Ice-T talks Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap
Ice-T talks Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap
By Wilson Morales
June 12, 2012
Coming out this week (June 15) is an exciting new documentary on the state of hip hop. While he’s currently known and seen on TV as NYPD Detective Odafin Tutuola on the NBC police drama ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,’ actor and rapper Ice-T makes his directorial debut with ‘Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap.’
Ice-T takes us on an intimate journey into the heart and soul of hip-hop with the legends of rap music. This performance documentary goes beyond the stardom and the bling to explore what goes on inside the minds, and erupts from the lips, of the grandmasters of rap. Recognized as the godfather of Gangsta rap, Ice-T is granted unparalleled access to the personal lives of the masters of this artform that he credits for saving his life. Along the way Ice-T meets some of the remarkable superstars of Rap, from Eminem to Dr Dre, to Snoop Dogg and Kanye West. Interspersed with the performers’ insightful, touching, and often funny revelations are classic raps, freestyle rhymes, and never before heard a cappellas straight from the mouths of the creators. What emerges is a better understanding of, and a tribute to, an original American art form that brought poetry to a new generation.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Ice-T talks about his love for the art and what inspired to make this film.
What was the inspiration to doing this?
Ice-T: I want to direct. That’s part of my life plan. People have been asking me when I will get behind the camera and I wanted to figure out the right first project. You only get one chance to make a first impression. So, I was sitting back and looking at the state of hip hop and watching the weatherman rap, and people don’t know where the art comes from. Now, it’s so built into the pop culture that I decided to do a film to bring back respect to this art form that really saved my life. I called up my friends and the only people in the film are the ones that I have a personal relationship with. I told them that I will interview them but won’t talk about money, cars, girls, and jewelry. It’s all about the craft. I got the film crew and we went out, shot the movie, took it to Sundance, and it got bought the first day by Indomina film company. It comes out on June 15th and I’m like, “Wow!”
As you interviewed these legendary rappers, what more did you want them to add to their story and how did you get them to spit another rapper’s lyrics?
Ice-T: Well, I had 15 questions for each of them and I asked them all the same questions. One of the questions that I asked was if they can quote a rhyme from another MC that sticks in their head. I also asked them why is it that rappers don’t respect each other like they respect other art forms. These are things that they are not usually asked. I didn’t care what the answers were because I respected every person. I wanted the story to be told, but not through my eyes, but through my peers’ eyes.
From what I read, it took nearly two years for you to complete the film. Why that long?
Ice-T: The problem with trying to triangulate the artist in myself is that I had a film crew from London, JolyGood Films and they were part of the investment team that made the movie; and then you have me. I’m on ‘Law & Order: SVU.’ I’m working everyday. So, to get us all in the same place and at the same time, that took some time. Between me, the artist, and the film company, it wasn’t easy trying to get the schedule right to film. I shot 52 rappers when I was finished and still had 35 waiting, so it was a lot of work.
How hard was the editing process?
Ice-T: Impossible. I started out with a five hour edit, and then got it down to three hours. Then we had to get down to two hours for Sundance. It was hard. I have two hours of footage on every one of these artists.
As this is your first effort directing a film, who did you go to for guidance?
Ice-T: Nobody really. The guys from JolyGood Films had a TV show in London about a songwriter’s workshop, so they know how to cut and edit several productions. They were sending me footage and going and back with notes. We shot the footage before we knew how to assemble the movie. We had no plan on how to assemble the movie. To tell a true story, you have to start at the beginning. We started with Grandmaster Caz, who was writing raps before it was recorded and made records. He was the ghost writer for The Sugarhill Gang‘s classic, ‘Rapper’s Delights.’ We started with him and then we went to the legends, Afrika Bambaataa, and Melle Mel. These were the first people I met when I got into rap.
Where do you think rap is at from this stage of the game?
Ice-T: Well, it’s pop right now. It’s been force into a pop vortex where there is a lot of really good rap out there, but you’re not hearing it. It’s floating around in the internet and underground. The rap that is selling is being pushed through by corporations, and those companies are putting out whatever they feel is the right rap. It’s basically party music. It doesn’t really have content. Radio never really wanted us to have content. They just wanted it to be simple and diluted. It’s not the rapper’s fault because this is their career. They’re forced into doing what the last record sounded like and it just got diluted. Pop was always the enemy of hip hop, so it sort of got sucked in. It’s not just hip hop, it’s all music. What happened with Rage Against The Machine? There’s no music that’s standing up and saying anything at this moment. We also have a lot going on in the world like people losing their home or the war, but none of today’s music reflects it.
After completing this, how proud are you going into your next project?
Ice-T: This is the biggest rush I’ve had in ten years. I’ve been on ‘Law & Order: SVU’ now 14 years, but this is a big rush for me. It’s like getting a gold record. This opens up a whole new lane in my life and career. Now, they want me to direct features and that’s what I want to do. Chuck D said, “Ice-T is the only person he know that does things that totally jeopardizes his career to stay away.” I’m someone that always wants to try something new. If this movie is successful, I’ll be able to get into the film business and make movies like Tyler Perry.
What do you want to people to walk away with after seeing the film?
Ice-T: Just respect for the art form and just appreciation of something from nothing. This art form came from kids and there was no radio and somehow the culture bred something that is now globally powerful. There are kids rapping all over the world and don’t look at it like it’s a joke. This is something that needs to be respected. It’s an American art form and don’t make the Europeans say it’s great before America really embraces it. The film is for anyone who ever loved rap, was curious about rap, and lived it.