This week Cardi B made history when she became the second female rapper to climb to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In addition to sheer talent, we are witnessing some very impressive brain activity. A recent study of brain scans found that rappers have far more going on than just sick rhyming.
Several years ago, researchers at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Maryland, did brain scans of 12 rappers. The team had the experienced rappers lie down in an fMRI machine and listen to an instrumental track. They then were asked to either recite memorized lyrics or free-style. Reciting memorized tracks did not cause anything special to occur. But when the rappers free-styled, their brains lit up like a Christmas tree.
According to the study, which was published in Scientific Reports, the rapping increased brain activity in the areas of the brain associated with language production, emotion, mood and motivation of thought and action. And some parts of the brain were deactivated during the exercise, such as those related to self-monitoring and editing, the National Institutes of Health reported.
The study also revealed increased activity in areas of the brain associated with phonetic encoding and maintenance of rhythmic patterns. In other words, while rappers are going at it, they shut down the part of their brain involved with editing in order to let their creativity flow unrestricted. And as you can see, the results come together to make a musical masterpiece.
Of course, this increase in brain activity isn’t reserved for rappers. A growing body of research is revealing the profound effect of music on the brain. A 2017 study from the University of Montreal, published in Brain and Cognition, showed that learning to play a musical instrument acts as a sort of exercise for the brain, increasing musicians’ reaction times and helping prevent certain aspects of cognitive decline as they age.
Although songs by other female rappers have topped the charts before, the last solo female performer to make it there was Lauryn Hill, 19 years ago. So what Cardi B has done is no small feat, both musically and neurologically. Whether or not you like rap, you have to respect the talent.