Review of Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap


Movie Review: "Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap"

-- Rating: R (pervasive language, sexual references, drug content)
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: June 15, 2012
Directed by: Ice-T and Andy Baybutt
Genre: Documentary

Co-director Ice-T claims to have "unprecedented access" to some of the biggest names and pioneers of rap. He uses that access to great effect in "Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap," which is a series of interviews where many of the same basic questions are asked to each rapper. There are some similarities in answers, but the differences are what truly give insight into what goes into being a rap artist.

Ice-T starts out on the East Coast, interviewing many of his fellow rappers. Even though he has been on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" for several years now, he is still obviously well respected in the rap community. The fact that so many big names like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube are willing to give up their time for Ice-T's project speaks volumes about how friendly he is with these artists. This makes him the perfect person to do the interviews.

He asks questions of the East Coast rappers and gets a lot of insight into why they think rap doesn't have the same respect as blues or jazz, which are two other American musical mainstays. Marley Marl says it is because rappers are noted in pop culture for their feuds instead of solidarity. This may or may not be true, but it makes for a quiet moment of introspection between the samples of music and freestyle rapping that many of the artists perform for the camera.

There are actually more than a few moments of introspection that will make the audience think. For example, Yasiin (the artist formerly known as Mos Def) asserts that rap is basically folk music set to a different beat. This asks the audience to compare the two genres and see the similarities to decide if they agree.

The fact that the audience is left to decide on their own is one of the great things about "Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap." There are few definitive answers given to any of the questions, because the artists all have different perspectives. To try to get one ultimate answer to any of Ice-T's questions would be to do rap a disservice, because it would leave out the perspective of many of its varied artists. The variation in answers is what makes the movie so interesting. If everyone had the same answer, the audience would likely tune out halfway through the movie.

After leaving the East Coast, Ice-T heads for the West Coast, but not without a slight detour to Detroit. This is the home of Eminem, whom a few rappers had already mentioned as one of the best they had ever heard. Because he is of a different race than the majority of his rap counterparts, he has a unique perspective. Just like with his lyrics, Eminem is not afraid to show raw emotion, admitting that he almost quit rap for good after he was booed during his first performance.

After Detroit, the film heads to Los Angeles, home of such rap dignitaries as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Like the segments in New York and Detroit, the film shows overhead views of Los Angeles and some footage of the neighborhoods where the local rap scene has its roots. Some of the shots are almost shocking in how hard and mean they make the streets look. The views are beautifully shot and serve as a good backdrop for the interviews.

Those overview scenes are the only real eye candy in an otherwise straightforward film. The interviews take place in various locations, ranging from recording studios to rappers' homes. There is no action or car chases, but there is still plenty of spontaneity. Some of the best scenes in the film are when a few of the rappers begin to rap freestyle. They rhyme and spin tales off the cuff with little provocation. These raps are fantastic and really paint the genre as not only an art form but also a skill that few will ever be able to master.

"Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap" is not only a set of rap artist interviews, but it is also something of a history lesson. Interspersed with the history is plenty of insight about the creative process and where the genre might be headed in the future. There are other documentaries about rap music, but few do it as good as this one.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars