How To Freestyle Rap Like Kendrick Lamar!
In today’s article, we’re going to show you how to freestyle rap like Kendrick Lamar using examples from his content freely available on YouTube…
We’ll break down, with easy-to-follow tips and examples from his live performances, how he create rhymes seemingly out of thin air and keeps it relevant to the environment around him.
Now, there is a lot of debate around the definition of a “true freestyle” in The Culture, but not to worry, because King Kenny does them both – we’ll be breaking down that step-by-step, as you’ll see.
As YouTube’s most subscribed channel on how to improve your rapping, we’re confident the information here will help you understand the science of freestyle rap better, whether you’re an up-and-coming artist, or simply a huge fan of King Kenny and his impressive body of work.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it: how to freestyle rap like Kendrick Lamar.
NOTE: Before we begin, if you’re interested in learning how to freestyle rap or just a major fan of rap music, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel “How To Rap” because we not only drop weekly videos on everything from how to freestyle rap and improve your rap skills overall, we’ll also be dropping a “How To Freestyle Rap Like J. Cole”, “How To Freestyle Rap Like Kanye West” and more very soon…
…And if you ARE serious about learning how to freestyle rap in just 2 WEEKS or less, visit this link by clicking HERE to learn about our #1 freestyle course and check out some extra free courses on freestyling by clicking HERE.
Can Kendrick Lamar Freestyle?
Now, there are two operative ways that the phrase “freestyle” is used in rap, and as we said at the beginning, Kendrick uses both.
The definition you’re probably most acquainted with is going “off the top” or spontaneously rapping without any prior thought…
That’s one definition of freestyle and many a Hip-Hop purist will tell you that’s the ONLY definition of a freestyle.
Far be it from us at Rap Game Now to disagree with that particular point, however we (and you, dear reader) should be aware that when you see “LA Leakers Freestyle” or “Hot 97 Freestyle” of your favorite rapper, it may be a usage of the second definition:
The second definition would be an unreleased written verse, regardless of length, with no chorus… often a famous instrumental as opposed to a new song.
In other words: a written unreleased verse on a popular beat.
Now in the case of Kendrick Lamar freestyles you find on YouTube… what’s pretty impressive about his work is that he has several performances of the 2ND definition – pre-written unreleased verses…
But more recently he seems to have decided to take it “back to the essence” and truly go off the top spontaneously as well.
How To Tell The Difference Between Freestyle and Written
Now you’re probably wondering… how can you tell the difference between when Kendrick is truly going off the top and when he has pre-written the verse?
Let’s look at the 3 signs that a verse is pre-written using Kendrick’s performances, and compare it to when he’s going “truly off the top” in our estimation.
#1 Less Breath and Pauses
One of the easiest ways to identify when something is written and placed on a different instrumental as a “prewritten freestyle” is the amount of breath control and lack of pauses (literally) the rapper is taking.
Let’s look at Kendrick rapping an unreleased written verse from 2014 over Nas’ “Get Down” that would eventually end up on “To Pimp A Butterfly” in Spring 2015:
“Parasites in my stomach keep me with a gut feeling, y’all
Gotta see how I’m chillin’ once I park this luxury car
Hopping out feeling big as Mutombo
Twenty on pump six dirty Marcellus called me Dumbo
Twenty years ago, can’t forget
Now I can lend him a ear or two how to stack these residuals”Kendrick Lamar, Power 106 Freestyle (2014)
Now Kendrick delivers these bars with minimal breath, effortlessly delivery, and few pauses except for where they would show up in the natural verse.
“Because you don’t deserve it, if you don’t – not
This is straight Hip-Hop, this is off the top
And when I rock (LONG BREATH / PAUSE) Ya feel it
(LONG BREATH / PAUSE) If it’s us and then ya hear it
Please consider that the best agree (LONG BREATH / PAUSE)
The #1 MC”Kendrick Lamar, Power 106 Freestyle (2014)
Now, the point of showing these differences is not to suggest every time an unreleased rap has long breaths or pauses it automatically means it’s “off the top”…
And of course it should go without saying the easiest way to know something wasn’t off the top is if it comes out on album a few months later, but since this came out almost six months before the album… listeners at the time wouldn’t know this.
…The message here is to show a crucial secret of expert freestyling that Kendrick is using here:
Taking strategic breaths and pauses in order to gather your thoughts and think of new rhymes and lyrical directions.
Most beginning freestylers either try to string freestyles together by “over-rapping” and using filler words like “yo, check it!”, or what we call a “filler phrase” – or a phrase you can’t just can’t stop saying for some reason when you go…
But we coach at Rap Game Now, and many experienced freestylers know – it’s better to train yourself to simply TAKE A BREATH while staying on beat or just PAUSE and don’t say anything… until you can fill in the next rhyme.
The challenge here will be staying on beat while doing that so that it’s fluid, but that comes with practice, drills, and focusing on mastery of flow in freestyle. Again be sure to check out our freestyle course HERE because it comes with 2 weeks of daily freestyle drills to help with this stuff..
#2 Lyrical Complexity
The second way you can tell the difference between a freestyle and a prewritten is simply by the wide gape in lyrical complexity between the off the top verses and the written ones. Again, compare these lyrics from the future To Pimp A Butterfly Verse:
Now I can lend him a ear or two how to stack these residuals
Tenfold, the liberal concept of what men’ll do
Twenty on six, he didn’t hear me
Indigenous African only spoke Zulu
My American tongue was leery
To the lyrics when when he’s going off of the top:
If you know my flow, then you know how it go
Then you know Death Row, then you know Dre
Then you know Snoop, then you know we don’t play…Kendrick Lamar, Power 106 Freestyle (2014)
Now, again it is objectively impressive that Kendrick can go off the top and actually tie his lyrical legacy to the West Coast legends he describes, but it’s also clear there is a difference in lyrical complexity between ANYBODY’s (not just Kendrick’s) off the top work and their prewritten.
Let me take a quick aside to say that there are some out-of-this-world exceptions to this point, such as of COURSE Juice Wrld (I know you’ve been waiting for me to say it), who pretty much exemplifies the highest abilities of true off the top rap, which we break down further in THIS article…
And of course recent freestyle phenom Harry Mack, whose prodigious freestyle abilities are so iconic at this point that Kendrick himself said Harry Mack has inspired him off of the top.
The real takeaway regarding Kendrick’s clip off of the top referencing the legacy of the West is that as a freestyle rapper, you can weave STORIES and RELEVANT TOPICS about your life while freestyling…
…Even if it’s not as lyrical complex as your writtens, and it will still come off as impressive.
At How To Rap, we call these “fallback topics”. These are topics that are relevant to you or the situation you’re going off of the top in… that you can always come back to if your mind goes blank or you’re filling in the flow until you land on another scheme.
Kendrick does this quite off through the off the top portion of his Power 106 Freestyle… as you just read he was referencing his West Coast legacy as a fallback topic WHILE ALSO BEING ON THE WEST COAST…
…And throughout the flow he mentions his record label TDE, his crew, and many other relevant topics to himself.
Comment below: what “fallback topics” could you (or have you) use/d in a freestyle rap?
3) Reacting To Things Around You
As far as noticing that this separates an “off the top” verse from a written one, it’s pretty obvious and self-explanatory, but let’s look at how Kendrick smoothly handles the reaction of the DJ scratches as he’s rapping off of the top and integrates into the flow:
“From the bottom of the soil since Adidas and Run DMC
We run this game, and be me (DJ scratches, Kendrick pauses for a second)
…And E-Man on the greet right now he gon’ flip it please believe…
Every 16 bars is like ours…”Kendrick Lamar, Power 106 Freestyle (2014)
So, again Kendrick has the presence of mind off the top to not only reference something that just happened on the beat, but to actually KEEP THE “DMC, be, PLEASE BELIEVE” rhyme scheme.
Just to be clear again… one of the ways he does this is by following tip #1 that we’ve already taught you…
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE BREATHS AND PAUSES TO GATHER YOUR THOUGHTS.
That extra second after saying “be me” gave him the time to 1) react to the DJ scratch 2) think to rap about it 3) think of something to rhyme to keep the scheme going.
For you beginning freestylers, that might seem like a lot but really with consistent practice and actually utilizing these tricks it can be done.
We have an additional article on this breaking down How To Start Freestyle Rapping For Beginners In 5 Steps that is almost at a million views at the writing of this article which can be found here.
Now we’ve talked a lot about the differences between writtens and off the top freestyles, but make sure to understand that you can mix and match these as much as you want, and sometimes that’s the best option.
Many of the well-known battle rappers from leagues like the URL and KOTD do just this where they have prewritten raps prepared, but if a particular diss against them hits hard…
…They will think of a quick off the top bar or more in order to rebuttal it. Rappers like Corey Charron, Dizaster, and Charlie Clips built entire careers off of this skill.
Additionally, you can do the same when asked to “rap right now” by somebody in person who finds out you’re a rapper – which you KNOW happens.
Maybe start with a few written bars that help entice the listener to take you seriously, and then slide into a little off the top and reference them using the steps in this video.
If you do that, you’ll get the benefit of people taking you seriously as a rapper because you have smoothly delivered, lyrically complex rhymes… AND you rap about things around you at the same time.
Of course the most important thing to get out of this article is you CAN improve your freestyle rap, it’s a skill set like anything, and famous rappers have practiced these same tricks to help improve their overall ability as an artist.