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Visually luscious and drenched with the big beats of classic cuts and freestyle rhyming by some of the masters of the music, “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap” is a performance documentary about the runaway juggernaut that is Hip-Hop. At the wheel of this unstoppable beast is Ice-T, who takes us on a personal journey into the asphalt roots of the music that saved his life.
This film is not about stardom, bling, or beef; it’s about craft and skill—what goes on inside the minds and erupts from the lips of rap legends. Ice-T travels from coast to coast, engaging intimately with the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, Eminem, Nas, Mos Def, Kanye West, Chuck D, KRS-One, Snoop Dogg, Run-DMC, and Ice Cube. The film features original rapping and some classic never heard before a cappellas from the mouths of the creators. What emerges is a mighty soul tribute to the original American art form that brought poetry to a new generation.
The director of the film, Ice-T sat down with the production team to answer a few of their questions. This interview has been broken into three parts.
Q: You have been in the rap world for decades, what inspired you to make this movie now?
A: Well, I started in the rap game but the last 20 years I’ve been deeply involved in film and I always wanted to direct a movie. It was kind of like the rap scene had changed tremendously and become very pop; I felt that people were losing the true meaning of rap. They were losing the feeling that came from us when we started it, so I thought – if I want to direct a movie why don’t I go with something that I’m very familiar with. The film was initially just going to be something done with video cameras and a very low budget but it was such a good idea that it spiraled into a full blown movie. I guess my intent with the film was to try to let people see the hip-hop that I was involved in – when it was raw.
Q: What were the benefits and challenges of making a film of about a world that you are intimately involved in?
A: The benefits were that everybody that I interviewed came across with exactly what I wanted – deep insight into a game. A lot of these cats are friends of mine that I have a lot of admiration and respect for. It was a great benefit that they all came through, nobody let us down. I knew that everybody was going to be incredible, but I didn’t know how incredible.
The challenges were the logistics of getting everything put on film because most of the artists are still working in some capacity. It was like trying to hit moving targets. When you do a documentary its not like you’re waving a lot of money around, you’re asking people to do favors. These artists are spread out all over the United States and to get them, myself and a camera crew in the same place was difficult because I do have a full time job on Law & Order. It wasn’t easy.
Q: What was the film process like for you?
A: The film process was this: I went into my address book and realized I knew everybody I needed for the film and called them up one by one and said, “Hey I’m about to do a movie would you like to be in it?” Everyone said “Hell yes!” Then it was trying to find the time and a way to get them. We had to go to Detroit to get Eminem, Kanye West was in LA – people were all over the place so you could get a “yes” for Saturday but if we couldn’t get it Saturday they might not be available for another two months. At the end of the day we actually got more artists then we could show in the film.
Q: Talk about how you structured the story of the film to flow from east coast to west coast and how or why it was important to you?
A: It wasn’t shot to be structured like that. I had 15 questions that I asked each artist. After we secured all the interviews we tried to figure out how to structure it. Because rap started in the ‘boogie down Bronx,’ we also started there. We opened the movie with pioneers like Bambaataa, Melle Mel and Caz in New York. Then the question was “do we want bounce from New York back and forth?” The answer was “no.” We needed some kind of organization that the viewer would understand. Halfway through the movie I know a lot of the viewers will be saying “There’s no LA”, and then they’re rewarded at the end. We didn’t have a way of laying the film out, we just wanted to get the information in it.
Image Courtesy of Ice T