Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)


Yesterday was the European premiere of this documentary directed by Ice-T. As I’ve been listening to rap close to 20 years I was excited to see this. Just looking at the trailer you will be amazed by the amount of well-known rappers that have participated in the making of this movie about their style of music. Ice-T interviews rappers who were there when it all just started, people like Afrika Bambaata, Doug E. Fresh and Melle Mel, but also artists whose star rose during the nineties (Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Treach from Naughty By Nature etc) and early start of this century (Kanye West, Eminem).

The documentary which was shown simultaneously in various countries with a live Q&A session streamed to the cinema I was in afterwards (which was also attended by Chuck D, Raekwon and Melle Mel, who all performed) held at the Apollo in London. So as a big fan of hip hop, what did I think of The Art of Rap?


Shot during a period of two years Ice-T interviewed the rappers he knew, which resulted in a massive amount of footage, close to 70 hours, which had to be cut down to a little over one and a half hour. As he probably interviewed close to 40 people it was a difficult task. The direction which he has chosen is of a journey from the east coast, where hip hop was born in New York to the west coast (Los Angeles). The movie consists of aerial shots of the place he is in, often accompanied by the sound of a rapper performing his lyrics a capella after which the interviews are shown. It manages to give the viewer a sense of place and a moment to breathe as the amount of information you hear is staggering.

During the Q&A someone in the audience asked why there weren’t many women in it (just MC Lyte and half of Salt’N’Pepa) and Ice-T explained that there just are not that many female MC’s out there. He pulled out his wallet and told the audience that you could say everything that wallet was not. It wasn’t red, it wasn’t a phone and it wasn’t a car. You should talk about what it is.

To be clear, this documentary isn’t about female MC’s (you can watch Say My Name (2009) for that), this isn’t about DJ’s (you can watch Scratch (2001) for that) and it’s not a critical look at the negative aspects about the music (you could watch HipHop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes (2006)). What this is, is Ice-T talking to his friends about their work. The fact that he does the interviews means the rappers open up way more than they would to others. Eminem shortly talks about his overdose, but also performs Ice-T’s lyrics, KRS One tells how he got started and various rappers talk about their creative process. It’s very clear people were enjoying talking to him and that makes it enjoyable to watch as well.

What this movie is as well though, is that it is very hard to watch for people who don’t know anything about hip hop. You won’t recognise all the artists and watching it would probably feel like seeing the bit from Exit Through the Gift Shop, Life Remote Control as there is not a lot of structure to it and it won’t go into the basics much.

This is a movie for the hip hop fan who will be excited to see their favorite rapper (or their favorite rapper’s favorite rapper) tell their stories. It’s a shame though that some pieces are way too short. For example Nas and Redman are interviewed, but only appear on-screen for about 30 seconds. I wanted to hear more from them, but that’s all I got. I had the feeling the Art of Rap would work great as a weekly TV show of about 20 to 30 minutes, which would focus on only 1 or 2 rappers, but as there was so much footage shot this might still happen (Ice-T said you should see the documentary as a teaser. Despite that criticism I did really enjoy watching this with some great performances and various genuine funny moments. It’s a documentary you shouldn’t miss if you are a fan of the genre.

Score: 7


8 thoughts on “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

    • Really a shame you wasn’t able to go to the press screening! I didn’t know in advance that the Q&A session in the UK would be streamed to my cinema, so it was a nice surprise to be able to experience it. It was nice to see the live performances afterwards as well. Raekwon brought out Ghostface Killah and their performance was very energetic.

  1. There were some rappers I’ve never heard of before but I started searching you tube and the iTunes store for their material. To me this documentary was going down memory lane and learning some new stuff on the way. And the performance after the movie was dope. to bad the music volume was to low.

    Ice-T has about one hour material per rapper. I hope he will do something more with all the extra material. And I Hope Ice-T will continue his work and makes the art of series complete with documentary’s of the other elements of hip-hop.

    • Yeah, even if you started listening to hip hop later it’s a great documentary to learn about great rappers that were big in the eighties and nineties. Also liked the fact that lesser known rappers like Chino XL and Ras Kass were interviewed, who are some of the best lyricists around.

      Wouldn’t mind him making documentaries about the other elements indeed, but if he doesn’t there are some other documentaries you should check out (the ones mentioned in the review are a good start).

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