Directed by Ice T and Andy Baybutt
1 hour, 53 minutes
You could be forgiven for thinking that Ice-T had very little to offer hip-hop; isn’t he just a wooden actor playing line-spitting cops-who-sneer or dealers-trying-to-go-straight or straight-people-who-are-actually-crooked?
Here, with Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap Ice-T gives back to the game from whence he came. Because, let’s face facts, he owes his – somewhat baffling – career to it.
And it is intriguing as the film starts – exciting even. Here we have someone well connected who will get to a range of good talking heads and we’ll find out how hip-hop grew, where it came from, where it’s going. It’s also stylishly shot and you feel like settling in, the feel of the film stimulates an enthusiasm. You can feel Ice-T’s motivation is pure.
But this very quickly becomes another attempted justification. For every slightly revealing story of the antecedents, the early block parties and the funk cuts that were sampled, we have much groaning about how hip-hop deserves respect.
The last genre to take itself far too seriously, hip-hop’s biggest problem is in its desperate bid to be acknowledged as some great art form. All that braggadocio and bravado and underneath are some very fragile egos calling for respect; something you earn rather than ask for. If you have to tell people that it’s an art form then it’s not. Let people decide what they get from something and how much they choose to take.
There are better hip-hop documentaries on the market. There are, bizarrely, better ways to see Ice-T on a TV screen. There are better accounts of the birth and rise of hip-hop (plenty of great books) and though it’s an impressive cast assembled nothing is solved. The second hour drags almost excruciatingly.
But, in a sense, I do have this film to thank for sending me back to the music. I turned it off toward the end and played a bunch of rap records. Young MC’s Stone Cold Rhymin’ in 2012 says more for hip-hop and what it’s about, where it went, how it came to be, than Ice-T’s well-meaning but gluttonous and boring rapumentary.