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The Impact of Freestyle

The Impact of Freestyle

“… even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., August 28, 1963, Washington, DC


The Impact of Freestyle

When rappers freestyle, they make up lyrics on the spot. That’s why it’s so fun to watch. They rap about people in the room, or reference lyrics someone else just delivered. But it’s not all God-given talent and improvisational genius.


Before a rapper is good at freestyling, they write pages and pages and pages of lyrics. And practice delivering them alone in their rooms. Or to small crowds. They develop go-to rhymes, rhythms, and phrases that can be slightly tweaked to fit lots of contexts.


Some freestyle lyrics are made up on the spot. But a lot of them are already in the rapper’s head. They just combine and tweak existing content in new ways.


On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to 250,000 peaceful protesters who marched for civil rights in Washington, DC. A singer named Mahalia Jackson was close to Dr. King as he spoke. Within earshot. And as he was reaching the end of his 10-minute typewritten speech, she urged Dr. King to, “tell them about the dream, Martin.”


That’s when Dr. King went off script.


He’d spoken about the dream before. At Booker T. Washington High School in North Carolina. And at the Woodward Avenue March in Detroit.


But the “I have a Dream” part wasn’t on the typewritten speech Dr. King carried with him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day.


In an interview after the speech, he said, “All of a sudden this thing came to me that I have used — I’d used many times before, that thing about ‘I have a dream’ — and I just felt that I wanted to use it here.”


Dr. King freestyled.


And he delivered what many consider to be the best American speech of the 20th century.


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