Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, 2012
Directed by Ice T
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan, the hip-hop aficionado he is, assigned me to review last year’s documentary The Art of Rap for our film review this week. He has been bugging me for quite some time to watch it for him, ever since he learned of its release from a subway ad tucked away in Brooklyn’s Morgan Avenue station last summer.
The Art of Rap is a strong, but incomplete history of rap and hip-hop’s roots and traditions. The film’s goal, as director and narrator Ice T states from the start, is to give insight into the technical processes behind the global cultural movement that is rap music. Towards this end, he takes the audience on a loose and winding historical tour through the Bronx, the movement’s birthplace, south through New York City, then across the country to Los Angeles. Along the way, Ice T stops to meet with some of hip-hop’s greatest emcees to chat about their processes, approaches, techniques, experiences, and influences. What comes out of this odyssey is a remarkable amount of insight into the art form and what it takes to be the best in one of the world’s most popular musical genres. We also get treated to a wide range of entertaining freestyles and anecdotes from some legendary figures, including Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, KRS-One, Q-Tip, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg (pre Snoop Lion reincarnation), Eminem, Yasiin Bey (The Artist Formerly Known as Mos Def), Kanye West, and others.
Ice T, as our tour guide, is able to show us the inside story from the perspective of a true insider. He is perhaps the most logical fit for a project of this scope and ambition, considering his own position as a founding father of the hip-hop movement in LA and his consistent career as an actor. The perspective he is able to offer is fascinating and what he achieves is a film that truly celebrates the craft of hip-hop, without damaging itself by taking a self-congratulatory tone.
What Ice T doesn’t quite achieve, however, is the full picture. There is an over reliance in the narrative on the dichotomy between hip-hop’s New York origins and its second life in Los Angeles. The only thing in between is a brief stop in Detroit to pay homage to Eminem. This leaves some glaring omissions, most notably from the South; such figures as Ludacris, TI, Lil Wayne, and Andre 3000 and Big Boi from Outkast are left unrecognized. Perhaps this doesn’t concern the film and it is simply content to present the huge sample that it does. From my point of view, though, that sample would have been better if fully representative of hip-hop’s stylistic diversity.
Mr. Struggan sends his Regards.