Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme

"OK"

Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme Review


Kevin Fitzgerald's documentary about freestyling -- the process of coming up with raps off the top of your head -- first hit the festival circuit in 2000; arriving on DVD in 2005, it already feels archival, like a bit of old news. Mos Def, the biggest name in the film, is captured while he was still a member of the hip-hop duo Black Star, well before he moved on to a successful solo and film career; many of the other underground rappers featured - including Divine Styler, Pharoahe Monch, Aceyalone, Bahamadia -- are either no-names or had their biggest moments the better part of a decade ago.

That says something about how hip-hop evolves as a genre - it's not Fitzgerald's fault that the genre he loves best moves so fast, and getting an indie documentary finished on a shoestring can be a lengthy process. But you wouldn't notice how dated the film feels if it didn't have more serious organizational problems. Freestyle mainly wants to be a documentary about the history and mechanics of freestyling, but its loose-limbed, impressionistic structure too often makes the film drift away from the point. Freestyle bounces from interviews with members of early-'70s Beat-poet-styled hip-hop pioneers the Last Poets to brief (and unconvincing) attempts to tether freestyling to Baptist church preachers and John Coltrane's improvisations. Brief interludes about the history of early hip-hop in the Bronx, female rappers, and the mainstream rap industry take on worthy subjects, but they draw energy away from the subject at hand.

When it sticks to the point, though, there are some powerful, illuminating moments. A stunning clip of a young Notorious B.I.G. freestyling on a Brooklyn street in 1987 shows that he'd mastered his stentorian flow by the time he was a teenager. The best segments about MC Supernatural, who gets the most screen time, are the ones where he discusses his learning process (essentially, memorizing a rhyming dictionary) and the pressures involved in staying ahead of competitors in battle raps. And Supernatural's nemesis, Chicago rapper Juice, cuts an amusingly controversial figure - everybody who talks about him is quick to wonder if he's committed the cardinal sin of writing his freestyles.

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald doesn't spend nearly enough time on any one subject to give a clear picture of what role he believes freestyling plays in hip-hop - depending on who's talking, it's a subgenre of hip-hop, a stepping-stone in a hip-hop career, or hip-hop itself. Most often, it comes off as hip-hop's version of jamming, which is capable of brilliance or teeth-gnashingly dull self-indulgence. Watch a few unknowns rattle off some off-beat ruminations about the last time they had sex or the other guy's flaws, and you'll appreciate why Mos Def and B.I.G. made it to the big leagues. But there's too little evidence that freestyling in itself deserves even the short 75 minutes allotted for this film.



Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme

Facts and Figures

Run time: 60 mins

In Theaters: Friday 14th April 2000

Distributed by: Organic Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Kevin Fitzgerald

Starring: as Himself, Planet Asia as Himself, as Herself, Akim Funk Buddah as Himself, Eluard Burt as Himself, Myo Campbell as Himself, as Himself, Darkleaf as Himself, as Himself, Kirby Dominant as Himself

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.