This loving, almost hagiographic tribute to the art of improvised rapping and battling does not feature Eminem. There is no footage from 8 Mile or BET’s “Freestyle Friday,” and the entire documentary seems to exist in some alternate universe where hip-hop is still the runty underdog. A lot has changed in the 10 years since Kevin Fitzgerald began this labor of true-school love, and it’s the film’s quaint sense of anachronism that makes it so precious: Folks much more famous now than when first interviewed wax poetic about historic freestyle sessions; rappers who have since given up art for commerce hunger for a chance to show off in front of the camera, any camera; myths are created around important street corners or, in the case of Los Angeles’s Project Blowed, in the back of a health food store. Despite cloying narration, Fitzgerald’s footage and interviews are fantastic: A scene of Tupac and Biggie freestyling over Tanqueray is especially gripping, as are the sequences of freestyle legends Craig G and Supernatural watching younger versions of themselves duke it out. Like both pairs of old warriors, we’re left to wonder if it was all so simple then.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 2004