DVD Review - Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap

DVD Review
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DJing, B-boying, graffiti and MCing: like the primary colors on a spectrum wheel, those are the basic elements that comprise hip-hop. In the 40 years since its origin in the streets of New York, the once-underground entertainment form has transcended boundaries of class and race to become a globally-recognized and all-encompassing influence on music, fashion, language and other aspects of popular culture. Today’s emphasis on the ‘booty,’ ‘ballers’ and ‘bling’ can make it easy to forget how powerful and provocative its roots are, and that reality is what OG rapper, actor, author and reality-show star Ice-T reinvigorates in his affectionate, informative and awe-inspiring documentary, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap.

DJing, B-boying, graffiti and MCing: like the primary colors on a spectrum wheel, those are the basic elements that comprise hip-hop. In the 40 years since its origin in the streets of New York, the once-underground entertainment form has transcended boundaries of class and race to become a globally-recognized and all-encompassing influence on music, fashion, language and other aspects of popular culture. Today’s emphasis on the ‘booty,’ ‘ballers’ and ‘bling’ can make it easy to forget how powerful and provocative its roots are, and that reality is what OG rapper, actor, author and reality-show star Ice-T reinvigorates in his affectionate, informative and awe-inspiring documentary, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap.

As the incontestable inventor of gangsta rap, Ice-T’s approach to exploring the genre is as point-blank and provocative as his catalog: he hosts and directs with authority, dropping observations and gems of knowledge from an insider’s perspective that will regale both casual and devoted listeners while creating a deeper respect for the purveyors and innovators of the genre: “Whether it’s writing something simple just to rock the crowd or writing something deep meant to move the world, the one thing I do know is hip-hop requires skill: the skill of a great DJ, the ability of a great break-dancer, the style of a great graffiti writer or the flavor and technique of a talented MC….I always look at the microphone as my weapon, my ammunition is my intelligence and my caliber, that’s my cadence and flow. This is not a game; this is the art of rap.”

Filmed in parts of New York, California and even Detroit, Art features an impressive array of the genre’s biggest trendsetters and trailblazers (Kanye West, Common, Redman, Dr. Dre, Joe Budden, Ice Cube, KRS-One and Treach, to name a few), legends who not only expound on what drew them to hip-hop, but also share their favorite rhymes from Ice-T and fellow MCs while giving a ‘peek behind the curtain’ at the methods they employ to convey their particular steelo:  fans will practically squeal with delight at the sight of Afrika Bambaattaa reciting refrains from “The Message,” Salt paying homage to “Rapper’s Delight,” Q-Tip’s raw rendering of Rakim’s “My Melody” and the sight of much-revered rhymers like Immortal Technique,Chino XL and Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers spitting straight-off-the-dome in couplets so complex that make most of today’s popular rappers look like elementary in comparison.  Watching world-renowned wordsmiths like Chuck D, Mos Def dissect the appeal of rap and seeing  Eminem show reverence to its forefathers by repeating hit verses is as illuminating as it is humbling.

Aside from cinematic overhead shots of the locales, Ice-T doesn’t use much of a linear design or narrative as far as filming, but his side-by-sides with the performers as they compare and contrast their formulas is framed well in the final result----a treasure trove that encapsulates all that is bold, brilliant and beloved about the phenomenon known as hip-hop.

However, as spellbinding as Ice-T’s Art is, those who are life-long lovers of rap will wonder why the South is so woefully underrepresented (UGK’s Bun B is the lone ranger in that regard), why they couldn’t find more than two female MCs to spotlight and the lack of oral perspective about its lyrics and image descending from the powerful and political to straight-up crass and corny (or even craptastic). But even with those oversights, Ice-T’s debut documentary is Something that should not be dismissed if you grew up on, and cherish the perseverance of, The Art of Rap. Enthusiastically Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
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