“FREESTYLE: THE ART OF RHYME”— The World of Improvisational Rap

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“FREESTYLE: The Art of Rhyme” 

 The World of Improvisational Rap

Amos Lassen

Welcome to the world of underground hip-hop and improvisational rap. The film was made over seven years and takes us on a journey through this musical world.

 The film features appearances by: Supernatural, Mos Def, Black Thought & ?uestlove of the Roots, Freestyle Fellowship, Lord Finesse, Cut Chemist, Craig G, Juice, Boots of the Coup, Medusa, Planet Asia, Sway, Crazy Legs, Jurassic-5, Wordsworth, Bobitto Garcia, and The Last Poets. Here we see living art as a social critique as it moves us from frustration to beauty. We follow some of the best MCs ever to come to the microphone and we see battles including those of the film’s hero; Supernatural pitted against his arch nemesis Craig G providing the through line for the story. “As these artists improvise poetry out of a mix of language, politics and culture that make up their lives, we discover revolutionary worlds where the English language is subverted and re-appropriated as a tool of economic and social empowerment.”..

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This is the first film to explore the social and cultural background that led to the current development of the street poet, or MC. It provides an inside look into the framework of hip-hop culture, its rules, taboos and social impact. It gives a voice to popular Black/urban culture, which is known to be a profound influence on youth culture globally. “Freestyle” is also the first independent film to counter false notions of hip-hop’s erroneous negative and overly aggressive image, therefore providing a unique look at a growing influence in modern American and world culture. It was directed by Kevin Fitzgerald, founder of Hip Hop for Health and a young and talented filmmaker on the rise. Holding great educational value for hip-hop enthusiasts as well as for those misinformed about hip-hop culture due to its intimate and honest portrayal of hard working independent artists, the film focuses on a group of intelligent, ambitious, and talented young men in pursuit of a dream, deconstructing the ‘thug life’ image that is often associated with the music.

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Freestyle MCs have quite a command of poetry—they are able “to make words dance through the air on command, weaving tales of social oppression, cultural conflict and ego inflation”. After challenging another rapper to a battle, if he doesn’t give up the microphone and abandon all dreams of ever rapping again, then the job is not finished. A rap battle can be a scary adventure. Something that I was not aware of is that the ability to command a crowd and wreck a microphone does not necessarily translate into commercial success. Far from it, in fact; the film is apt in pointing out that some of the most talented MCs in the business have dismal record sales, while the mainstream commercial successful rappers make all the money often have a terrible grasp of the freestyle (exceptions to the rule being rappers like Notorious B.I.G, Mos Def, Eminem and a few others).

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The film is divided into subsections and there are interviews with rappers, poets, hip hop scene enthusiasts, anybody of interest willing to discuss, ruminate, battle and perform freestyle rap, with dozens of rappers contributing interview, raps, or both. The documentary covers all the bases, from the early roots of the style, developing throughout hip-hop culture in New York City during the late seventies, blossoming out into the West Coast, the notion of cyphers, or battle circles of freestyle rhymes, and all elements in between. Freestyle is poetic in nature, representing an alternative to violence within the hip-hop culture.

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