Venue: Hammersmith Apollo, London Date: 19 July 2012
Having already received a plethora of positive reviews in the US, Ice-T’s directorial debut “Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap” finally made its way across the pond on a sun-splashed July evening for a heavily-anticipated and ultimately successful European premiere event that brought out fans, UK Hip-Hop legends and media types alike, all keen to experience the veteran emcee-turned-actor’s new documentary for themselves.
For anyone with even a passing interest in Hip-Hop, Ice-T needs little introduction. An early-80s West Coast pioneer and an architect of the gangsta rap style that would influence everyone from N.W.A. to 50 Cent, Ice’s music career has been a thirty-year journey filled with success, controversy and a handful of classic albums. Now considered to be an elder statesman of the culture, the former LA street-hustler could very easily have decided to distance himself from the music in recent years and immersed himself in the showbiz world of acting. Yet instead, Ice’s behind-the-camera debut is what the O.G. himself describes as being “a love letter to Hip-Hop”, and his genuine passion and respect for the music and culture that grew from NYC’s South Bronx in the 1970s is evident throughout every moment of “The Art Of Rap”.
Although “The Art Of Rap” isn’t a film about Ice-T, it’s ultimately the Los Angeles lyricist’s love of Hip-Hop that makes the documentary such a triumph. With the fifty-or-so individuals in the film all being interviewed by Ice himself, his familiarity with the subject matter coupled with his legendary status means that many of his fellow artists open up on camera in a way they may not have done if being questioned by a ‘regular’ film-maker.
Comfortable in the knowledge that they’re talking to someone who already understands their artistry, the likes of Immortal Technique, Q-Tip and Big Daddy Kane are able to speak about their craft without feeling the need to overly explain things for the uninitiated, which results in those included revealing some interesting facts and anecdotes along the way as Ice seeks to discover the creative processes used by some of Hip-Hop’s greatest emcees, as well as their influences and thoughts on their peers.
Some of the film’s most memorable moments include a lengthy straight-to-camera shot of old-school pioneer Grandmaster Caz ripping through some relentless lyrics of fury, a typically animated KRS-One recalling being dissed in an early battle due to the state of his worn-out clothes, and Ice himself revealing how he deals with forgetting his rhymes onstage during a humorous exchange with fellow Left Coast vet WC of Low Profile fame.
Elsewhere, the five minutes or so that Detroit motormouth Eminem spends talking with Ice is arguably the best onscreen interview you’re likely to ever see with Mr. Mathers. In the presence of a rap icon and self-confessed influence, Slim Shady’s superstar status falls aways on-camera to reveal a brief view of the kid from Motown who fell in love with Hip-Hop long before the multi-platinum albums, MTV awards and tabloid attention. During the pair’s engaging conversation, Em discusses his initial confidence issues as an emcee, being blown away when he heard Naughty By Nature’s Treach on the 1991 album cut “Yoke The Joker” and also recites Ice-T’s own 1984 classic “Reckless” word-for-word, much to the Iceberg’s amusement.
It’s Ice-T’s same pure, straight-forward approach to his other interview subjects in the film that allows him to succeed in his mission to really get behind the science of rap from the differing perspectives of artists from all levels of the game, from Grandmaster Melle Mel and MC Lyte to Lord Finesse and Kanye West.
“The Art Of Rap” isn’t a film that delves deeply into the socio-political impact of Hip-Hop and neither does it study the constant struggle between the music’s underground scene and the mainstream world that makes millions from the culture. Nor is “The Art Of Rap” a film that attempts to explain the origins of the culture to the masses or seeks to apologise for any aspects of the music some may find offensive. As the film’s title suggests, Ice already views rap as a legitimate artform and expects it to be treated as such, and that same sense of pride is echoed by all of those featured in the documentary as they’re given the welcome opportunity to openly discuss what drives their creativity when they’re putting pen to paper to construct their rhymes, nothing more, nothing less.
Following the screening, host Big Ted introduced Melle Mel, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Wu-Tang’s Raekwon and Ice-T himself to the stage for a brief Q&A session. Although most of the questions came from individuals happy to be given the opportunity to communicate with some undisputed Hip-Hop legends, there were some moments of criticism which ensured Ice-T had to think on his feet.
In response to being asked why Jay-Z wasn’t in the film, Ice admitted that most of the people featured were artists he’d had personal dealings with over the years, before making the poignant observation that even if you didn’t see your favourite rapper onscreen, you “still saw your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper.”
Ice also fielded a question from a female audience member who felt the film’s inclusion of Salt (of Salt-N-Pepa) and MC Lyte didn’t give an accurate view of the number of women making Hip-Hop music today. Ice admitted there weren’t a vast number of women in the film, saying that he had also reached out to Queen Latifah to appear but she was otherwise engaged. Yet regardless, Ice concluded by saying that given the ratio of male emcees to female emcees in the rap world, he still felt the ladies were given fair representation.
Continuing the event with each of the legends in attendance running through a selection of their own classics, Melle Mel took to the stage to drop a stirring performance of “The Message”, followed by Chuck D who reminisced on performing at Hammersmith as part of 1987’s Def Jam Tour before he launched into “Fight The Power” and “I Shall Not Be Moved” from the new PE album.
Raekwon was next up to the microphone, joined by surprise guest Ghostface Killah to blaze through Wu bangers such as “Ice Cream” and “Criminology”, before Ice himself returned with DJ Evil E to deliver cult classics such as the ultimate crime rhyme “6 ‘N The Mornin'” and 90s favourite “New Jack Hustler”.
Then just when most in attendance would have agreed the evening couldn’t get any better, Ice-T proved that he’d really pulled out all the stops for his UK audience by calling British Hip-Hop legends and former Rhyme Syndicate recruits Hijack to the stage for a reunion performance of sorts. Minus DJ Supreme, the remaining members of the infamous London crew were led through a handful of tracks by the mighty Kamanchi Sly, including the timeless “The Badman Is Robbin'” accompanied by DJ Harry Love on the turntables.
A memorable night for many reasons, the performances witnessed by the enthusiastic crowd merely supported rather than overshadowed the film itself. Two years in the making and a real labour of love, “Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap” is a welcome addition to the growing catalogue of documentaries that have successfully captured the talent, vibrancy and creative brilliance that Hip-Hop has had to offer throughout its history.
During the post-screening Q&A session, Ice-T hinted light-heartedly at the possibility of a sequel due to the sheer amount of interview footage that had been recorded during the making of the film.
I, for one, would not be mad if there was some truth to that statement.
Ice-T performing “O.G. Original Gangster”, “New Jack Hustler” and “Colors” at the Hammersmith Apollo.