Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap


Directed by Ice-T and Andy 15A cert, Gate/Reel Picture, Cork; IFI/Light House, Dublin, 106 min

FOR VIEWERS of a certain age, Ice-T’s directorial debut heralds the mother of all Proustian rushes. Gather around in hushed awe as Ice-T, one-time architect of gangsta rap, drops in on the hiphoperati for a series of lively and illuminating chinwags.

Old school titans Chuck D, Ice Cube and Dr Dre are set beside younger pretenders. Ice-T keeps the conceit tight. Where does rap come from? Why doesn’t rap, the most global of all musical forms, get the respect accorded blues or jazz? Why lay down beats at all?

Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap organises the answers to these queries into geographical sense. Elegant shots of Detroit’s abandoned industrial powerhouses, gleaming and windowless in the sun, speak more succinctly than any potted socioeconomic-minded voiceover could.

Away from these grand cinematic pillow shots, the film is mostly concerned with the creative process. Marvel as Snoop marvels at Ice-T’s use of “Adidas” instead of “sneakers” in the seminal 6’n the Mornin’. Eminem discusses his complicated rhyming style. Grandmaster Caz sits down and writes a rap before our very eyes.

This is a fascinating portrait of brainstorming and creativity in action. An array of talking heads provides an impressive array of freestyles. Each freestyle brings its own insight: rap alternatively emerges looking mathematic, poetic, and precise.

Participants are less guarded than we might expect: who knew Kayne West was so humble or that Eminem was so open? Dr Dre duly turns up to represent himself and the late Tupac.

A historical framework emerges (KRS-One discusses rap’s evolution from slavery), although there’s little of the neat, linear chronology we’ve come to expect from music documentaries. Ice-T’s portrait is rarely concerned with dates and firsts, but with the heat of the coalface. There’s something charming about watching rappers from all generations rap back their favourite lyrics, the line that got them started, or the phrase that made them a household name.

Do we need to tell you there’s a killer soundtrack? Or that this is a timely antidote to the recent, unfortunate outbreak of rap bashing? Or that the producers have the power to bust a cap in your ass if you don’t hurry along to the cinema?