The Bluffer’s Guide to Freestyle

By: Michael F. Gill

Posted 08/13/2007 - 04:14:49 PM by cwperry:
 Interesting article, but after reading it the novice still doesn't have a clear picture of what Freestyle is. The article starts off by explaining that the "quintessential" definition is "really dramatic Spanish soap operas," and then we're told that the first Freestyle record was "Planet Rock" by Afrika Bambaataa. He's hardly Spanish, and hardly a purveyor of soap operas. It's only halfway through the article that we are given any sort of solid musical explanation ("what would become Freestyle’s most recognizable stylistic element: the sampled and mapped vocal phrase"). From there, the article seems merely to be an overview of Latin pop music in America. Careening from Afrika Bambaataa to Shannon to Stevie B., the article provides only a perfunctory trajectory whose benchmarks' connectivity is confusing if not lacking entirely. We go on to learn that "reggaeton" is the modern-day spinoff of Freestyle, but "reggaeton" is never defined--again rendering the article somewhat useless in its goal of explaining Freestyle and its permutations and descendants. Calling that opening definition--"really dramatic Spanish soap operas"--quintessential, yet focusing on people like Bambaataa and Shannon who clearly aren't described by that "quintessential" definition renders the article a confusing mishmash. I still don't have a proper idea of what Freestyle really is, and I'm afraid that whatever explanations I could offer based on this article would not be strong enough to even qualify me as a "bluffer." I just hopped over to Wikipedia (sometimes hardly a bastion of accuracy) and in its opening sentence about Freestyle I got a clearer picture than I did from reading this entire Stylus article. Good effort, though, and I encourage more articles like this that attempt to present historical scope. Remember that the readers need more blanks filled in and more mortar between the bricks.
Posted 08/13/2007 - 04:16:54 PM by cwperry:
 I apologize for my phrase "perfunctory trajectory whose benchmarks' connectivity"--god, I sound like The-Disexists or OrvilleM now. Hopefully not as willfully obscurant, though.
Posted 08/15/2007 - 06:16:02 PM by iheartponeez:
 I always pictured Jellybean Benitez as being a fat dude. I am surprised to see he's a dead-ringer for Paul Dinello. That is all.
Posted 08/16/2007 - 11:53:57 AM by mirakle:
 Seconding the Wikipedia article; it also seems to imply Afrika Bambaataa (along with other late 70s/early 80s artists with electro and Krautrock leanings) is more of an influence than an actual Freestyle artist. Cool topic, actually, but if you want to get people to listen, making it seem like the musical equivalent of a telenovela is not a good idea. I had to watch those in high school Spanish classes and they were ridiculous in, a bad way.
Posted 08/16/2007 - 12:51:42 PM by cwperry:
 iheartponeez: Hilarious! But remember, Madonna dated Jellybean Benitez, and I don't think vitamin-mainlining Madge would date a fat dude.
Posted 08/16/2007 - 06:08:33 PM by MFgill:
 Thank you all for reading and commenting. It was never my intention to paint Bambaataa as a Freestyle article, only to let people know how much of a musical touchstone "Planet Rock" was for Freestyle. You can hear the main groove of "Planet Rock" in so many Freestyle songs throughout the years. Obviously "Planet Rock" and "Let The Music Play" do not sound like Spanish soap operas, but the music that followed out of these embryonic stages did. Artists like Nayobe, TKA, George Lamond, Johnny O et al have a very dramatic/overwrought flair to their vocals, which added to simple love/relationship lyrics, make the lyrical and emotional content of the songs similar to the plot or feel of telenovelas. They can often be "ridiculous in a bad way", but that is usually part of the charm. I am working on some Freestyle mixes for the Stypod, likely to be posted tomorrow and/or next week, so hopefully this will help illustrate what I am saying a little better.
Posted 08/17/2007 - 09:36:51 AM by cwperry:
 Mr. Gill, thank you for your posting, and I'm sure the mixes you plan on posting will help the cause. Again, I appreciate the article and hope you will continue more explorations of this type.
Posted 08/20/2007 - 05:44:09 PM by MFgill:
 The trio of mixes will be posted on the Beatz By The Pound blog this week.