Thoughts on the Freestyles of Riff Raff

Riff Raff

 Despite my own crusade, and the words of no less an authority than Big Daddy Kane, people still seem to think that a freestyle rap is one created in a vacuum, pulled from the ether in some sort of supernatural display of rhyming talent. These people are, of course, wrong.

A freestyle is simply bars free of style, meant to be imposed upon any number of beats; ever see your favorite rapper’s verse go from a single to a cypher? That verse has become part of his freestyle repertoire. For those of you who insist on raps off the dome, or that at least appear to be off the dome–such things are neigh impossible to prove, barring some sort of telepathy–I present to you Riff Raff, Hip-Hop’s grand deconstructionist, King-Hell non sequitur wrangler and cocaine and baroque facial hair connoisseur.

To listen to any of Riff Raff’s numerous raps, whether it be the infamous coke fueled hotel room spew or the hilariously disjointed “Walter Payton,” is to be exposed to the best, and worst, of off the dome rapping. They are stuttered and jerking, bars and phrases breaking apart, ships in a storm, with even individual words getting torn asunder, their kerning misaligned by the inevitable starts and stops the human mind must go through in route to rhyming. The result is something terribly unpolished but unequivocally hip-hop, an art form distilled to its basest, most ugly parts, like the cluttered pencil lines of a rough sketch or the scratched, barely legible notes of an article. When smooth pieces do coalesce, they stand strong amid a torrent of tumultuous syllables, becoming lionized exemplars, rudimentary quasars that provide a glimpse at what the beginnings of rap must have sounded like. Do you think, back in the day, as a bunch of musicians sat, head nodding, listening to a break beat loop, that they began to spit perfectly formed bars? No; the first raps were almost assuredly just spoken off the cuff, brief, ephemeral, until one man went home, wrote out some lines, and came back to give birth to the dominant Popular Art of the twenty first century.

Heavy thoughts aside, Riff Raff is, of course, also a Clown Prince, a jester along the lines of Das Racist whose brutally funny joke is hidden because it is in such plain sight. Many seethe at his outsized lifestyle, missing a bigger picture in the same way those who discounted Warhol could not see the forrest for the trees. These people forget a universal law: death is easy. Comedy is hard.

Check out Riff Raff freestyling for DJ Green Lantern here.

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