Ice-T's rap doc "Art of Rap" fun to watch, but too long

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 7/9/2012, 8:06 p.m.
Ice-T's rap doc "Art of Rap" fun to watch, but too long

During an installment of Peter Rosenberg's "Noisemakers" talks with Phonte and 9th Wonder at 92YTribeca, Phonte talked about how lucky this current generation is regarding rap music.

"You have to remember, back then [in the 1990s] we were happy just to see hip-hop on television," Phonte said.

If you're a true hip-hop head, it's amazing to see Ice-T's documentary and love letter, "Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap," executed and presented to whoever's interested. With it, the rapper has joined the myriad of people who have started to properly archive, document and preserve the history of hip-hop culture and rap music over the past several years.

"Rap" follows Ice-T as he tracks down numerous MCs and verbal warriors and talks to them about the craft, the moment they fell in love with rap music and songs from other artists that have stayed with them.

Ice-T makes his way to the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Harlem and New Jersey at the beginning of the film, focusing on the East Coast. Here, Ice-T pays just as much attention to the underground as he does to the pioneers and the mainstream stars.

Watching Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, Immortal Technique, Q-Tip, Nas, Mos Def, Lord Finesse, Big Daddy Kane, Salt from Salt & Pepa, Treach from Naughty by Nature and Kool Keith discuss their craft and provide a freestyle, noticing their passion for the craft is still intact, should warm the heart of anyone who has witnessed the evolution of the movement for the past 20-plus years.

The talks reveal how there is not one specific approach to rapping, just the common desire to move the crowd by any means necessary. Rakim breaks down his writing style to Ice-T in a way that leaves Ice-T shocked and still confused. By explaining how he figures out his rhymes' patterns and words using a mathematical equation, Rakim becomes somehow more mysterious, cementing his legacy as a rapper's rapper, one of the best to ever do it.

Ice-T eventually makes his way to Detroit, where he interviews Eminem and Royce da 5'9". In another piece of revelation, Eminem mentions that he quit rapping for almost a year after hearing a Naughty by Nature song because he couldn't see himself matching up with Treach's rhyme skills.

Of course, Ice-T couldn't leave the West Coast out of the film, and he proceeds to take the trip out to Los Angeles to find Ice Cube, Xzibit, B-Real of Cypress Hill (who discusses how he adopted his trademark nasal delivery out of desperation), WC, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Kanye West, who calls L.A. home.

While many cool surprises and anecdotes are there, the documentary does run a bit too long at two hours. However, Ice-T has said while promoting the movie that they had to cut about six hours of footage. Hopefully there will be some great extras whenever the DVD is released.

Ice-T also left a huge void by not speaking to enough rappers from the South--Bun B of UGK was their lone representative. An interview with the likes of Big Boi, Andre 3000, Scarface, Goodie Mob or even the aforementioned Phonte (who has become somewhat of an underground king and elder statesmen) would have rounded out this documentary well.

But "The Art of Rap" is a reminder to those who think rapping is easy or "just talking over beats" that they're listening to the music wrong. These men and women are just as skilled as rock guitar gods and show-off drummers. Vast Aire once rapped "I don't play the guitar, I play my cadence." Ice-T's documentary shows you the work before playtime.