Musical Endeavors Outside The Conservatory: Freestyle Fridays

By Izzy Yellen

In an effort to promote a fairly obscure skill and genre nowadays, senior Ian Pelton has created Freestyle Fridays, a weekly event in which anyone can come to perform or listen to freestyle rap. After attending one of the sessions and talking with its founder, I began to develop much more of an appreciation for freestyling, an improvisational art form I knew little about and had never immersed myself in.

Perhaps the aspect that mostly drew me to freestyle was the similarities it has with jazz improvisation, a comparison I never gave much thought to. Obviously, both art forms have improvisation at their core, but their likeness extends beyond that. Both are community-based, and when I sat in SOL Studios, it was easy to witness how each rapper benefitted from the group. Not only could they come together to hear each other, but they could also feed off each others’ ideas, weaving them with their own.

Once I contemplated this connection, it was hard to not think of jazz and rap in tandem. They are both genres of music heavily rooted in culture and society, and both echo the ideas and feelings of the community. Much like jazzers getting together to blow over changes with emotion, I saw Pelton and his fellow rappers join to discuss their days, troubles and other prompts.

In addition to a few cyphers—where rappers go on one after another—they also had freestyle battles in which they dissed each other with creative wording. The dynamic was completely different although playful. While the cyphers emphasized community and shared experiences, the battles focused on humor and technique.

Despite greatly appreciating the performance as a whole, covering it as an outsider was a first for me and greatly influenced my thoughts on it. For every article I write, I am an outsider as an audience member; that is unavoidable.

For this event, I was an outsider in other ways as well. Because Pelton’s idea was born within a circle of friends, it is still working on growing outside of that circle, and spreading to the rest of student body. Typically, at least one of my close friends is involved in the music I cover, which in no way influences how I critique and review the music, but it affects how I connect to it. The lack of connection I had to the performers was a new experience but one I wil have to get used to.

However, the rappers were all extremely welcoming and grateful to have me cover their budding collective. It was a pleasure to work with Pelton and the group, and to hear their creative outlet. It takes more effort to witness creative outlets outside of my circle, but I have just begun to realize the importance. There is always going to be an art form you know little about or have never experienced, so I urge you to go out and experience it.

As a member of the Improvisation Group of Lawrence University (IGLU) and a few jazz groups, I often see the same faces at my concerts. But I also see an effort from the musicians and school to push people to attend who might otherwise not. There is no reason it should be any different with Freestyle Fridays.

Try it once. Be an audience member and put yourself out there. Maybe even try to freestyle! Every art form should be given a chance. This growing group depends on the community in which it was born. Its survival will flourish and thrive with our support. The next Freestyle Friday will be Friday, Nov. 6 at 9 p.m. in the Sigma Phi Epsilon house.