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Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap

Posted by martinteller on December 1, 2012

Ice-T is a hip-hop icon and a longtime actor, but here he takes on the role of director for the first time.  Generally I prefer documentaries that are about specific subjects rather than broad overviews, but he does narrow the scope somewhat.  There is nothing here about the business, production, marketing or fans of rap music, and little about its history or culture.  Instead, Ice-T talks to many rap luminaries simply about their craft: how they define their style, their influences, their techniques.  It gives the film some focus and helps prevent it from going all over the place.

Pretty much everyone you want to hear from is represented, in terms of the giants.  There are too many to start listing them.  The major omissions that stick out most to me are Slick Rick (who is not only a favorite of mine, but mentioned several times by the participants), De La Soul (who had a unique style) and the Beastie Boys (whose absence is understandable, given the recent loss of Adam Yauch).  But there may be too many interviewees already, and sometimes one wishes for a little more from a particular person before racing off to the next one.

There are a few other shortcomings.  At the beginning, Ice-T claims it will be a journey “from coast to coast”, but there’s very little territory covered in between New York and Los Angeles, just a brief stop in Detroit to talk to Eminem and one of his cohorts.  Granted, NY and LA are the sources of the vast majority of the most influential hip-hop, but what about 2 Live Crew in Miami?  Or Sir Mix-a-Lot in Seattle?  It makes the film feel less inclusive than was promised.  Also, way too many slow-mo shots of the director looking badass walking the streets.  But a certain amount of braggadocio and swagger is part of the rap culture.

In general, though, it’s an engaging film and Ice-T is a good interviewer.  He gets some insightful and informative comments (oh, and I was amused to see that Kanye West is apparently still bitter about the South Park thing, reinforcing their point that the guy has no sense of humor about himself) out of his subjects.  Rating: Good (72)


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