Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap is a documentary made by hip hop legend Ice-T. The documentary is the first I’ve seen though, that finally presupposes a certain level of knowledge about hip hop history and, rather than dredge through the already well-known material of how hip hop came to be, takes on an interesting perspective by asking why certain artists were so influential, and what the artistry and methods of each of these influential artists are?
Ice interviews EVERYONE, including a number of rappers that seem to be overlooked these days in the history of rap. He does the right thing by largely ignoring Jay Z (who’s influence is greatly exaggerated) and a number of other over-hyped rappers, but goes back to some often forgotten rappers like B-Real (Cypress Hill), Grandmaster Cas, Busy Bee, Dana Dane, Big Daddy Kane, Doug E Fresh, Kool Keith, Kool Moe Dee, Marley Marl, Melle Mel, Treach (Naughty By Nature), Doug E Fresh and Mc Lyte. Naturally he also talks to RunDMC, Chuck D (Public Enemy), Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eminem, Afrika Bambaataa, Bun B, Chino XL, Common, DJ Premier, Immortal Technique, Joe Budden, Kanye West, KRS-One, Lord Finesse, Lord Jamar, Nas, Q-Tip, Raekwon, Rakim, Ras Kass, Redman, Royce da 5’9″, Run, Salt, Snoop Dogg, Treach, WC, Xzibit, and Mos Def. In asking these rappers how they make rap, from getting into the right mind-state, to actually putting down words on paper, rehearsing, delivery, self-edits, etc. it becomes clear that almost no two rappers are alike in approach. Ice T also managed to elicit a freestyle or Acapella as well from a number of these rapper, and there is plenty of archival footage and rare-release versions of seminal songs throughout the film and on the soundtrack.
The reason this documentary works well, in a market that sometimes feels saturated with hip hop documentaries, is twofold: the approach, or focus of the questions; and that as a bona fide OG superstar, Ice T elicits a different type of response from his peers. Occasionally, because Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap is so focussed on technique and artistic process, it does feel a little like an instructional or inspirational video, but that aside; it is a well-made, informative and incredibly interesting look at a number of the most influential figures in the hip hop musical culture.