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date: 22 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the process of improvisation by emcees in freestyle, or improvised, rap. Drawing on interviews with and writings by freestyle practitioners as well as on recent scholarship in linguistic anthropology, social psychology, and sociology, it argues that freestyle is an everyday activity and a fundamentally social act. The chapter examines a recent study that uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure cognitive activity of improvising emcees, and it suggests that the study’s physical constraints on the emcees, its focus on emcees in isolation rather than on those improvising in a cipher (a group of people who take turns improvising rhymes), and its lack of attention to the effects of gender, race, ethnicity, and other identifications on freestyle performance limit the force of its conclusions.

Keywords: freestyle, improvised rap, fMRI, cipher, gender, race, ethnicity, hip hop, neuroscience

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