Freestyle rapper experiences ultimate expression


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Bobby Hanaford gazed out the back-seat window during a family road trip. Full of pent-up emotion, a flood of words came to him during the daydream.

He didn't write the words down, but Hanaford's ideas stuck with him, and thanks to freestyle rap, he has a constant outlet for that expression.

"The ultimate release from reality is free-styling and art in general," the 20-year-old musician said. "Art's kind of like a gasoline tank for people to kind of refill their soul."

Hanaford plans to release a mixtape of his music in November. A network of close friends encourage Hanaford's growth and confidence in his music.

His first freestyle experience wouldn't have happened without a little help from his best friend since the first grade, Phil Tobias, and rock icon Bob Dylan. The first beat he ever free-styled to was "Like a Rolling Stone" while hanging out with Tobias one day in high school.

"[Hanaford's] trying to talk about real issues, not like other rappers about how much money they make or how many girls they get," Tobias said. "[Since he started], he's gotten smarter with his music, smarter with his lyrics."

Deon Randall, one of Hanaford's main musical influences, agrees with Tobias about the soul Hanaford puts into his music.

"He was good at it, just right off the bat," Randall said. "You can just hear the passion behind him and the emotion. He's putting a bit of himself into his music, which is different from what most people do."

Being different hasn't always been easy for Hanaford, although those around him see it as a gift.

"I wasn't always teased, but I wasn't understood by all of the kids [in high school]," Hanaford said. "I just stayed to myself and didn't talk very much, so people we really weirded out by how different [my music] was, weirded out in a good way."

Sam Rzepnicki, Hanaford's manager and close friend, said that Hanaford is very emotional, and he tries to encourage Hanaford to use the love and hate he gets from his peers to foster his talent.

"As far as college is concerned, he needs to be around a student body, because he needs immediate feedback," 23-year-old Rzepnicki said. "A lot of people try to sit on their records, but he just puts it out there right away."

When they met around three years ago, Rzepnicki and Hanaford formed an instant bond. Rzepnicki said he feels like an older brother to Hanaford and will be there for him anytime he needs anything.

"If he said he needed me in Iowa today, I'm there," Rzepnicki said.

The distance between Barrington, Ill., where Rzepnicki lives, and Hanaford's current home in Iowa City is not a setback in their musical collaboration. When Hanaford has new ideas, Rzepnicki brings his portable studio to Iowa City and they set up shop and make music at Hanaford's home.

In addition to producing a mixtape for November, Hanaford wants to start playing shows in Iowa City so he can share his talent and love for music with listeners.

Most importantly, Hanaford wants to keep making music — he calls this aspect of his life an addiction.

"Whatever you love in this world just do it," Hanaford said. "It doesn't really matter if you make it. If you love something, you're not losing."

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