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.

Continue reading: Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme Review