I was twenty three... and it lasted till I was twenty four... cause it was my birthday and we did it all night..."
    April 1 at 4:12pm · 
  • Violet Lea or something like that. damned enter key. I meant for all of this to be one message, split into paragraphs.
    April 1 at 4:12pm · 
  • Marcus L. Williams I don't remember the exact words, so let's make up a new one. blah, blah, blah Had my first threesome when I was 23. 2 girls in the room, and then it was me, it lasted until I was 24, hey, it was my birthday, who could ask for more? I remember feeling so high that I didn't touch the floor, pick up in my step, what? Who you callin' whore?
    April 1 at 4:15pm · 
  • Violet Lea i ejected my junk, i cummed on her trunk,
    April 1 at 4:20pm ·  ·  1 person
  • Violet Lea dammit
    April 1 at 4:20pm · 
  • Violet Lea enter ke
    April 1 at 4:20pm · 
  • Violet Lea ruined my flow
    April 1 at 4:20pm · 
  • Kurtis Blo I really love how you broke it down in your note, very clear and descriptive... and of course the rhythm thats music, thats the flow...
    April 1 at 4:36pm · 
  • Marcus L. Williams I ejected my junk, cummed on her trunk, went for the dunk, but the backdoor stunk. tried to krunk, with a wiggle and a bump. "no way, no how, are you entering my rump"
    April 1 at 4:45pm · 
  • Violet Lea 
    she slapped it away, said i was mean,
    checked my shit to make sure it was clean
    went down on her friend and my teeth turned green
    thought to myself, "this chick is a slut"
    now she's baby momma cuz i didn't cover it up
    always wear protection when ur bangin' a slut
    ....especially if it's on your birthday
    April 1 at 4:53pm · 
  • Marcus L. Williams god I love women, so don't take me serious, the business I write is just expression of the curious. calling women slut, whore and tarts, is on the same level as midgets and cake farts. now, that is a birthday
    April 1 at 5:10pm · 
  • Conor Barney Paddy Murphy 
    violet, to start a new line without sending your message. hit 'shift and enter'

    see...

    hopes this helps.

    marcus... you're beautiful. i enjoyed reading that. see you all scratching around this weekend i hope. you're all nice. x