This Album Changed My Life: Freestyle Fellowship – Innercity Griots (1993)
Cadence Weapon on an album that’s a Rosetta Stone for rap styles
Cadence Weapon: Freestyle Fellowship ripped up the rulebook and wrote a new one with the scraps
Growing up in the frigid northern Canadian city of Edmonton, it wasn’t exactly easy for me to find rap music to be inspired by. My dad was a DJ who played funk and rap, but it was typically mainstream stuff. It wasn’t until I got into the internet and joined a bunch of communities there that I discovered underground rap, music that had the same hypnotic mix of beats and rhymes but held a different conceptual focus that appealed to me.
Freestyle Fellowship’s Innercity Griots is the Rosetta Stone for rap styles. They ripped up the rulebook and wrote a new one with the scraps. You might hear four different flows in a single verse. They used their voices to improvise as if they were each a different instrument in a jazz quartet, coming together with controlled chaos. They were just as comfortable making a remarkably faithful 1980s electro rap homage (Cornbread) as they were writing Gil Scott-Heron-style poetry about homelessness (Park Bench People).
Their attitude was reflective of both sides of Los Angeles rap in the 1990s: the happy-go-lucky attitude of their peers The Pharcyde but coming from the same streetwise reality that Death Row Records represented. It’s a combination you can hear in the music of contemporary Californian rappers like Vince Staples and ScHoolboy Q. Freestyle Fellowship never sold a ton of records, but their influence can still be heard today. The choppy, nimble rapping of chart toppers like Future and Migos can be traced back to Mikah 9’s dazzling flows. You can hear echoes of Aceyalone’s sharp-witted playfulness in Kendrick Lamar’s conceptual raps. Freestyle Fellowship’s willingness to innovate has deeply inspired my music, and I will always come back to this album to remind myself of the importance of being fearless. – In conversation with Niall Byrne
Cadence Weapon’s new self-titled album is out now