Brain freedom

An interesting L.A. Times article explores the state of the brain of freestyle rappers!

In an unlikely pairing, two professional rappers have teamed up with researchers from the National Institutes of Health to study what happens in the brain during freestyle rapping. The results, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest that the process is similar to that of other spontaneous creative acts, including jazz improvisation.

The study was initiated by the Los Angeles-based rappers Daniel Rizik-Baer and Michael Eagle and carried out by Allen Braun and Siyuan Liu of the NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The researchers asked 12 rappers to memorize a set of lyrics that they then rapped while inside of a magnetic resonance imaging machine. The rappers also were asked to freestyle over music while in the MRI scanner. Then the researchers compared the images from the memorized and improvised rapping sessions to see whether the brain activity underlying the two tasks was different.

An indeed it was. Freestyle rapping seems to involve much less executive function from the brain (yes, I know, the jokes write themselves.) This corresponds with something I read in the book, “The User Illusion” which argued that a lot of actions that require on the spot decision making — sports, improvised comedy, music improvisation — seem to require silencing our “thinking” voice and letting a more subconscious persona take over. And, in fact, being too conscious disrupts your “flow.”

Speaking of freestyle rap, here’s a good example from albino rapper Brother Ali.

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