Much like poetry or any form self-expression through spoken word, freestyling is continually proving itself to be a legitimate form of art. And that is the main goal of The Oak Grove Community Cypher. The newly developed group meets up every Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Gazebo in the Davis Arboretum.
The Oak Grove Community Cypher’s founding members, Laura Jane Harvey and Rennie Putnam, are hoping to build a community of people who enjoy freestyling, rapping, hip-hop, poetry and everything in between.
Putnam, who is a first-year veterinary medicine graduate student, has been freestyling as long as he can remember.
“It’s very informal, all we’re really trying to do is build a community through verse and welcome and support it,” Putnam said. “It’s a way to hear hip-hop that’s not about bling or cars, there’s more to it, [freestyling] gives a everyone a chance and opportunity to participate in hip-hop”.
The act and definition of freestyling itself relies heavily on improvisation — similar to rapping. This is already known to those who freestyle and participate in cyphers.
The group of freestylers stand in a circle and spit (speak) rhymes with the support of a couple of beat-boxers. An important element to freestyling is the knowledge of current events. Although it is rapping, rhyming itself isn’t necessary either; just being able to keep a beat while speaking right off your subconscious is the main objective.
“Freestyling itself benefits you as an individual since it motivates you to learn more, and the more you know, the more material you have.” Harvey, a sophomore pre-landscape architecture major, said. “Personally it make me feel smarter, as it forces me to think critically about stuff”.
Freestyling itself can also be seen as an alternative form of communication. Essentially the freestylers drop all pretenses and are speaking to each other while at their most vulnerable.
According to the participants, vulnerability is needed to think on their feet and start spitting out words using whatever comes up off the top of your head.
“It encourages people and when you are with your friends and feeling good, loose and relaxed, you remember what people have to say and feel a better connected,” Putnam said .
This sort of connectedness has not much to do with spirituality or religion although it certainly can be described as such and feels like so for certain freestylers. What this connectedness is referring to is getting to know your fellow freestyler. Since most freestylers are at that vulnerable position using what they know and what they’ve experienced, there is a form of personality that shines through unlike in regular communication or speech. It is a way for participants to be open but also, to have fun.
“You are spilling your thoughts and opinions on everyone else but it’s not in your face and it’s pretty G-rated. It makes talking about stuff more versatile and interesting and more people actually listen to you,” Harvey said . “Fortunately, the Gazebo is just a nice place, that is very relaxed and friendly, the people are here to do art and share any common interest.”
The Oak Grove Community Cypher is open to the public and anyone can participate. Harvey gives advices to those who have never rapped or freestyled.
“Just keep talking, even if you can’t rhyme, just keep talking,” Harvey said. “You usually have absolutely no idea what you are going to say anyway. Eventually you just have [to] own what you are saying and make it your own thing”.
While there is no official collaboration happening with SickSpits, the UC Davis campus spoken word group, both Harvey and Putnam look forward to something happening in the future.
The group urges participants to message them on Facebook or just show up on Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Gazebo in the UC Davis Arboretum.
“All I hope is that people will come to the group, meet new people, make new friends, they can come to place that feels safe and where they can express themselves and have fun”.
Dr. Andy Jones, a university of writing program professor and organizer of various poetry events on campus, is a supporter of the spoken word movement.
“Spoken word groups allow students to pay homage to traditions of hip-hop culture while always adding something new, which in our case also means something local. Some see local efforts at rapping, MCing, DJing and beatboxing as UC Davis students distinguishing themselves from the slower rhythms of the agricultural town of Davis, but I would say in 2011, that both the city and the university are diverse and energetic enough to accommodate these urban, diverse and often chanted rhythms,” Jones said . “As a poetry and spoken word enthusiast, I welcome new voices, and look forward to seeing what the Oak Grove Community Cypher has to offer.”
RUDY SANCHEZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.