Born from a desire to meticulously document the craft of emceeing while its legends are still living, Ice T’s Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap (in theaters June 15) is a deep look into the minds of hip-hop’s greatest poets. The film (Ice T’s first as director) fascinatingly highlights each artist’s individual approach to song writing and how the music not only created careers for everyone but also more importantly, saved their lives.
“We created something from nothing; that’s what hip-hop is,” says Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar in the movie’s opening scene, reminiscing over the difficulty of putting pen to paper for the first time. Ice T has a genuine friendship with each artist, some spanning decades. This affords him unparalleled access to the art form’s greats like Eminem, who emotionally maintains his success is because he “represented the other side of the tracks” while revealing there’s not a minute of the day his mind isn’t thinking about words and how to construct intricate rhyme patterns with them. Rakim for the first time reveals the science of his writing (“I try to start off with 16 dots on the paper. If it’s a 16-bar rhyme, I know what I’m dealing with”) as Immortal Technique details starving himself physically in order to deliver his best lyrics.
Nas touches on hip-hop being seen as threatening to this day while DJ Premier describes it as “a language—you have to know how to listen to it” and Marley Marl hypothesizes the genre’s in-fighting is why it’s yet to be viewed with the same respect as jazz and blues. Kanye West is evocative when speaking of his first time battle rapping and Dr. Dre is straight-faced when describing how he’s “never been out of the studio longer than two weeks in my entire career” (the past 27 years, if you’re counting).
While there are countless laugh-inducing moments (KRS-One’s story on how he became an MC is gold), Run from Run-DMC’s eye-opening stories of groupies, weed-smoking and paper chasing are perhaps the funniest, riotously clashing with his current status as a man of the cloth. Treach’s menacing diatribe into the camera against “wack” rappers is unintentionally hilarious: “Alotta MCs say they don’t write their rhymes—and it sounds like it. Write your shit down!”
In total 30 emcees are represented here, personally selected by Ice T to represent his vision for the film. At one point Ice reflects on Melle Mel’s quote “an art form can only be as great as its masters.” If Art Of Rap is anything to go by, hip-hop is indeed in safe hands.