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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 producer of the film, Paul Toogood, sat down with the production team to answer a few of their questions. This interview has been broken into two parts.
Q. Growing up in the UK, were you a fan of rap and hip hop?
A. Yes. My brother and I learned all of the words to Rappers Delight – The Sugar Hill Gang in 1979 and, like kids all over the world, we would spend hours rapping along to the record. We really liked the naughty bits on the 12″. In 1981 we had Rapture by Blondie and in 1982 along came “Buffalo Gals” a British record by Malcolm McLaren and Trevor Horn that blew my mind.
The first gig I ever went to was Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five” at The Milk Bar in Amsterdam in 1983.
Q. You worked in the music industry prior to making this film, how involved were you in the genre of rap and hip hop? Were you familiar with all of the interview subjects and their work?
A. Not at all – I managed and produced guitar bands. I knew the work of all the big players in rap but nothing prepared me for the incredible depth of talent that we would encounter throughout the process of making the film.
Q. What inspired you to become involved in this movie?
A. Over the past three years I have made over 30 hours of television over 4 seasons of my Songbook Series (nominated for Best Music TV Programme 2011 Broadcast Awards) in which the world’s greatest songwriters discuss their inspirations and writing processes before performing unique acoustic versions of their biggest hits. The series has featured Leiber and Stoller, Diane Warren, Ray Davies, Kasabian, Phil Collins, Dave Stewart, Don McLean, New Order, Duran Duran, Snow Patrol and Echo & The Bunnymen, amongst others. I have had a lifelong interest in the creative process across all genres of Art but particularly in music.
Through many years as a musician, manager and record producer I found myself marveling at the magic of people’s creations, continually asking the question “How did you do that?” Creating the Songbook Series was a very natural step for me to be able to put that question to the world’s greatest Songwriters. Ice-T told me that in 30 years no one had ever asked him that question. In “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap” we are putting out the same question, but this time addressing an entire genre of music rather than just an individual writer.
Q. How did you and Ice-T come together to make the film?
A. My wife has known Jorge Hinojosa (Ice’s longtime manager and an Executive Producer on the film) for many years and we met in late 2009. Jorge told me of Ice-T’s desire to make a movie about the art of rap. We discussed the Songbook Series and my interest in making a definitive genre based piece, along with my passion for never using archive in order to deliver unique, previously unseen performances to the audience. Jorge introduced me to Ice-T in January 2010 and the three of us decided to embark on the project together. The project is independently funded and a UK production. We were filming 3 months later.
Q. You’ve obviously had a lot of experience with the creativity behind songwriting. Did anyone surprise you when it came to their creative process?
A. Grandmaster Caz wrote a new rhyme “The Art of Rap” in 20 minutes flat on camera – truly amazing and it is in the film. Rakim showed us that he creates a kind of graph by placing 16 dots on the page and fits his rhyme within the structure. Ice-T will go months without writing a word and then one night sit down and write virtually a whole album. Ras Kass stole a kid’s desk from his old school and would need to sit at it in order to write his rhymes. That was until he worked with Dr. Dre who would toss him a notebook and say “what you got?” He couldn’t very well go home and get the desk.
Q. What differences do you see, if any, between the process of writing a rhyme vs. writing a song?
Rappers are mainly concerned with words and their message. The superstars of modern day rap have evolved into great songwriters and they need to create hit tracks, massive choruses and killer rhymes to gain the widest commercial exposure for their music. Writing a truly great song is genuine magic and no one really knows where they come from.
Image Courtesy of Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap