by Natasha Theobald
Freestyle Fellowship. The Last Poets. Supernatural, Craig G, Juice. Medusa, Pharoahe Monch, Akim Funk Buddha, Mos Def. Though these names may mean little to you as you read them here, they will mean much more after you have seen this movie. They are poets, artists, preachers, and teachers. They touch on the political, the personal, and the spiritual. They have learned the power of one voice in a single moment. This is Freestyle.The most the average person probably knows about Freestyle is the type of battling that was shown in the movie 8 Mile. The battles are a test of skill. Violent terms are used to describe what individuals do to one another in battle with the weapons of wit and words. Consider it a debate where things can get mighty personal. You have to be able to take as good as you give to rise above.
"The power of one voice."
Freestyle is not only about word warfare, however. This documentary gives a real sense of the origins of the art form. Consider the immediacy of jazz, the ability of musicians to create in the moment, to use their instruments in a wave of spontaneous expression. Think, too, of preachers and speakers, for example Martin Luther King, Jr. He used the sound of his voice, the tone of his words, the rhythm of his speech, all to draw the listener to his message. Freestyle isn't about people who can't write or just don't want to prepare something. It is stream of consciousness, making your mouth speak and getting your head out of the way so that something deeper can be verbalized, at its best. The individual gains an opportunity to be heard, to use his or her voice to speak to whatever is on the mind, in the heart.
While a battle is about winning or proving oneself, there are groups in which Freestyle takes more of a community spirit. A Cypher is a circle of individuals gathered to speak and to listen. While there still may be some back and forth about who is better, the circle has the quality of being unbroken, a unit, a part of the continuum of history and hip hop culture. This is what people talk about when they talk about the greatness of America, where each person has an opportunity to speak and be heard. The Cypher is the democracy of Freestyle, a place to air grievances, share joy, or give hope.
Like live theater, Freestyle has an energy that can't be captured for posterity. The tone shifts with the mood of a room or the power of an event or the spark of a new idea. That said, this documentary is able to give a real sense of the power of such energy. Freestyle rhymes are like fireworks displays; at the end, you have nothing but the memory. There is real beauty in the ethereal nature of this art, that which cannot be captured. We have this movie and the knowledge that the greatest moments are ones that can't be reproduced.Great teachers have passion for their subjects. It is clear, watching this movie, that it has been made with great passion for the subject matter. It makes watching, and learning, a great joy. I came away from this energized and excited, unable to sleep. I have a better understanding and a fresh respect for hip hop and the potential power of one voice to tell a simple story or try to change the world.
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originally posted: 07/13/05 17:07:04