If you don’t find the idea of Ice-T sitting in Salt from Salt N’ Pepa’s kitchen thrilling, this isn’t the film for you (in fact, we’re not entirely sure you’re human).
But if you’re a hip hop fan, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap
is a documentary that you could comfortably watch for six hours without getting bored. Sure you’d need to get up for toilet breaks and get snacks delivered to you in regular intervals, but in terms of exploring the history of one of the most influential cultural movements of the last 20 years, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Directed and narrated by Ice-T, Something From Nothing
explores the mechanics of rap music that you rarely get to see. Hip hop is stripped down to its barest parts, revealing everything from the actual writing to stage to literally having rappers rhyme acapella.
Given the driving force of the film is Ice-T, who raps the narration, the subjects are legitimate legends. Run DMC, Chuck D, Rakim, Nas, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are all there, with the choice to avoid buzz-y rappers for older statesmen pretty marked (although Kanye West’s inclusion may annoy some purists).
Not only is Something From Nothing
totally uninterested in the sex, drugs, money culture surrounding hip hop, but vehemently tries to avoid the spoils of rap altogether. You don’t really see any mansions or bikini clad dancers. Q-Tip is interviewed on a street corner, Kanye on a porch and Snoop Dogg/Lion in a dingy recording studio. Whether it was intentional or not, Ice-T is asking us to focus on the art of rap, not the art of success.
It may not be heavy on factual information but Ice-T isn’t exactly a cultural anthropologist. As a rapper himself, he’s more interested in seeing how others create their rhymes, what inspires them and why they started in the first place. And that turns out to be fascinating (highlights include Q-Tip explaining how he “falls” into the beat and Eminem showing a remarkable knowledge of great historical moments in hip hop).
If you’re looking for a dissection of the rise of hip hop, you probably won’t find it here. The questions of why, when and how are never really answered, and it isn’t as slick as documentaries like Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
But Something From Rap
is more concerned with paying tribute to the personalities that made hip hop what it is, and delivers that in spades. And in any case, it's worth paying 20 bucks just to see Ice-T gazing wistfully into sunsets and muttering to himself.
Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap
is playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival