A loose inquiry into the origins and craft of hip-hop, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, Ice-T's enjoyably clannish, idiosyncratic directorial debut, features some big names: Snoop Dogg, Nas; Prada, Gucci. A more consistent and impressive source of anecdote than analysis, Rap travels from the East to West Coast via Detroit, while canvassing Melle Mel and Eminem, Grandmaster Caz and Kanye West. Ice begins with a baseline set of questions—about influences, technique, and style—and has each subject sign off with a few bars. (Kanye’s impromptu “Gorgeous” is riveting.) Styled as an antidote to the homogenizing effects of popularity, the film's thesis—that rap lacks the respect given to jazz and the blues—feels thinly argued. Now a mass-cult phenomenon, hip-hop emerged from a complex respect-based economy (Nas alludes to the eff-you attitude behind ass-baring pants; KRS-One describes being drawn into rap by a public dissing); a sensibility, as the hyper-confrontational lyrics suggests, that revels in aggression, not acceptance. More persuasive when it explores the importance of place and brands to sound and identity (and the distinction between a rapper and an MC), Rap confirms the art of the form from the inside. Only time can sort out the rest.
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