Monday, September 18, 2006

Freestyle Verses Off-The-Dome

FreestyleTo recite verse or prose that is without thematic or conceptual structure. Its subject matter is “free” to move wherever it pleases.

Off The DomeTo recite verse or prose spontaneously, essentially vocalizing what comes to your head at that moment.


I have long been frustrated with a specific piece of hip hop lingo. I hate the term “freestyle” being used in reference to a person that is going “off the head.” If we used the terms properly it could end a lot of nonsense.

For example, earnest rap fans looking to prove their authenticity often try and shout out freestyling emcees, “oh that freestyle was written, you can tell...”

Well, a “freestyle” can be written. A “freestyle” is a style … that’s free. That’s it. It’s not focused on, dear Mama, or a gangsta bitch, or bonnie and clyde, or Courvoisier. It’s about whatever you want it to be about, it is free form, and it need neither be spontaneous or premeditated.

Off the head, or off the dome, is when an MC is kicking lyrics as they come to mind … spontaneously.

Nas and Jay-Z have kicked a lot of freestyles in their lives. But you rarely see them go "off the dome." KRS-ONE, Eminem, Common all frequently go off the head as part of their acts.

Off the dome is basically a sub-category under the bigger umbrella of "freestyle." Very simple. So please, let’s try to use the terms properly.

Jor-El aka TAN aka Perspective Evolution aka The Eternal Now
aka Talcum Badsmell


  1. Do you want to cite some authority on this, TAN? 'Cause I'm generally on the same page with you about lingo, but all my experience tells me you're wrong on this one. I mean, I know that "freestyle" can also refer to that certain style of pizza parlor disco music that includes George Lamond, but in the hip hop world, when we say "freestyle," I think we pretty much mean, "off the dome." For my money, a freestyle cannot, by definition, be written. I think you're conflating freestyle with free-form. Just sayin'.

  2. My point is it's confusing. yeah, in general people equate off-the-dome with freestyle; i wouldn't act like i don't know what someone is talking about if they say it.

    but then why does off-the-dome exist as a reference? and why are there still arguments over something being written or freestyle?

    if you stick with your "definition" you will be disappointed, often, when you hear, so-and-so is dropping a freestyle, and it's just an old verse. common, mos def, jay-z, a lot of big names do it all the time. most times we reference it we mean off the dome, but when artists say it it usually means free-form because there aren't that many *real* freestyle artists out there. they're writers.

    i think it'd just be easier if we stuck with literal definitions.

  3. Anonymous6/15/2009

    It's that old fooling around vs hooking up question.

    As relevant in 06 as 09.

  4. Yeah, but "hooking up" and "fooling around" are both non-specific. "Off the dome" would make the equation more like "hooking up" vs "kissing with tongue". and then debating whether hooking up means kissing with tongue or not. seems silly to me.


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