This…is your brain:
Eh… That’s not where I was going with this. Buu-uuut… it does help dispel some myths about your “brain on rap” – which does contrarily earn that grad cap. When I was a gangly pre-teen, I remember the parents sitting around at my sister’s basketball games, complaining about their daughters bumpin that “brain rot” in their rooms. And – to be fair – whether the listener gets anything out of it or not, I dunno.
But the dude who came up with “The Gangsta, the Killah, and the Dope Dealer!!”
He was on some next level shiz for sure.
In fact, a recent study looked at twelve rappers’ brains at the magical moment of impromptu lyrical conception. While the findings aren’t totally new (compared to similar artistic MRI studies), it always inspires me to see how the parts of the creative brain morph into a supercomputer. The bits that do self monitoring shut down. The parts for censoring stop. It’s like an internal internet for smithin’ words.
And I can’t help but think it’s the same thing that happens during any live performance art – improv comedy, regular singing, stage acting, whatever. It’s both shocking and inspirational because of how incredibly hard it can be to get to that place for any kind of art. Even as a writer trying to entertain, getting there’s a challenge.
But for live artists, fear of fcking up’s even tougher.
You’ve got an audience to appease, your own self-judgment, and perhaps co-performers to worry about. That’s a lotta “monitoring” to surrender. These types turn into tools for their subconscious awesome – to delight others. But if they’re mentally masturbating over how good or funny they just sounded, it detracts from the flow. The audience can tell. It becomes less entertaining. Same goes for pausing to reflectively self-flagellate over mistakes. That’s when the potential to choke happens. But those who entertain successfully let their essence be the spectacle.
Even if their content’s not a 100 percent.
For example, Katy Perry’s not always on point – but she takes the stage like some pop lovechild wrought from the threesome of Barbie, a cupcake, and Rainbow Brite (I guess the confection’s masculine in that analogy). Whether or not her voice is shot, she works that ish. That Gloria Estefan sounding song she did on SNL might have been super cringe-worthy had she not aptly channeled Britney circa nineteen-ninety-hit-me-baby-one-more-time.
But the moment that self-monitoring kicks in is painfully palpable.
Like when Mariah did a live thing more recently where she went through the first song, seeming turgid all over. I was mildly disappointed ‘cause I was totally rooting for Mrs. Cannon. You could tell self-judgment was hindering her voice and the visual aspect of the performance equally. The more uptight she got, the flatter her voice – and vice versa. But by the second song, she’d gotten her shit together, moved fluidly, and audibly morphed back to middle-school-dance Mariah. Shade-throwing, loveable, Mariah.
Contrarily – a comfortable performance morphs someone in a tuning fork of epic win. And this works whether you’re being watched or not. An audience is just judgmental motivation you don’t get in isolation. Whether dropping verbal diction freestyle or into an abundance of articles – creativity’s a rap battle of its own that crosses all genres of innovation. A battle between self-conscious loops versus surrender to sub-conscious confidence.
And it’s one that’s never done till your career is.