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Hip Hop Emcees, B-boys/Girls, Beat-Boxers, DJs, Live Artists, fans and musicians from across the world converge Monthly at Friends and Lovers in Manhattan to experience NYC's longest-running, Live-Band Gameshow Competition/jam session/open mic: “Freestyle Mondays.


Now in our 18th year, Freestyle Mondays has built a faithful following by their unique gameshow format improv competitions, raucous live band, surprise guest performers, and engaging cohosts: internationally–acclaimed Emcee/DJ iLLspokinn, who ensure that the event embraces everyone.


Freestyle Mondays is host to one of the most challenging and entertaining rap battles in the city, the Freestyle Gameshow Gameshow Competition. A single-elimination 8-MC tournament sees rappers go one-on-one.  Reminiscent of a game show, a wheel is spun to determine the scenario…giving combatants far more compelling topics to rhyme about than their adversary’s looks or style. A culture based on mutual respect is rare for any event that features “battles,” but the format of Freestyle Mondays is specifically designed to inspire an emcee’s ingenuity, rather than their ability to insult their opponent. The first rule is no pre-written rhymes. For instance, if the wheel lands on “Food Chain”, each emcee may be assigned an animal, with only 45 seconds to battle from that animal’s perspective. From pop-culture to politics, no subject is too taboo as neither the rappers nor the audience know what to expect.


Freestyle Mondays was an upstart drum-and-bass event founded and helmed by actor/performer Cesl (aka Stephen Buchanan) when friends and fellow performers iLLspokinn and Mariella first attended over a decade ago. The duo instantly saw the format’s potential and quickly assumed the hosting duties, transforming it into a showcase and open mic for Hip Hop aficionados. Soon thereafter, they began to invite musicians, who in turn, invited more musicians, and the rotational, improvisational “Freestyle Mondays Band” was born.


Cesl eventually departed for LA, leaving the production duties to iLLspokinn, who along with co-host Mariella, committed himself to creating a welcoming atmosphere focused on artistic growth, inspiration and community. That ethos has led to a plethora of aspiring emcees seeking to develop their skills by regularly attending, “battling” for the monthly title, and sitting in with the band for the always exciting post-battle jam sessions; impressively, it has also attracted a number of well-known special guests, including Aceyalone, Opio, Utkarsh (of the film “Pitch Perfect”), Homeboy Sandman, Chaz Kangas (Guinness World Record Holder for “Longest Consecutive Freestyle Rap Performance”), members of The Legendary Roots Crew, Maya Azucena, Daniel Bedingfield, and JoJo Mayer.


What you will hear at Freestyle Mondays is an emphasis on creativity and artistic development, which has evolved far beyond one Monday a month. With its current home in Manhattan and satellite versions thriving in the Czech Republic and France, Freestyle Mondays is cultivating a new crop of young hip-hop artists by continuing to build a true and sustainable Hip Hop community, and doing its part to maintain the legacy from which Hip Hop was born.

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