We take a look back at some of the year’s best freestyles.
Freestyles have always been a benchmark for a true lyricist. No, I’m not talking about a pre-written verse that later ends up on an album cut, but the truly off-the-top reciting of lyrics over an instrumental not chosen by them. While freestyles may have peaked in the era of radio decades back when Big-L, Jay-Z, and others would set airwaves ablaze with their dizzying rhyme schemes, the art is still alive and well.
Surprisingly, many on this list are still emerging emcees rather than older artists keeping the art form alive. We take great pride in keeping you up to date on the best releases from all over the spectrum, but what about the one-time freestyles that never make it past the booth to the consumer market? Well, fret no more, because we’ve decided to compile ten of the best freestyles from the past year. To be clear, these are ranked in no particular order.
1.) Meek Mill on Funk Flex: Freestyle begins at the 3:45 mark.
Meek begins on the now infamous diss-record aimed at him from Drake “Back to Back” and slaughters the venomous beat with surgical precision. Meek has long been known for delivering impressive freestyles, but this may be his best of the year. With bars like “We go to war for that fettuccine, young niggas turning Buicks into Lamborghinis. I took bitches from the projects to Santorini. Got 350 on me right now, but I ain’t wearing Yeezy’s” Meek makes it clear he’s been patiently waiting to tear this beat to shreds and listeners should be as delighted as Flex in the studio on this one. Meek also goes in on a few more instrumentals throughout the 14-minute clip, but perhaps none more inspired than the initial “Back to Back” bars.
2.) Young M.A on LA Leakers
I know what you’re thinking. It’s been a minute since Young M.A has been in the spotlight. This is partly due to her choice to remain independent following the mass amounts of label offers she received after the success of “OOOUUU”. M.A decided to stop by the LA LEakers earlier this year to prove her lyrical skills are sharper than ever and didn’t disappoint.
3.) Reason on LA Leakers
TDE’s latest signee may have some of the most intoxicating bars in the game. With double-meanings and metaphors abound, Reason sets the booth on fire in just a matter of minutes over a Kenrick Lamar instrumental. “This a fair warning for all of the competition, you get clips first then pissed on like Blake Griffin”. Reason’s future seems as bright as any on this list and he’s just getting started. If you’re looking for a breakout lyricist in 2019, put Reason at the top of your list.
4.) Tierra Whack on Funk Flex
Tierra Whack may be my favorite new artist in 2018. Despite being an underground fixture for years, the Philadelphia emcee had a breakout year following her encapsulating project Whack World consisting of exclusively one-minute songs that showed off the enigmatic star’s supreme polish behind the microphone, even in the span of mere seconds. On a recent trip to chop it up with Funk Flex, Tierra proved to the world that she can hang with anyone behind the mic, for any duration. Delivering a scorching freestyle over the instrumental for Busta Rhymes‘ classic “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See”.
5.) Nipsey Hussle on Funk Flex
Neighborhood Nip has had a banner year. His aptly titled Victory Lap finds the veteran at the top of his game and reaping the benefits of his many profitable business moves. When it comes to freestyles though, Nipsey is strictly business as he destroys a classic instrumental for Nas‘ “If I Ruled The World”.
6.) Smino on LA Leakers
Smino’s versatile vocals range from slow infectious melodies to rapid-fire verses and everything in between. Smino puts it all on display on a recent trip to the LA Leakers studio. Though brief, Smi delivers packs plenty of punch on the high-octane freestyle.
7.) Maxo Kream on LA Leakers
Houston’s Maxo Kream has a prodigious pedigree behind the microphone. The impassioned emcee blesses the Leakers team with a scorching freestyle over 6ix9ine‘s “Keke”. Coincidently, Maxo himself has faced similar R.I.C.O. charges as the embattled New York emcee and he channels every ounce of energy into his ferocious freestyle.
8.) YBN Cordae on LA Leakers
YBN Cordae is one of the most impressive young lyricists leading the younger generation of talent. He regularly makes appearances at radio stations just to set their studios ablaze with fiery freestyles. While Cordae had a few memorable frees this year, perhaps none were more impressive than his five-minute effort on LA LEakers earlier this year. With several beat switches, Cordae tackles an array of styles in mere moments with flawless precision.
9.) Royce Da 5’9″ on Funk Flex
Detroit’s Royce Da 5’9″ is a veteran in this game like few else. Earlier this year he took a trip to Funk Flex’s studio with DJ Premier to show that old-heads still got lyrics. Royce packs plenty of punchlines in the ten-minute-plus freestyle. You’re going got have to run this one back a few times to catch all of the double meanings and lyrical shots. Royce recently got into a back and forth with Tory Lanez on twitter, which has us wondering if the two may square off in the booth sometime soon.
10.) Tory Lanez Tackles the “Five Fingers of Death” on Sway in The Morning
The five fingers of death that Sway has made famous is a true test of an emcee’s skills as they’re forced to ride through five separate instrumentals in rapid succession. Tory, however, makes it look fairly effortless in the lengthy freestyle. Lanez has had his share of fueds lately but videos like this remind us all the man’s pen can back up all the talk.
Honorable Mention: Black Thought on Funk Flex
So admittedly this took place in December of 2017, so while it didn’t quite make the cutoff for this list, it deserves to be seen yet again because this is in the hall of fame of freestyles in my humble opinion. The Roots frontman goes off the top for over ten minutes while barely breaking a sweat. All the while dropping serious knowledge and sending plenty of lyrical shots at the industry, competition and everything in between. No one is safe when Black Thought is in the booth.
Honorable Mention #2: Juice WRLD on Tim Westwood
Now, I’m not sure if this a freestyle or a free mile, Juice Wrld went in on nothing but Eminem instrumentals for nearly an hour. A nearly unheard of feat for an emcee, Juice shows that he’s more than just a melody master as he spits venomous lyrics on a slew of Em’s hits. No breaks of any kind are taken and I’m frankly equally astonished Juice didn’t run out of breath as I am that he didn’t run out lyrics. Press play on this one if you haven’t already seen it, truly one of the most impressive displays of lyricism all year.
While streaming numbers and viral Instagram challenges continue to dominate algorithms, it’s important that we continue to hold those leaders of hip-hop to higher lyrical standard. In an era of ghostwriters, these emcees prove that they are ready for lyrical war at any time and any place. Freestyles may be one of the most important barometers of true lyrical ability, and while it appears to have lost some popularity as radio has gradually been replaced by streaming services. It remains the benchmark for true emcees to flex their lyrical muscle. Long live the free.