Sundance 2012 Review: ‘Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap’ Shines Light on What It Takes to Set Rhymes to Beats
Rapper Ice-T looks into the origins of the rap game in his first film about the genre that made him a star. At the root of hip-hop are the impressive lyrics, crafted by master wordsmiths, that make up these songs and Ice-T gets to the bottom of what it takes to create these intricate rhymes.
The title of the film suggests that rap came from nothing, but the truth is rap began when those without access to instruments turned to what they did have, the record player, and turned that into an instrument. Rap was a reinvention of this music, throwing rhymes and lyrics over the instrumentation rather than completely starting from nothing. As Grandmaster Caz states in the film, “Hip-hop didn’t invent anything, hip-hop reinvented everything” giving new life to these songs and bringing them to a new generation.
The one thing each artist, no matter their style, noted as being most important was creating lyrics rooted in honesty and personal experiences. Good lyrics should tell a story or paint a picture in the listener’s mind. Developing one’s own original voice and style helped each artist find their identity and what kind of lyrics they would create whether it be an MC getting people excited at a party or show to someone looking to inspire to someone looking to shed light on their own experiences.
It is clear that the artists who create this music are extremely talented, but rap and hip-hop still does not get the same respect as jazz or the blues. Most agreed that the issue lay with them and hip-hop’s image of artists hating on one another instead of having respect for each other, causing others to view the genre (and their work) negatively. Considering a lot of rap was born out of rap battles and using lyrics to prove their skills in front of a crowd, it is not too surprising that this tendency exists (KRS-One got his start in the game after randomly getting called out in a battle he just happened to be watching). Hip-hop also brings issues and a view of life on the streets to the mainstream making those less than comfortable with this lyrical content to also have a negative view of the genre. But it is important for these stories to be heard to expand that awareness and keep those still in those situations from feeling alone.
The slightly choppy filmmaking gives way to an interesting story told by someone who not only understands this world, but is also a part of it. Clocking in at almost a solid two hours, the film would have benefited from some tighter editing with shots of Ice-T trying to get people on the street to leave him alone so he could finish an interview added a touch of reality to the narrative, but better served as an extended or deleted scene. Regardless, The Art of Rap succeeds in giving audiences a look inside this world and the true genius and talent of those who create the music that fill it.
The Upside: Ice-T is given the unique advantage of getting honest and real stories from each of the artists he interviews as he already has a rapport with most or was an inspiration to others.
The Downside: Because of these relationships (and Ice-T’s clear love of the genre), almost every artist gets the time to spit a flow directly to the camera. While impressive, the various one-to-two minute long raps ended up slowing down the narrative rather than adding to it.
On the Side: It is scary impressive how quickly Eminem spit a rhyme. Scary impressive.
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