Amazing for many reasons, not least because it features footage of Boots Riley in his pre-movie-directing career as a rapper.
This fascinating documentary traces the roots of freestyling back to the rhythmic sermons of Baptist preachers, the improvisational energy of jazz music, and the spoken word artistry of the civil rights era’s Last Poets — but, like the form of rap it chronicles, it largely exists in the moment. The ephemeral nature of freestyling makes it a tricky thing to bottle, but The Art of Rhyme does so by mimicking the freewheeling energy of the MCs onscreen. And there are many legends of the medium featured here: from underground titans like Supernatural and Craig G (whose epic battles are shown here) to big names who crossed over into recording success like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and even precious footage of a 17-year-old Notorious BIG. It’s as enlightening as you’d hope, but what makes this documentary such an impressive portrait of freestyle are all the ways it mirrors the impulsive, quick-thinking philosophy of the form in little over an hour.
The Art of Rhyme isn’t just an essential watch for confirmed hip-hop heads — it’s also an illuminating primer for anyone less familiar with this form of art. What makes it such a universally compelling watch is the insight it provides into the magic of off-the-dome rap: the creative catharsis it gives the artist, the communal thrill it provides the audience, and the sense of spirituality that comes with art that's so fleeting.