For a man so well-versed in reality television, Ice-T didn’t want his directorial debut to look anything like “what’s on MTV.” The actor/rapper has co-starred in “Law & Order: SVU” since 2000 as Detective Tutuola; the second season of “Ice Loves Coco,” his reality television show with wife Coco on E!, just premiered this week.
And yet documentary “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap” had no drama, no competitions or current events cut in to the narrative to create arc. In fact, there was no narrative; there’s only a couple cinematic structures in place — of artists talking, artists rapping and then a sweeping aerial view of rappers’ hometowns of Los Angeles, Detroit or New York.
That also means there was no archival footage or old music videos, or even much of a hip-hop history lesson — just some well-loved songs and the hip-hop royalty that made them. Repetition is the hitch of this style of documentary, but it was also a rapper roundup that only somebody like Ice-T could muster. Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Q-Tip, Eminem, Nas, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Chuck D, KRS-One, Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and more engage in spirited, intimate conversations about the literal art of rapping over a beat, and then each spitting a favorite verse from another rapper.
Because all of the footage was fresh for this film’s can, that makes for a lot of rare and singular moments for rappers to tip their hat at one another.
Ice-T and “Something from Nothing” co-director Andy Baybutt wanted to “keep everything unique,” the rapper told me during an interview at the Sundance Film Festival this January. The doc made its bow there.