SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: THE ART OF RAP Image

This review was originally published on January 24, 2012…

Legendary emcee Ice-T directs this refreshing documentary about the importance of lyricism in the history of hip-hop.  Since breaking onto the scene in 1987, the Los Angeles native has released eight solo albums, won a Grammy, and segued into acting both on television and in film.  Due to the controversy it stirred up, his song “Cop Killer” (from his heavy metal group Body Count) is probably his most well-known song.  But according to the emcees he interviews for Something from Nothing, it’s his earlier work, particularly 1986’s “6 in the Mornin,’” that stands out as his most impactful. 

“6 in the Mornin’” tells the story of a young hustler who wants to become a rapper but gets caught up in crime.  The lyrics are filled with details from what Ice-T calls “the b-side of the game.”  Instead of rehashing generic lyrics, he stood out by revealing a side of street life that hadn’t rapped about before.  And by including elements from the less glamorous side of street life, he cemented his authenticity.  Something from Nothing pays homage to those who’ve changed hip-hop by caring about lyricism and tried to do something different with their words because of their love for the culture.

From Style Wars to Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, hip-hop has a number of fantastic documentaries that attempt to document its history.  And while each brings their own unique take on the culture, Something from Nothing is truly different.  First of all, there’s no stock footage.  We all love watching Run D.M.C. rap with Kool Moe Dee and Special K on Graffiti Rock but those clips, along with Kool Herc driving around with those giant speakers, have been overused.  Here, Ice-T tracks down those legends and lets them tell the story of rap’s progression first-hand.  And it’s how they tell that story that sets this film apart.    

From pioneers like Grandmaster Caz and Doug E. Fresh to today’s top spitters, Immortal Technique and Nas to name two, the film not only features interviews but also a cappella performances from nearly every participant.  Whether they’re standing on busy street corners or hanging out in their studios, the rappers launch into complex schemes that best represent their own styles and answer the question, “In a world where catchy pop-hop dominates the radio, why does lyricism matter?”  Yasiin’s (a.k.a. Mos Def’s) intricately spun delivery is worth the price of admission alone.

Something from Nothing is a must-see for real hip-hop heads.  If you’re into old school, it’s got Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee.  If you’re into underground, then you’ll love seeing Lord Finesse and Lord Jamar.  Fans of Native Tongues get a fantastic interview with Q-Tip.  The West Coast get represented by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, B-Real, RAS KASS!  They’re all here.  It’s like Ice-T updated the “Midnight Marauders” album cover and made a film out of it.  You won’t see another movie like this for a long time.

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