It’s the second night of the Swat weekend: Friday, the notoriously least lit of all potential party nights. Sure, if nobody snitches that there’s a Worth courtyard party, and chances are something is happening at any given time on Willets Third. Traditionally, though, these nights act as a buffer period, a turnt-down interlude between the nostalgic debauchery of Pub Nite and whatever theme the frats decide to half-ass on Saturday. If you’re finna turn up, you’re doing it with the crew and some rando upperclassmen who live on your hall. And that’s usually all you can expect.
This is often frustrating, not just as a freshman looking for ways to publicly embarrass myself, but as a young person of color seeking a viable night scene at Swat. I guess some people can call the drunken singalong to “Closing Time” in a sweat-saturated Pub Nite “culture,” but on a Friday night this attempt is absent. Why, Swarthmore? It’s a relatively universal notion that Friday, not Thursday, is the start of the weekend. And since a whole half of the school missed the de-fraternized glory of Paces parties past, any sense of revivalism is noticeably absent.
However, it seems like the fuse is beginning to get lit again. After all, the last two Worth parties have been exceptionally good — good DJ, good music, good atmosphere, good people. Of course anybody dressed as a mathlete or athlete was quickly turned off but hey: If you’re not down to listen to “What a Time to be Alive” on rotation and chant the chorus of “Alright” at the top of your lungs, stick to beer pong in the dungeon of DU.
The problem, however, is that these events are exceptions to the rule. There’s only one consistently active “mid-weekend” cultural scene. It’s not a party, admittedly, but to use the vernacular, it’s “lit af.” It’s 12 a.m. in WSRN, Parrish 4th — welcome to Freestyle Fridays.
Now, let’s be perfectly clear, Freestyle Fridays is a radio show, from 12 to 2 in the morning — not technically a party. But let’s check some aforementioned criteria. Good DJ? Check. Good music? Hella. Good atmosphere? Check. Good people? Again, check. And you know we be playing that Future/Drake like it’s Champagne Papi himself in the building. Of course he isn’t, but at any given time somebody’s dancing like Uncle Drizzy in the “Hotline Bling” video.
The show, hosted by Elsher Abraham ’18, has its humble beginnings in a group of young men brought together by a mutual love of all things hip-hop. Swarthmore has little history with the weird and wonderful rap universe — of course, at any given time a third of the school is secretly listening to the Old School Hip Hop station on Spotify, but the desire to express a cultural love for rap music is limited. Yes, yes, Ghostface Killah came to Worthstock last year. But y’all chose generic remix DJ White Panda over the Joey BADA$$? Forreal?
I first encountered Freestyle Fridays, perhaps in a fledgling form, as a wide-eyed spec. Sure, I’d written rhymes before, and was starting to develop some kind of flow, but improvised lyrics? Never. I was in the station, surrounded by a group of mostly intoxicated sophomores encouraging me in their stupor to face up against the predominant mic-hog, who was verbally assassinating anyone who tried to stop him. It was a nineties boom bap beat. I stepped up to the mic. The rest was something straight outta WorldStar. I didn’t win the cypher battle by any means, but I held my own, and — as the radio station crew ad-libbed and cheered around me — I felt empowered. Backed by the textured Dilla beats, something in me was evoked that I couldn’t quite place — not for a long time, anyways. Since I’ve returned to Swat, returned to WSRN for rap battles and midnight cyphers every Friday I’ve been here, I’ve rediscovered that feeling. It’s something not even the most lit of Worthyard parties could hope to achieve — something near-impossible to find in the nightlife or party scene on a regular basis. It’s a sense of cultural belonging.
About 5 to 10 of us are usually at WSRN on Friday nights. It’ll start with a few people, just chilling and rhythmically nodding their heads to Madlib or DJ Premier. Then more people will trickle in, and somebody will invariably search “Earl-Type Beat” on YouTube. And the bars begin. Every kind of instrumental is game, anything from your trap-producing cousin on Soundcloud to a song introduced by a slurred “Mustard on the beat.” You never know what you’re going to get. Somebody may make an unexpected appearance, a first-timer may come up to the mic, or Daddy Po ’18 may spit the hottest bars of 2015. That’s the beauty of Freestyle Fridays; it delivers consistently, but no two nights in the radio station are the same. And no one is going to try and play “American Pie.”
It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. But if you’re tired of the limited options on a Friday night at Swat, and have an appreciation for hip-hop, rap, or anything Kanye West, come to Parrish 4th at midnight. You might find something (contrary to Chief Keef) that you do like.