Radio Days: 10 Classic On-Air Freestyles with Tim Westwood

“I play the best hood, O.T. with Tim Westwood” – Noreaga, “Banned From TV”

Words by Step One (@PaulDJStepOne)

Being a fan of rap music living in the UK in the ‘90s was hard work. The dance music boom of the late ‘80s resulted in hip-hop being sidelined by the mainstream for most of the decade. Save for the likes of P.M. Dawn, Arrested Development, and MC Hammer hitting the Top 10, you really had to put in the hours to stay in touch with what was blowing up stateside.

Fortunately, listeners in London (and eventually nationwide) could rely on Tim Westwood to satisfy their cravings. Having been doing his thing since the early ‘80s in the clubs and on pirate radio, The Capital Rap Show solidified Westwood as the UK’s #1, and had heads making sure they had a blank TDK on deck every Friday and Saturday night ready to catch the latest exclusives. He even impressed his peers across the Atlantic, as no less a figure than Stretch Armstrong commented a few years ago on his (sadly now defunct) blog:

“Tim Westwood in London used to have what may have been the most progressive hip-hop show on earth in the late 80’s. Because he was free to operate outside of the beef that had split NYC rap radio in the late 80’s but also was very close to both Red and Marley (though closer to Marley who eventually would broadcast a version of In Control on his show in the UK), Tim would bless the airwaves with crazy exclusives and remixes, AND, influenced by his roots in 80’s Jamaican and UK dancehall, was the first, and perhaps only, hip-hop personality to get all the hot emcees to re-record their hits with his name in them, sound-clash style. Many in the UK complained that Tim didn’t support home-grown talent, but we sure didn’t care, ’cause we’d frequently hear shit from his tapes first, sometimes to never be heard anywhere else. “

An appearance on Tim’s show, which became The Radio 1 Rap Show when he started broadcasting to the whole UK after joining the BBC in late 1994, was a necessary addition to any rapper’s schedule when they came to England. And as you’d expect, they usually obliged with a freestyle before the night was up. As this was mostly all pre-Internet, many of these sessions were heard only by those who tuned in at the time or were fortunate enough to get a hold of a tape of the show. With that in mind, we present to you ten of the dopest and most memorable Tim Westwood freestyles from the ‘90s and early 2000s, all available for your streaming and downloading pleasure. And you didn’t even have to stay up ‘til 2am with your fingers hovering over the play and record buttons to get them!

1. Nas (1994)

If you’re reading this, chances are the words “Nas” and “1994” will probably have you going straight towards the download button. On his first visit to the UK, he appeared on the Westwood’s Capital Rap Show and blessed London’s late night listeners with a freestyle that still sounds dope to this day. We’re treated to a big chunk of the “Memory Lane” lyrics, followed by some off the head bars at the end. The fact that it’s over the goosebump-inducing piano break from “Ike’s Mood” doesn’t hurt either.


2. Snoop Dogg, Kurupt & Daz (1994)

Snoop’s visit to the UK in February 1994 saw the media go into a frenzy not seen since the Beastie Boys toured in the ‘80s. Doggystyle was a few months old at this point, but since Snoop was on a murder charge and bastions of morality, The Daily Star ran their now infamous “Kick This Evil Bastard Out!” headline. Not that it seemed to phase the man. He spent Friday night up on the Capital Rap Show talking to callers, and then alongside Kurupt and Daz, he hit us with this classic eight minute freestyle over “Deep Cover” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour.”


3. Wu-Tang Clan (1994)

The Wu, in various forms, were a regular fixture as guests on Westwood’s show. Although the 1997 show where ODB and RZA took over and answered the phones live on-air might be the most memorable in terms of entertainment, this 1994 appearance climaxed in a dope 20 minute freestyle with Method Man, GZA and Ghostface all delivering the goods over some classic instrumentals.


4. The Notorious B.I.G. & Craig Mack (1995)

Around the time Bad Boy unleashed the double whammy of “Juicy” and “Flava In Ya Ear,” Westwood linked up with Funkmaster Flex for a monthly “Rap Exchange,” where Tim would broadcast his Radio 1 show from Hot 97 in NYC. Flex was all over everything Biggie touched back then, and the UK’s rap fans were no different. By the time the Bad Boy crew reached London for a show at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo (the venue where the intro to Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions was recorded) in March of 1995, excitement was at fever pitch. Posted up at the BBC studios with Puffy, Biggie and Craig hit the listeners off with this memorable freestyle over Redman’s “Rockafella (Remix)” beat.


5. Nas & De La Soul (1996)

This is one of those random ciphers that came about by way of pure circumstance. Nas and De La were both in town promoting It Was Written and Stakes is High respectively, and their paths crossed at the BBC studios. Given how many collabos Nasir has been involved in over the last 20 years, it seems strange that he’s never worked with the Plugs, so this might be the closest we ever get to that happening. Nas, Pos, and Dave go in for 10 minutes, while Maseo cuts up Sadat X’s “Stages & Lights” instrumental.


6. Cam’ron (1998)

With “Horse & Carriage” blowing up in NYC, Cam’ron and Undeas labelmate Charli Baltimore made their way over to London for some promo work. Although the trip wasn’t preserved in a legendary YouTube video like Dipset’s visit a few years later, it did result in Cam spitting live on-air over the “Incarcerated Scarfaces” beat. Definitely a moment worthy of inclusion on this list.


7. Eminem & Proof (1998)

As with most rappers that ended up being hugely successful, Westwood had been playing Eminem’s music from early on. As a result, “My Name Is” blew up commercially in the UK (still a rare achievement for a “proper” rapper back then) and Em’s buzz was large to say the least. This appearance was before Dre’s 2001 dropped, so he was still a relative newcomer at this point, and alongside Proof he proceeded to do what he did best and go in with some awesome wordplay and punchlines for days.

“4, 3, 2, 1”

“Pick it Up”

“Hate Me Now”


8. Method Man & Redman (1999)

With a couple of lengthy (and legendary) Hot 97 freestyle sessions already under their belts, you have to wonder if Def Jam’s marketing strategy for Red & Meth’s Blackout album was to just get them on the radio and let them spit for ages. It’s basically what they do best. In this case, the duo go off for 12 minutes over Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says” beat, and then Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm” and “It’s Mine.”

Part 1

Part 2


9. Shyne & P. Diddy (2000)

Before that night in the club with J. Lo and the subsequent jail time that solidified Jamal Barrow’s “realest” status, he had to put in the work to win over listeners who weren’t entirely convinced that he wasn’t just signed to Bad Boy off the back of sounding a bit like Biggie. With Diddy on hype man duties, this freestyle over The LOX’s “You’ll See” and Jay Z’s “Jigga” instrumentals definitely helped to make heads in the UK believers.


10. Nature (2002)

Despite never really hitting it as big as some people expected after his appearance on The Firm’s album, Nature is a solid MC. This freestyle is from a show Westwood broadcasted from Marley Marl’s studio in 2002, where Nate goes in QB style over Cam’s “Oh Boy” and Truth Hurts’ “Addictive.”


*Bonus* Black Moon & Smif-n-Wessun (1995)

Boot Camp Click joints were always well received in the UK. This cipher captures them at what was arguably their creative peak as a crew, so we thought we’d throw it in as a bonus for you.

Since it started back in 2009, Only Built For zShare Links has been a regular source of rare gems and hard to find material, most of which was previously unavailable in digital format. All the freestyles posted here (with the exception of the Boot Camp Click joint) were sourced from Step One’s personal tape collection.

Photos via UpNorthTripsComplex, XXL, Hip Hop Photo Museum, DupeSquad, and Model D

Catch up on all previous NahRight features HERE.