When I first learned that Ice-T was doing a documentary on Hip Hop music focusing primarily on the craft of lyricism, I was anxious to see the various opinions, input, and styles from Hip Hop’s historical pioneers. Current rap music doesn’t carry the same standards in regards to lyricists as it did back in the day; mainstream Hip Hop has become fairly formulaic and rappers that aren’t necessarily lyrically talented are able to skyrocket to the top of the charts. When discussing the reasoning for making this documentary, Ice T explained that he wanted to go back to the roots of Hip Hop and truly study the process for writing from the best MCs to ever do it. I can understand where he’s coming from considering the current state Hip Hop’s artistry. It seems like everyone from your local Weatherman to commercial actors are rapping and making a joke out of it; so it’s no surprise to see Ice-T wanting to explore the skill and technique associated with rapping.
The Art of Rap is essentially a documentary that sees Ice-T interview various MCs including Chuck D, Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Rakim, Nas, Ice Cube, Kanye West, and many others. They discuss their writing processes, inspiration, voices, style, and memorable lyrics from their contemporaries. Most of them even freestyled and it was interesting to see some of the older MCs still spit with so much skill and tenacity. One of the more memorable moments of the film was Ice-T’s interview with Grandmaster Caz, who is considered one of the best lyricists of all time. He explained how he can’t have any distractions whatsoever while writing and highlighted the level of concentration and attention to detail writing rhymes requires. He managed to write a verse during the film and I have to say that at age 51, he’s easily on par with some of today’s MCs.
The interview with Rakim, who is considered by most of his generation to be the greatest of all time, was the most potent. Listening to him talk about the dedication to his craft was truly remarkable. He explained a mathematical formula to his writing and how he organized his words. Rakim took lyricism to places that no one ever imagined; the complexities and depth inherent in his lyrics are just as moving today as they were in the late 80s. Watching him illustrate his craft should give inspiration to any and all artists.
The film accomplished its overall goal by supplying viewers with insight into the artistic aspect of rapping. It reminds audiences that Hip Hop is something to be taken seriously while chronicling its extraordinary journey from the record players in our parents’ living rooms to the apex of international success. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap leaves viewers with an important message: while we all have the ability to speak and rhyme, not all of us possess the skills to be rappers.