Respect the craft

Written by | October 9, 2012

The masters of rap have something to say in Something from Nothing

An Ice-T-directed documentary featuring Chuck D, Dr. Dre, Method Man, Immortal Technique, Nas, Snoop Dogg, Run-D.M.C. and about 30 other prominent artists.

If that isn’t enough to pique some interest, there may not be enough respect for hip-hop in the world. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap is out to remedy that—and reward those who respect the genre with personal performances and conversations about
the music.

Collecting interviews and footage from the greatest rappers alive, the movie features a wide variety of artists in hip-hop talking about their experiences, influences, styles and more.

Northwest Film Center has afforded the documentary a prime spot in the upcoming 30th Reel Music Festival, and it’s easy to see why. There is something new for even the most well-versed rap fan, and I found myself (with the luxury of a DVD copy) rewinding the artists’ mini-performances and learning something new.

Guiding us through the film is the always-charismatic Ice-T, who has managed to stay true to his hip-hop roots—even during his decade of television success on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. That balanced perspective is what makes him well-suited for this job.

His presence in the industry still commands a respect visible throughout the interviews and allows the documentary to be a celebration of the people whom he calls “masters.” These are his friends and collaborators, and they treat Ice like an old friend; while there are flaws in his directorial effort, it’s not enough to detract from the natural conversations elicited from a respected veteran in the industry.

There’s not really much to spoil about the motivations behind Something from Nothing. From the beginning of the film, I basically knew what I was supposed to walk away with: a newly found or restored understanding of the power of rap. Not a very subtle realization, but still promising with the ensemble of rappers on display.

I was ready to embrace rap as a strong and relevant art form, but I lost track of what I was supposed to keep in mind. I left the movie wondering what I was supposed to feel. The movie devotes chunks of time—in a seemingly random way—to different rappers in the documentary, grouped not by thematic relevance but by location.

Granted, a rapper’s home city is important to his or her work, but that form of organization isn’t really relevant unless the documentary is about stylistic tendencies in rap…which it is, but only for one or two interviews.

This is part of a general problem in Something from Nothing, and why it seems like I’m giving the film a harsh review, even though I enjoyed it. Every interview left me wanting more. Just when Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) goes into an impassioned response about rap’s origins and how geography shapes the music, the film cuts to Eminem, who talks about his influences and early experiences in rap.

Northwest Film Center presents
Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)
Friday, Oct. 12, 9:15 p.m.
Whitsell Auditorium
1219 SW Park Ave.
$9 general; $8 PAM members, students, seniors; $6 Friends of the Film Center

It’s not that I didn’t find everything they were saying interesting; I actually wanted more of everything. I want to appreciate the art, but I can’t get more than a general celebration of rap through the artists’ individual triumphs and abilities. Ice-T acknowledges this frustration by letting the viewer know that to understand an art form one only needs to look at its masters.
That said, I’m literally criticizing a film for having too much interesting content. Ice-T has treated us to a true look into the sense of brother– and sisterhood these artists share. Their individual ideas and opinions on hip-hop, when fully articulated, are insightful enough to warrant their own documentaries.

The importance of rap in our society does not go unnoticed at Reel Music 30, and the organizers at the center see this film as a relevant and worthwhile look at rap music’s finest.

“Something [from Nothing], which I would call Ice-T’s sort of personal valentine to rap and rapper peers, provides a[n] interesting take on the range of styles and performers,” said Bill Foster, the festival’s programmer. “But [Something from Nothing is] in general a good, broad, general introduction—unusually, from an artist himself rather than a…documentary
filmmaker.”

Ice-T’s labor of love hits on all the right themes of what makes rap important as a movement. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap boasts a professional ensemble whose efforts alone prove beyond a reasonable doubt that hip-hop is a constantly growing and changing medium that deserves our shared respect.

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