January 22, 2012

Sundance Review: Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

I don't usually dig on rap music or hip-hop all that often. Look at my iTunes library, and you'll see an abundance of elaborate guitar solos, lyrical melodies, and pounding drums. Rock music is what I was bred on, and it's what I prefer, but every so often, I do get the urge to indulge in some heavy beats and creative lyrics. And because of that, I found Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap kind of fascinating. Directed by hip-hop legend Ice-T, this stylish and entertaining documentary offers great insight into the world and industry of hip-hop.

One thing that sets this examination of beats and rhymes apart for others is Ice-T's refusal to use archival footage. Instead, he puts each interviewee on the spot, and has them spit a rhyme right then and there. Not only does this provide an interesting perspective on how each MC differs from the other (Immortal Technique has a great flair for words, while Eminem can rap a mile a minute), but it provides a completely unique experience. You are hearing rhymes and lyrics that these guys have never spoken and never will speak again. It's a testament to each rapper's talent that they can come up with something like that at the drop of a hat, and never even flinch.

And man, I wish I could do that. Like I said, rap is not my favorite genre, but if I had the talent that these men and women have, I would do everything I could to take advantage of that. These guys are really something special, and are integral in an American art form that doesn't get the respect it deserves. Yeah, these guys rap about crime, sex, violence, and use vulgar language, but it's all informed by the experiences they went through, and reinforced by the passion and love for the art that each rapper has.

As a director, Ice-T knows what he's doing. This is one of the most visually sumptuous docs I've seen in a while. It's bright and lively, and those shots of from the sky of New York or Los Angeles are some of the best I've seen in any movie.

Even if you don't like rap or hip-hop, you'll still get a kick out of Something From Nothing. The rhymes that each MC comes up with are all interesting and compelling in their own way, and the soundtrack, which comprises of licensed tracks from a wide variety of influential hip-hop artists, is all kinds of spectacular. The crowd I was with was clapping every five minutes and cheering non-stop. And let me tell ya, I was joining in.

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