Article by Phillip Sumby // @SoPoeticPhil
“Something from Nothing” is Ice T’s directorial debut, a documentary on rap music. It seems that Ice T was able to use his legendary hip hop status to elicit interviews and have conversations with other hip-hop pioneer and contemporary emcees. It’s in this documentary, much like many others (such as Rhyme & Reason and Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme), that we get to see some of the best known, and not so known, emcees discuss the craft of rapping. We’re told rap stories, given insight to technical approaches to writing rhymes, and at times blessed with a cappella bar spitting. Aesthetically speaking, Ice T spruced up what could be seen as a film in which people just “talk and rap” into something a little more visually stunning – although a bit overused – with helicopter view shots of big cities, skyscrapers, and summer days. It was the theater’s big screen that added a literal giant-like size view, creating a sense of unfamiliarity. This also allowed for the exuding of superiority and a feeling of discovery to emcees that are already so very giant, figuratively speaking.
That said, I have an issue with a lot of what’s presented here. Ultimately this film doesn’t know what it wants to be, nor does it know what point it’s intending to convey. Evidence of this begins with the ambiguity of the title itself, in which, something from nothing insinuates tales of poverty to wealth and success, while the art of rap insinuates a technical analysis and exposure to the many various styles of the craft and actual act of rapping. However, neither portion of the title seems to be alluding to the same end game. I’m not quite sure what Ice T wants us to learn here. His questions seemed fairly inefficient and unorganized. Maybe that was the used technique for making his time with each artist look like casual encounters as opposed to scheduled interviews. However, I think a specific set of questions would have been beneficial for this film, allowing for consistency and an added efficient use of time with the various artists.
The film shines when artists are given the opportunity to actually discuss their creative processes. We learn Rakim uses a “dot system” when writing his heavily lyrical bars and Eminem describes seeing rhyme schemes as little sandwiches. It’s at those times when I felt most captivated, as if a veil was being pulled back and I was allowed in. VIP access, I suppose. Unfortunately, it’s those great moments that will ultimately be forgotten. They’re surrounded and bogged down by too much braggadocio, uninteresting banter, and a noticeably blatant lack of diversity. Bun B was literally the only southern artist involved and only a minute of whatever footage they had with him made the final cut. It’s hard for me to understand how a documentary about the art of rap doesn’t allow for a variety of perspectives. The film’s lack of geographical awareness also mirrors it’s lean towards the pioneers and less focus or interest in contemporary artists. It was slightly pass the halfway point where I asked myself, “Sooo… when is he gonna talk to some of the new cats?” Heads up, it doesn’t happen.
All in all, I still encourage hip hop fans to support the films, even if only for some of the descent verses you do get to hear during the film. Some of the stand-outs were Joe Budden, Rakim, Rass Kass, and Kanye. With as unfocused and quickly thrown together as the film seems, it still manages to make you proud to be a fan of hip-hop and provides a sense of nostalgia that’s satisfying to your rap taste buds. There was much that could have been left out and even more left to be desired, but I’ll still give props to the people involved and ultimately to Ice T for putting this together. Much of hip hop and rap as we knew it will be left undocumented, but it’s the opportunities that present themselves now and through legends like Ice T and others that will help us get a little closer, if only inches to the complete documenting of one of the world’s greatest art forms, Hip Hop. Peace.