Ice-T makes his directorial debut in Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, a documentary that pays tribute to the lyrical masters of hip hop culture. Hip hop emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the voice of the disenfranchised. It was an outlet for those being consumed by the turbulence of the tough inner city.
Ice-T and co-director Andy Baybutt, take the audience on a journey behind the mic and into the mind of the MC. The Art of Rap is a who’s who of hip hop pioneers. Some of the artists featured are: Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Rakim, Salt of Salt N Pepa, Doug E. Fresh, Chuck D, and KRS-One.
Ice-T, orchestrates engaging interviews that are reminiscent of two old friends just hanging out. Each exchange is honest and heartfelt.
The film begins in New York City, the birthplace of hip hop culture. Ice-T catches up with hip hop legends Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, and Doug E. Fresh. Afrika Bambaataa notes that of all the elements that make up hip hop culture, knowledge is the most important. A great deal of the movie is spent in New York delving into the history of the art form.
Some of the best moments, in New York City and throughout the film, are of various artists breaking into a skilled freestyle. Without preparation these talented poets effortlessly conceptualize phrases beyond basic human imagination.
Next the film heads to Detroit, home of the notorious 8 Mile road and lyricist extraordinaire Eminem. Eminem spoke at length about his creative process and the impact that hip hop has had on his life.
Leaving Detroit meant it was time for some California love. Ice-T headed to Los Angeles where he caught up with Snoop Dogg, MC Lyte, and super producer Dr. Dre. The L.A. landscape is a far departure from the concrete confines of the inner city, but it’s clear that the passion for the music surpasses any concrete wall.
Despite the films thorough depiction of the origins of hip hop, it fails to explore the full evolution of the art form. Besides Eminem, Common, and Kanye West, no other present day artists were featured in the film. There was no mention of present-day powerhouses like Drake, Lil Wayne, or Jay Z. The south’s contribution to urban music was also ignored.
This is the one fault of the film. It is impossible to give a comprehensive account of hip hop’s history without showing its entire evolution.
Die hard hip hop heads would argue that the hip hop of today is not true hip hop, because the revolutionary spirit that fueled early rap was abandoned to reflect mainstream culture. I agree that the desire for authenticity has been eclipsed by capitalistic ideals that have subsequently contributed to the devolution of the art form. However, it’s all a part of history. With the maturation of the genre, its focus has evolved; for better or worse.
The legacy of the art form is in the hands of the artists of today, but they should never forget to show their appreciation for the early architects of hip hop culture. You have to know where you’ve been to understand where you’re going.
Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap is a moving documentary for hip hop enthusiasts, or anyone who is a fan of documentary filmmaking. SEE IT in theaters now.