Kids Can Learn to Rap From Home with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Freestyle Love Supreme Virtual Classes
During quarantine, my daughter and I had an incredible experience learning to freestyle through Freestyle Love Supreme Academy. Now the improv troupe is offering virtual summer classes for kids and teens.
"You'll rap with me?" I said to my 6-year-old daughter. It was mid-March and life was no longer normal. Stay-at-home orders had gone into effect in the Northeast.
"Yes, Mommy." She squeezed me tight understanding that I felt the same disillusionment that plagued her during the quarantine. She played Barbies with her best friends on FaceTime, wondering when her cronies could come into our house again.
She couldn't have in-person playdates with peers, so we vowed to play together and rapping was the perfect pastime for us to adopt because of where'd I'd been only days before the pandemic shut down New York City: on stage rapping for a class I took with Freestyle Love Supreme Academy's Tarik "Tardis Hardaway" Davis.
Learning to Rap with Freestyle Love Supreme Academy
Years before Hamilton's success, Lin-Manuel Miranda and his buddies formed Freestyle Love Supreme, an improv troupe, and after seeing their Broadway show this past November, I was transfixed. The audience shouted words for the cast to freestyle rap, live. The actors' abilities to improv rhyme verses without a script enthralled the crowd and their humor and poignancy were awe-inspiring.
Soon after, I discovered that the members transformed their unique art into a course that celebrated creativity and wordplay in a trusted environment, and I needed to sign up.
"We build each other up, we support, we play," Davis said after my first Freestyle Love Supreme Academy class, and I was hooked. Needless to say, when they announced a new virtual kids' program a few weeks into lockdown, I might've been the first one to enroll.
"Freestyle is play and kids are naturals," Davis said, when I spoke to him later about their virtual classes for kids. "True play is freedom. Play is like a rocket and the fuel is safety. The safer you feel the higher you go because the brain isn't constrained by insecurities or fear so new thoughts can flow easier."
So I enrolled my daughter (who was just shy of turning 7) in classes which met via Zoom once a week every Friday from 4 to 5 p.m. The first session kicked off with her instructors explaining the basics of freestyling, then the kids introducing themselves and choosing a rap name. My daughter chose the moniker "The Rap Master," and classes each week went on to typically consist of three different activities or games which were done in smaller breakout Zoom sessions. After each activity they would give shout outs to classmates and say why they thought they did well. Then they’d go on to the next activity.
Andrew “Jelly Donut” Bancroft, member of the Broadway cast, channeled his inner child and taught my daughter similar techniques that I'd learned, such as one person picking up a story where another left off, but kid-style, and with generous doses of silliness. My daughter's confidence soared. She evolved—perfected rhymes, told cohesive stories, kept true beats, and I became one proud mama.
My kid was the youngest of the group, which I think made her one of the least censored little singers since she lacked a judgment filter and just jammed about aliens and our dog.
"That's my girl!" I grinned beatboxing beside The Rap Master on Facebook Live, her face was painted like a tiger. She crooned, "I like to play, cause I'm a tiger, roar, roar, roar. The king of the jungle is actually lions that roar. Tigers like to play, so they're the second kings. Tigers like to play so look at how they play, yay!" She was grasping a difficult freeform performance style, and I was pretty sure, after my homeschooling crash course, that there were components of literacy and music theory thrown in.
For weeks, we freestyled on weekdays when virtual school finished. Each day family and friends tuned into Facebook live and fed words into the comments for us to rhyme. It was a therapeutic bonding opportunity for both of us as we navigated bouts of sickness in the house that we feared might've been COVID-19 (they weren't) and we adjusted to virtual home school for three kids. We rapped to stay sane.
The Real Lessons We Learned
Zooming with FLS Academy's virtual cohort of young folks had benefits beyond rapping. It provided my daughter exposure to a diverse national group, considering her access to other kids was limited. And once the protests started, I had a light bulb moment. I realized this nuanced class was not only a history lesson about the origins of hip hop and rap, but it was also a natural jumping-off point for me, not being a person of color, to discuss racism with my white kids.
"Rap/hip hop is an American invention, created by poor Black and Latino folks in the Bronx," explains Davis. "It's an art form about using what you got in front of you and flipping it. In hip hop, everything is essential. For Freestyle Love Supreme, everyone is essential."
And when we watched Hamilton streaming on Disney+, my little Rap Master identified that the actors were beatboxing. I've learned that in order to teach children, we need to expose them to varied experiences and model strength during adversity.
"Look around, look around, history is happening in Manhattan, in the greatest city in the world," my daughter and I rapped along with the artists who expressed a slice of American History through verse.
Join the Freestyle Love Supreme Movement
"We Are Freestyle Love Supreme," a documentary about the group, premieres on Hulu July 17. Every Thursday, summer youth sessions, Freestyle Clubhouse (ages 7 to 11) and Freestyle Teens Supreme (ages 12 to 17), are being offered from 7 to 8 p.m. (EDT). The classes are $25 per class or $90 for four classes. Enrollment is ongoing.
In August, the Freestyle Love Supreme Academy will be offering two weeks of Remote Summer Camp with some of the best voices on Broadway. The two sessions are August 10-14 (ages 7 to 12) from 1 to 3:30 p.m. (EDT) and August 17-21 (ages 13 to17) from 1 to 3:30 p.m. (EDT). Remote Summer Camp is $300 per student, and scholarships are available.