Hip-Hop is surrounded with controversy and negative publicity, carrying somewhat of a tarnished image - often associated with gang-violence and the exploitation of women. However, Ice-T's documentary Something of Nothing: The Art of Rap disregards all of the bad press, and focuses solely on the music as an art form, looking at the process and meaning behind some of the most ground-breaking and influential songs ever written, explained by pioneers of the genre.
Ice-T himself is one of the most esteemed rappers of all time, and he travels across the United States, from New York to Detroit, to California, speaking frankly to a plethora of rap stars, from the likes of Dr. Dre, Eminem and Snoop Dogg, to the old guard - Melle Mel, Chuck D and Big Daddy Kane. With no palpable narrative as such, the idea is for each rapper featured to speak to Ice-T for a short while and explain their own personal take on hip-hop and what goes into their writing, as they explain their own techniques, before the majority of them then proceed to freestyle one of their favourite verses a cappella.
This is not a documentary about hip-hop from an outside perspective, we don't explore the history of the music, or the controversy surrounding it - this is merely about rap music from the inside, making for a refreshing change. As a result there is a really lovely atmosphere to this, as though people are just coming together to celebrate the hip-hop culture. It's endearing to see how highly rappers speak of one another, citing their influences - completely going against the image of hostility we are led to believe takes precedence over the culture. Much of the positivity comes as a result of Ice-T's passion for the project, and as an interviewer. He seems genuinely intrigued as to what people have to say, and asks provocative questions too.
One of the most brilliant aspects to this feature is of course the music itself. The soundtrack features some of the greatest rap songs of all time, and the live freestyle performances are fantastic to watch. Ice-T speaks to pretty much everyone you can imagine, except for the two notable absentees Jay Z and The Beastie Boys. The film is also fortunate in that the talent of the artists is matched by their charisma and personalities, as people such as KRS-One make for hugely entertaining interviews. The film does remain informative too, at least from a lyrical sense. We really get a feeling for the process of how a song is composed and formed, as each rapper discusses their own personal methods.
My only criticism comes in that the film does become repetitive as it reaches its latter stages. The format doesn't change throughout and perhaps the picture would work better as being merely an hour long, and could even be presented as a television series, perhaps focusing on five or six rappers per episode, rather than squeezing around 20 into one film. It felt as though Ice-T was rushing somewhat to get everyone involved. Having said that, the picture does thrive off it's simplistic approach, and although becoming somewhat monotonous late on, the uncomplicated and undemanding premise of this film is a selling point.
Something of Nothing: The Art of Rap is a must-see film for anyone with an interest in hip-hop - working as a brilliant lesson into the mechanics of the process, whilst also being a celebration of your favourite musicians and tracks, also allowing the opportunity to be introduced to a handful of rappers you may not have heard about either. It's just great to see people who excel in their profession doing what they do best, and it's brilliant to see how many still use the traditional pen and paper to compose their work. I'd love to do that too with my work, but of course if I did it means you wouldn't have the chance to read my words of wisdom. Ahem.