If you’re one of the many folks looking forward to the Disney + release of Hamilton in July, good news: you can get a head start on uplifting Broadway hip-hop content with We Are Freestyle Love Supreme. The Hulu documentary, out this weekend, charts the course of the improv hip-hop collective that launched the careers of Hamilton scribe and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, performer Chris Jackson, and director Thomas Kail. Andrew Fried’s film is both interesting background information for casual fans of Miranda’s musicals, and enjoyable homework for completists.
Freestyle Love Supreme grew from a collaboration between Miranda, Kail and co-founder Anthony Veneziale as students at Wesleyan University, as a way to mix rhymes, beats and improv performing (think of it like Second City for hip-hop). Fried’s film chronicles the group’s beginnings, in a basement performance space at New York’s Drama Book Shop, to their 2019 series of reunion shows, which led to a limited Broadway engagement.
Fried began filming the group during their performance at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He uses 15 years of behind-the-scenes and performance footage, along with current interviews, to explore the members’ growth from funny, creative, nerdy kids to self-assured (but still funny, creative and nerdy) professionals. It’s fun to watch the group’s dynamic as they bounce off each other, and support each other creatively, developing the collaborative relationship that would help Miranda’s work become the cultural juggernaut it has.
Fortunately, We Are Freestyle Love Supreme doesn’t solely function as a hype machine for Miranda and Hamilton. The film focuses equally on the contribution and journey of each of the group’s members, including ones who joined the core group later on. However, it’s impossible to separate it completely from Miranda’s musicals, given how many members of the collective are involved in some way. Perhaps the most interesting figure in that regard is Kail, who started out helping produce the group’s performances, and through his association with Miranda became an accomplished, Tony-winning director. In contrast to his more playful collaborators, Kail comes off as a bit more measured. He’s clearly someone who’s had a lot of practice managing creative folks, and has gotten good at keeping them on task.
That brings up the other sub-theme of We Are Freestyle Love Supreme: the changing nature of friendships within the group, as some members go on to massive success through other projects, while others have different paths. At one point, Veneziale takes a break and moves across the country to raise a family. Later, he has to adjust to a new relationship dynamic with the rest of the group when Miranda, Jackson and Kail’s stars start to rise with In the Heights and and Hamilton. Grievances are eventually patched up before the group’s reunion performances, but it provides a striking alternate perspective to the main narrative.
We Are Freestyle Love Supreme probably has the most direct appeal to viewers who are already fans of the group’s work — as a unit or independently. The live performance elements of the film are fun to watch, but it’s particularly engrossing as an inside look into the creative process that produced one of the decade’s biggest musicals. It’s a fun way to prepare for the filmed version of Hamilton hitting screens later this summer, in addition to watching a troupe of dynamic performers at the top of their game.
“We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” is now streaming on Hulu.