Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap

Year: 2012
Studio: Indomina Releasing
Director: Ice T
Producer: Paul Toogood
Cast: Eminem, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Mos Def, Chuck D, Grandmaster Caz, Doug E Fresh, Ice T, Melle Mel, Redman, Kanye West, Xzibit, Cheryl James, Snoop Dogg

There was a movie called Night a few years back that I was really looking forward to when I heard about it. It seemed like a fabulous idea – a documentary about one of our most familiar states of being, of mind and of places to exist.

I was looking forward to an all-encompassing and philosophical take on how we respond to something so crucial to the human race and our ongoing relationship with it. My first thought was 'we spend half our lives there, why has nobody studied our cultural, biological and philosophical relationship with it before?

Unfortunately it was a meandering collecting of images with a few talking heads relating their experiences of night, and it didn't have nearly the depth and breadth the subject I'd hoped for.

Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap suffers a little bit from the same syndrome. Even though Welcome to Death Row focused only on the titular label and the egos and business that orbited it, it was a more encompassing overview about the history of the art.

In the same way Night zeroed right in on the personal, here director Ice T does the same, seeking out the biggest and most influential names on both US coasts (stopping over in Detroit for obvious reasons) to ask what they know of the story of rap, how they operate and what influenced them.

It's all a little episodic, interspersed with footage of him walking the streets of New York or LA, gazing reverently around at the streetscapes and lifestyle that gave rise to the art form.

Somewhat disappointingly, it's also strangely devoid of music. A loud blast of classic rap bookends each interview segment, but instead of playing each artist's classic track, he has many of them simply rap lyrics from their favourite track freestyle into the camera. If you love rap you'll recognise a lot of the songs that are played, you'll just want more of them.

None of which is to detract from the film's strengths. Ice T presumably does what he set out to do, letting the artists tell their own stories rather than build an objective college thesis on the topic, and it's still cool to hear from all the names behind the tracks you love. It's no less essential viewing than Welcome to Death Row if you're a rap fan, but it's more a series of vignettes than storytelling in the traditional sense.

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