Dir. Ice-T/Andy Baybutt, USA, 2012, 106 mins
Cast: Bun B, B-Real, Common
Review by Delme Stephenson
Ice-T takes to the director’s chair and interviews a line-up of some of hip-hop’s greatest artists. It’s an entertaining and often insightful documentary that is brought to life by the experiences of its subjects. While the feature lacks the depth needed to inform us of how hip-hop has climbed to global prominence it wins its audience over with its own idiosyncratic style.
The success of the documentary lies with a certain Tracey Morrow better known to us by his stage name Ice-T and recognised by the industry as one of the godfathers of Gangsta rap. His album ‘Body Count’ and the single ‘Cop Killer’ were game-changers, while his skilful lyrical style defined a generation. Ice-T has learnt being a pioneer has its advantages, especially when it comes to making a documentary about hip-hop and its artists. As such, Ice-T is able to scroll through his contact list and call upon some big names for support. Although there are a few legendary artists missing from the line-up we get perspectives from luminaries such as Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Nas, Doug E. Fresh, KRS-One and Dr. Dre, to name but a very few.
It’s no secret that hip-hop artists aren’t the most reserved of people, it’s an industry of big personalities and big egos, yet this is also Ice-T’s journey and as a showman he’s able to draw out candid moments from his interviewees by sharing his experiences.
Ice-T appears on-screen with many of the artists, but both he and co-director Andy Baybutt are aware when it’s prudent for him to stay behind the camera. Although it originally appears that the film is hampered by Ice-T’s interview technique which consists of him constantly asking what has influenced a particular artist and how they are able to invest in their craft, each encounter produces unexpected results.
As Ice-T interviews his subjects on street corners and in studios he’s able to steer the course of an interview into unexplored territories. The material documented is poignant and equally enlightening as we get to understand the difference between an MC and a rapper, the reasoning behind a rap battle and how beatboxing was invented. Yet there is also a playful and unexpected sense of humour underlying many of the interviews. KRS-One for example shares with us how he was drawn into the industry – he was publicly dissed by a rapper while minding his own business and decided to attempt to battle. He is also one among several artists that give phenomenal freestyle performances – Kanye West and Eminem contributions in particular resonate long after the credits roll.
Visually the film manages to capture the essence of hip-hop which encapsulates rap, DJing, breakdancing and street art. Something from Nothing uses aerial shots that introduce us to the sprawling urban cityscapes ofNew York and Los Angles, while other camerawork captures graffiti sprayed on apartment blocks.
If you are a hip-hop fan then you’ll enjoy From Something to Nothing: The Art of Rap. It’s not a definitive all-encompassing film on the past, present and future of hip-hop. It is however an enjoyable and totally anecdotal journey that glimpses into the mindset of some of its legends.