A recent study shows listening to hip-hop unlocks creative part of the brain and lowers boundaries that say “no”. Do we subscribe to this theory? Yeeeeaaahh, bbbooooyyyeeeee!
I had trouble writing this piece until I decided on a bathroom break soundtracked to a verse that went: “Players, pimps, hoes, hustlers, willies, thugs, ballers, busters, gangstas, macks, every day, all day, shot callers, even high rollers keep it moving.” After that, it came out easy. I was done in fifteen minutes. Like a big boy.
Looking back, the above is not an isolated event.
For all intents and purposes, it should make no sense, however, the Soldiers of Science have a theory in this regard – and it involves feeding a rap musician to an MRI machine.
Researchers, led by Siyuan Liu, PhD, scanned the brains of 12 freestyle rap artists (who had at least five years of rapping experience) while they performed two tasks using an identical eight-bar musical track. For the first task, they improvised rhyming lyrics and rhythmic patterns guided only by the beat. In the second task, they performed a well-rehearsed set of lyrics.
During freestyle rapping, the researchers observed increases in brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (the part responsible for motivation of thought and action) but decreased activity in dorsolateral prefrontal regions that normally play a supervisory or monitoring role. In layman’s: these shifts in brain function may facilitate the free expression of thoughts and words without your logical shortcomings second guessing you, outpacing your own doubt as it were.
The study also discovered that freestyling also increased brain activity in the perisylvian system (involved in language production), the amygdala (an area of the brain linked to emotion) and cingulate motor areas, suggesting that improvisation engages a brain network that links motivation, language, mood and action. Further studies of this network in other art forms that involve the innovative use of language, such as poetry and storytelling, could offer more insights into the initial, improvisatory phase of the creative process.
What does that mean for those stuck on a task? Well, in the words of T S Eliot: “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
Or as his Compton contemporary mused: “I bring the fire ’til you’re soaking in your seat.”