'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme' Preview: Rap group's origin story has plenty of heart, wit, rhyme and reason
The previously-delayed documentary uses a combination of interviews and previously recorded footage to examine the journey of the beloved improvisational hip-hop collective, Freestyle Love Supreme
The new Hulu documentary, 'We are Freestyle Love Supreme', was scheduled to be airing on the streaming platform from June 5 onwards, but it was later delayed due to the Black Lives Matter protests. It will now be airing on July 17 instead, after the members themselves confirmed the new release date. It explores the origin story of the intrepid improvisational rap group, Freestyle Love Supreme, aka FLS, whose members later went on to dominate the world of musical theater in Broadway productions like 'In The Heights', 'Hamilton' and 'Freestyle Love Supreme' (the Broadway version).
Some of the famous names from this historic freestyle collective included future Broadway stars like Lin-Manuel Miranda, James Monroe Iglehart and Christopher Jackson, as well as celebrated creative minds in the industry like Thomas Kail, Anthony Veneziale, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Andrew Bancroft, Chris Sullivan, Bill Sherman, and Arthur Lewis. Directed by Andrew Fried, this documentary uses a combination of interviews with the famous FLS members, as well as footage captured from as far back as 15 years ago, to explore the mythos and journey of FLS, when the group was still finding its feet, and its collective voice.
It all started when Thomas Kail (he went on to direct Broadway versions of 'In The Heights', 'Hamilton' and 'Freestyle Love Supreme') and Anthony Veneziale (his longtime creative collaborator) formed Freestyle Love Supreme in 2003, along with arguably their most famous member, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was the creative force and star behind those aforementioned shows.
They all met as undergrads at Wesleyan University, and their love for improvisational freestyling meant that the group officially had its genesis in the basement of The Drama Book Shop in New York City, where Veneziale and Kail ran a production company. They soon added stellar talents like Christopher Jackson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, James Monroe Iglehart, and Andrew Bancroft, with Chris Sullivan, Bill Sherman, and Arthur Lewis helping to flesh out the beatboxing and musical accompaniment.
They would rap about anything and everything, completely off the top of their heads, wowing people everywhere they went. Whether it was impromptu hip-hop performances in the streets, bus stops, car rides, basements, or showstopping performances at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the group was firing on all cylinders and rhyming about anything that audiences would throw at them. The fact that they used their audience's suggestions as part of their freestyle rap sessions meant that they were soon gathering a sizeable following, and future possibilities for the group were essentially limitless.
There was no scripted material, no safety net, just some creative guys (women like Anneesa Folds, Kaila Mullady, and Ashley Perez Flanagan were added later on) with a passion and flair for improvised words, rhythm, and flow. The topic didn't matter, as they would riff about inane objects, pet peeves, current events and plenty more, as long as you could think of it and throw it their way, and they never hit a block in their creative spiels, which made their shows all the more astounding.
What sparked this obsession with the improvisational performing arts, and what kept them all together despite their demanding work schedules and other creative engagements, of which there were plenty over the years? The answer lies in their name itself -- love. Ultimately, Freestyle Love Supreme was forged as a fraternity of young men who loved each other as friends and brothers, who loved the spoken and written word and the myriad ways you could play with its form and delivery. Despite the odd creative differences and conflicts, their shared passion and love of their improvisational art form meant that they stayed rock-solid as a collective over the next 15 years. They frequently did one-off shows here and there or limited-run engagements with a revolving cast, before reuniting in 2019 for a series of off-Broadway performances, which is where the retrospective interviews for the documentary with Andrew Fried took place.
If you're a fan of Broadway shows 'In The Heights', 'Hamilton' or 'Freestyle Love Supreme,' then this feature is a must-watch. It examines the original players who were the cogs and wheels of those shows, as well as showcasing the scintillating lyrical prowess, rapid-fire fit and unbridled confidence that goes into pulling off one of these improv rap gigs. It's like finally meeting the parents of your beloved significant other -- suddenly, you get to see where they got all those defining traits from, up close and personal. You can actually trace the DNA of these famous productions all the way back to the group that started it all.
The documentary explores, in some detail, the stories and heartwarming characteristics of the cast members, meaning you get to know them as well as we now know and love Lin-Manuel Miranda and his celebrated contemporaries. We also get to share in the warm bond they've had for well over a decade, the intelligent glint in their eager eyes and their spirit of openness and camaraderie. As director Thomas Kail puts it, "We’ve all been in each other’s lives, and in each other’s faces, for a long time, and there’s just something about the energy of it that still generates some of the purest expressions of joy that I’ve ever been around." Once you've finished this 85-minute feature, we're guaranteeing that you will have a smile on your face too. The documentary 'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme' will soon be available from July 17 on the Hulu streaming platform.