This fascinating documentary offers a rare glimpse into the New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles hip-hop undergrounds. Rather than focus on the negative stereotypes that have dogged the rap genre, helmer Kevin Fitzgerald shows communities of gifted street rhymers who challenge and support one another in inspiring, creative ways. “Freestyle” is especially recommended to those who are skeptical of rap’s artistic merit. But its lack of star power may limit this film to festivals and perhaps bold specialty cable outlets.
“Freestyle” is named after a form of street rap in which practitioners deliver rapid-fire, off-the-cuff rhymes. One of the film’s strengths is its abundant performance footage. Freestyle artists including Supernatural and the group Freestyle Fellowship deliver mesmerizing impromptu perfs. Fitzgerald establishes a convincing link between freestyle rap and improvisational jazz. Like expert TV sports commentators, the rappers in the film occasionally offer insightful analysis of their craft. One memorable scene features a member of the Last Poets, a veteran black revolutionary street poetry group, eloquently explaining the importance of social knowledge (as opposed to sheer braggadocio) in the best rap.