This star-spangled doc sees Ice-T offer a robust, if hardly world-changing, argument for rap as a high artform.
Chris Rock has a bit in his 2004 HBO special, Never Scared, where he says, "I love rap music, but I’m tired of defending it… In the old days, it was easy to defend rap music, it was easy to defend on an intellectual level."
Ice-T’s directorial debut doesn’t necessarily go as far as defending it intellectually but to present it as a passion-fuelled craft while purposefully ignoring the bling and the superstardom. That’s not to say the film is lacking in star-power, because in that regard it’s packed to the gills.
Ice-T travels from New York to Detroit and finally to Los Angeles – every interview sequence is linked by grand helicopter shots from above the city – to interview some of the biggest names in hip-hop culture in an attempt to discover more about the artform.
He asks how each subject got started in rap and questions them on their process, their philosophy, their influences, and even asks a few of them to spit some rhymes by the MCs that mean the most to them. The result is a reverent, positive depiction of the talent and heart ever-present at the core of the hip hop world. He asks the question why isn’t rap, as an art form, respected in the same way that jazz and the blues are?
It’s obviously a niche film for the kinds of audience to whom the names Chuck D, Dr Dre, Grandmaster Caz, KRS-One, Melle Mel, Nas, Yasiin, Kanye West and Rakim mean something. The film has its share of humorous moments, anecdotes, insights and even advice for those thinking of starting out ("Be true to yourself" is the general advice.)
While The Art of Rap may drag a little due to the consistency of the format – nearly all the interviews take place in studios, homes, record stores or street corners – it’s also a victim of the massive breadth of its subject and the sheer volume of people who want to talk about it.
It’s a humble ode to hip hop, a love letter. It's not a mere defence of hip hop, but a full-blooded case for it, too. It’s not about posturing, guns and hos, it’s about what Ice-T refers to of the B-side of rap, the real stories, the hard work, talent and passion that goes into making artform so unique and powerful. It’s definitely a labour of love, one that hits the mark, but not one that’s going to change the world.
Surely this is this sort of thing that would've found its way onto a DVD extra?
Ice-T makes a convincing case and his film is over-stocked with passion.
Preaching to the choir, but that's no bad thing.