Western University might boast its ability to flesh out brilliant poets, novelists and actors, but if you really want to be awestruck, the raw talent lies in the visionary verses that take place during Freestyle Fridays.
Every Friday at noon, lines of rhymes and '90s-style rap beats surround the central staircase in the University Community Centre, adding flare and charisma to a space that is usually recycling club booths and empty Timmies cups.
Fourth-year computer science student Lankesh Patel and second-year English major Mandela Massina spit verses on just about any topic that crosses their minds. One second they might be joking around, dissing each other and rapping about girls they like, but things can swiftly reach a deeper level as they move consciously through emotional lyricism.
Freestyle rapping — the art of stringing together unrehearsed lyrics — is a highly prized skill among those in the hip-hop industry.
“The natural element … is really important. Whatever we do on Fridays we can never recreate, even if we tried. It just happens in the moment, which I think makes it special,” says Patel, who goes by Spitty when he’s cyphering.
Growing up listening to ‘90s rappers including Jay Z and Big L, as well as modern day lyricists such as Joey Badass and Lupe Fiasco, the duo bonded over these common interests when they first met in September after joining the Sonic Arts Society.
In second semester Spitty told Massina and a few others that he wanted to start performing in front of an audience in order to promote the craft to the Western University community while continuously flexing their lyrical range so that they can become adept to thinking on the spot. Eager to start up, they thought it would be a great idea to perform on a pedestal in the UCC.
For Patel, it’s important to turn your brain off and just let the delivery come to you.
“If you think about it too much you might get stuck on the present, and you won’t be able to focus on the next line," says Patel. "For me, I just try to think of the rhyme. Once I have it I can build the line around it."
Darin Flynn, a linguistics professor at the University of Calgary who teaches a course that focuses on rap lyricism, is fascinated by the ability freestyle rappers have to come up with a clever rhyme by choosing from a pool of different words.
“The kind of skill that freestylers develop is really impressive. There several steps ahead of you, it’s just unbelievable,” says Flynn. “To think that on top of that they have to monitor what they say in a public setting were there can be people with sensitive ears, that is all the more impressive.”
Flynn believes that it’s important to take your guard down when freestyling, since you can’t let your brain get in the way of the flow.
A study conducted on a group of freestyle rappers in 2012 revealed that during this form of vocal improvisation, executive control and self-monitoring of the brain ultimately shut down. Without the hassle of self-analysis, freestyle rappers are able to feel the music and pick up the flow.
In simple terms, the best rhymes come from an abandonment of inhibitions.
While Patel and Massina might not be ready to go up against the likes of Biggie Smalls or Eminem, their passion to strive for the best delivery keeps them on their feet and creates a great dynamic of lyricism.
“For me, it’s all about the skills you can get from freestyle rapping. It deals with words, it deals with telling stories, it deals with quick thinking," says Massina. "Those are all skills that I personally value, so when I freestyle I think of what word I can say to get a reaction out of somebody."
Massina doesn't see himself becoming the next big name in the rap scene. Instead, he wants to pursue a career in law or education.
Patel, on the other hand, is ready to dive into a career in the industry. With a couple of EPs and singles out on Spotify and a number of performances across Ontario, Spitty is putting his name on the map.
The duo encourage students to come out to Freestyle Fridays so they can destress in between classes and open up their creativity through an avenue they might not have divulged in before.
Even though you might mess up the first couple tries, Massina encourages students to continue pursuing the craft, since the emotional attachment that freestyle storytelling has to offer is invaluable to him.
“When you start rapping the most important thing is [not to] stop. Even when you mess up, just mutter your way through it and slowly you will get better,” says Massina.
Students can catch the group every Friday at 12 p.m. near the Starbucks at the University Student Centre. You can’t miss them.