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The producer of the film “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap,” Paul Toogood, sat down with the production team to answer a few of their questions. This interview has been broken into two parts.
Q: Talk a little bit about the role of a music producer, such as Dre, in the shaping of a hit record.
A: The record producer has responsibility for the overall vision of a record, creatively guiding the project from start to finish. A great record producer will identify the individuality of an Artist and seek to develop their signature sound.
Q: What was the filming / production process like for you?
A: Apart from the challenge of tackling such an important subject, our main struggle throughout the filming process was matching Ice’s constantly shifting schedule with that of rest of the cast. Ice’s starring role in Law & Order SVU sees him working most week days and then in the later stages of our production he embarked upon Ice Loves Coco which accounted for weekends and evenings too. We had to establish the availability of each cast member and then find a mutually convenient time slot to film the encounter either in New York, Detroit or Los Angeles. We achieved this mainly due to Jorge’s expert management of Ice’s schedule and his longstanding relationships with many of the cast’s representatives. We split the filming schedule into Ice days and non Ice days.
Our first day shooting with Ice we shot 7 interviews and ended up bumping in to Raekwon from Wu-Tang Clan in a club at 4.30 AM; we shot the encounter and wrapped at 5.30 AM. Many of the key scenes in the film, including the opening scenes with Grandmaster Caz and Lord Jamar were shot in the early hours of the morning. Non Ice days saw us pursuing forensic geographics, shooting B-roll to support our story and our journey across America. For example, we spent 33 days shooting on the ground in The Bronx.
Andy Baybutt, Ice’s Co-Director, and I allied our European perspective to Ice’s extraordinary access to talent and authority on the subject. The whole film is take one. Andy and I developed the use of Super 8 cutaways to accommodate the fact that we didn’t want to ask anyone to do anything twice in order to preserve spontaneity throughout the piece. Throughout the making of the film we created over 50 encounters with rappers. We call these encounters rather than interviews because, very early on in the film making process, we realized that to get the best out of people we should meet them where they felt most comfortable.
For example we filmed Kool Keith in his local bullet proof Chinese restaurant on the edge of The Bronx. We met Chuck D in his Terrordome. Immortal Technique and Ice-T talked on a Harlem Street corner moments after he and Diabolic had finished shooting their Frontlines video. Dr. Dre was filmed at home on a Sunday afternoon in Hollywood. There were no managers, no makeup artists, no transport, no catering, no “types” with clipboards and shades… just Ice meeting his friends to talk about the important subject of the art of rap.
Q: Was there anyone you wish you’d been able to get for the documentary that didn’t work out because of timing?
A: No, we got everyone that we wanted – all of Ice’s friends that he has made on his own incredible journey through rap.
Q: Who surprised you the most in their interview in terms of what they had to say about the art of rap?
A: It’s very hard to single people out because everyone’s contribution was unique and valuable. It is important to note that we shot over 100 hours of interviews alone and that the film can only provide an impression, spending a few minutes with each Artist. We plan to follow the film up with the release of a further project revealing the full in depth interviews, perhaps for Television.
The extraordinarily eloquent Common said “The joy and the beauty of being a Hip Hop Artist is that you can truly express who you are and truly be who you are. When you’re a rapper you get to say what you think, what you feel. People hear your perspective, people hear your spirit and your soul if you’re using it. And they hear your imagination. To be able to write a rhyme and say look this is what my life has been about, this is some of my purpose. This is my perspective. People will know what you think, they will know where you stand.”
Eminem and Snoop Dogg displayed an almost spiritual passion for rhyme and their absolute dedication was arresting.
Bun B’s very literal take on the struggle displayed a great sense of academic social commentary. He is a highly regarded University lecturer, as are many of the cast.
Chuck D talked about the power of the voice as an instrument and how back in the day your voice had to cut through bullshit systems. He describes how Melle Mel had a voice like Will Chamberlain’s that could stand out in any crowd.
Joe Budden’s performance of “Are You in the Mood Yet” is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry that I have ever heard. We set his performance to explicit images of urban reality that depict the struggle.
Q: Are there any great stories or anecdotes from the set that you can share?
A: When Kanye West rapped “Gorgeous” there were tears in the eyes of the whole crew. We were fortunate enough to gain unprecedented access to film with Crip gang members in South Central LA. We spent a week filming their lives and they all appear in the film.
Q: What do you want people to take away from the film?
A: The struggle of black America is well documented but every person in the film reminds us the of colossal achievement of these Artists who created Something From Nothing and in turn changed the destiny of their generation through the power of music. Our job has been to observe and portray and through that process we have created something new. The power of the greatest Art changes the way that we see things. I hope that the wider public might listen to rap differently after seeing this film and with a greater understanding of its makers.
Image Courtesy of Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap