Freestyle rapper Harry Mack has received many kinds of reactions from audiences to his improvisation skills, but they all have one thing in common: utter disbelief.
It’s not far off from what he thought when he was introduced to freestyle rap as a kid.
“What’s the trick?” Mack recalls thinking. “I couldn’t believe it was real.”
Freestyle rapping is the art of improvising lyrics and adapting them to a beat. Many rappers freestyle, but few take it to the level that Mack does.
Mack weaves rap lyrics together using any random prompt: word suggestions from his audience, a street sign that may have caught his attention and even people’s clothing. A spectator of Mack’s may find their favorite hat featured in a line.
And he can go for hours.
On Wednesday, he’ll go for 10 hours straight on his YouTube channel. It’s how he’s celebrating that his channel recently hit 1 million subscribers.
“What’s so cool about freestyling is once you master the basic techniques,” Mack tells NPR’s Morning Edition, “it’s kind of infinite. As long as someone is feeding me something to incorporate, I can kind of do it forever.” (Mack also shared his talents with NPR: a freestyle rap using the words Morning Edition, NPR and “This is NPR News.” Listen below.)
Harry Mack’s ‘Morning Edition’ Rap
Mack, 31, started his freestyle journey young. He began developing his craft at 12, and he cites MC Supernatural as well as Wayne Brady among his influences.
He first went viral in 2017 for his Venice Beach Freestyle video, where, armed with a portable speaker, he rapped about beachgoers. Over the next few years he freestyle for the likes of platinum-selling artist Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar and Ellen DeGeneres.
But Mack says some of his most rewarding freestyles came on the video chat site Omegle, which pairs random people. Mack freestyles with Omegle users for his YouTube channel.
“I thought that’s all it was going to be, that it was going to be maybe like a gimmick or something that I do once or twice for fun,” Mack says. “I’ve been blown away by the reception to it and also by the potential for making real emotional connections with other human beings.”
That connection is important to Mack, who says freestyling is a collaboration between himself and the audience.
“I mean, it lifts me up, it inspires me to no end, and it’s so exciting, it makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do,” he says. “It makes me feel like I’m living out my purpose. It makes me feel complete as a human being.”
Ziad Buchh and Steve Mullis produced and edited the audio story.