Published on May 20th, 2013 | by Kris0
Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap
I am not a rap/hip hop expert by any stretch. I may have listened to various incarnations of it over the years, but I have never studied it or tried to understand its specific roots. A couple weeks ago, I watched the Ice-T documentary “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap”. If I had to summarize my thoughts on it I would say it’s like a Cole’s notes version of the history of Hip Hop with lots of attention paid to specific points along the way. It’s that weaving between high-level to high detail that differentiates the movie, though it’s not always as focused as you would hope. Still, for someone like me, it definitely had a number of tidbits I had never realized and I definitely walked away a bit more knowledgeable.
The whole documentary is comprised of a number of interviews that Ice-T did with a wide array of Hip Hop celebrities. Each interview is comprised of a few questions that aim to explain how Rap started, why it is still relevant and how the creative process for an artist works. The answers definitely range in quality, though I suppose that is good and bad. At the very least, it gives the viewer a clear sense of the different points of view that exist around the Hip Hop world. In particular, the creative process questions tend to quite revealing as they help to give the regular Emcee a human face. Also, every artist talks about some of the early struggles they had in their careers and the trend of hard work finally paying off was present in almost every story. One story that particularly stood out with me was about Cypress Hill member B-Real. Early on in his career, he would use his “speaking voice” during his raps but was told that it simply wasn’t good enough to cut it. In fact, that was one of the more interesting points in this documentary; it’s not just the lyrics, but the presentation of them as well. So B-Real was told that he had to change his voice or he would not be able to continue his career. The result is the higher pitch tone that made all the classics since then.
Another highlight of the movie as a whole is the free styling. Almost every interview guest was asked to either spit a freestyle or quote some of their favorite rhymes from when they were younger (sometimes both). I think this point alone did a lot to really show the viewer how much talent is required to be a legitimate Hip Hop artist. The vast array of linguistic lunacy was almost too much sometimes, making you forget that many of the artists just do this completely off the top of their heads. It’s a fantastic example of why not everyone is cut out for this. Another is the demeanor of some of the greats. Dr. Dre comes across as a super intelligent and highly driven individual, which again stands as a great example of what is required to be one of the best.
As the above suggestions, the large number of guests is a major strong point of the movie overall. Unfortunately, it is also one of its weaknesses. Each artist is only give very limited amount of camera time and sometimes you only hear one or two answers from them. Some are just there to provide a freestyle, nothing more. Instead of a little from everyone, I would have preferred more from some of the more quality artists. Additionally, I felt like that approach resulted in many of the personalities coming off a little flat; not really given a chance to show what they are truly about. Which is a shame because the movie as a whole does ask some interesting questions like, “Why is Rap not taken as seriously as Jazz?” It’s a very interesting question and one that I wish would have been given more screen time.
Despite the fact that it moves very quickly, this is still a very solid movie for any music lover to enjoy. Whether a Hip Hop junkie or someone who has usually stayed away, you are sure to take something away from this doc.