Posted by: Necci – Jun 21, 2012
Ice T has been associated with hip hop culture since his debut album, Rhyme Pays, was released 25 years ago. The rapper, once known for gritty rhymes about L.A. gang culture, has matured into a groundbreaking actor, business mogul, and even reality star. It was only a matter of time before he took on filmmaking. In his directorial debut, Ice decided to give back to the culture that gave him his start. For his film, Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, Ice hooked up with some of hip hop’s greatest rappers to talk about the craft of rhyming. The movie doesn’t have any talk about the flashy cars, the groupies, or the bling – not at all. It is about the love of hip hop and understanding the process of how the great emcees, both past and present, create those classic flows that stand the test of time. Ice is currently on a worldwide media tour to promote the self-financed film. I spoke with him earlier this week about the film, the current state of hip hop, and the recent passing of Rodney King.
I’m speaking to you from Richmond, Virginia. I know that you have been all over the world. Have you ever rocked a show in Richmond?
I’m pretty sure that I have been to Richmond. I have tried to touch every stage everywhere. I know that I have been to Virginia – definitely.
That’s very good to hear. The movie is out now. I have been hearing great things about it. You could have made any type of film--why did you go back to the essence of hip hop for your directorial debut?
I wanted to direct films and I didn’t know where to start. I was looking at the condition of hip hop and I realized that everybody can do it. Everybody is rapping now but I didn’t think that people really appreciate [hip hop] the way that I appreciate it. Really knowing where it came from. So I called my friends and said that I have an idea. I want to do a film, but we are not going to talk about the drama, the money, the girls, etc. Let’s talk about the craft. And they were all like, “Wow.” We don’t ever get asked those questions.
Was there any particular rapper that you really looked forward to working with for this film?
Everybody - because I only used people that I knew. I only reached out to people that I considered friends and teachers in the game. I called them all up personally and asked them to do the film. I was excited to see everybody. A lot of people we hadn’t seen in a long time. And there were a lot of people we just couldn’t reach because they were moving. I tried to get Busta Rhymes, I tried to get Ludacris, but I couldn’t reach certain people because they were not available. You understand that I had to get myself, the film crew from London, and the artist in one place at the same time, and that is difficult.
Describe to me how you feel about the current state of hip hop, and what you’ve seen changed the most over your long career.
I’ve seen a tremendous change, because I started rapping before anyone was able to buy a car rapping. You were actually rapping because you liked to rap. It was fun to do. It was the youth movement born in the Bronx, and when it got to L.A., we were trying to do it. We wanted to meet real rappers, the guys that came from New York. We knew we were not real rappers yet. I learned early that hip hop required skill; whether you are a DJ, MC, breakdancer, or graffiti artist. I think for a while a lot of the skill in hip hop dropped out. Everybody just started rapping. I think it was something that people just did. It was something to play with, and I don’t think they understood that hip hop requires a degree of difficulty. So when a lot of people started getting talked about like they were not good, they did not understand it. Hip hop has [those] checks and balances within it. Now I see a lot of spitters again. I see people like Cory Gunz, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, a lot of these rappers are really going in. I appreciate that, because that is all rap wants - keep it difficult and intricate. That is what makes hip hop an art.
After completing this debut project, what did you learn about filmmaking?
Filmmaking is very hard. It very time consuming. Being an actor, you learn your lines, you say your line, and then you walk away from the film. Ultimately, it magically it appears on the screen. That magic is a lot of work. The editing, the color correcting, setting the soundtrack up, the licensing for the music, logistically getting everyone in front of cameras, lighting the scene... When you are the director, you are in control of every frame of that film and you’re responsible. It was a lot of work. It took two years to make this movie. It’s rewarding at the end but it’s a lot harder than I anticipated.
What did you enjoy the most about the experience of making the film?
I’m fortunate because after all the work, I have not gotten one single bad review of the film. The closest thing we got to a bad review is someone saying that they did not see their favorite rapper. That would have been impossible. I could have done a film that lasted 12 hours and you still might not have seen your favorite rapper. And that is not what the movie is about. The movie is about taking a cross section of hip hop veterans, and let’s get their opinion on what the art form means to them. That’s what the movie is about; not I’m going to go to the movie and see my favorite rapper. I tell people, if you don’t see your favorite rapper, trust me, you will see your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.
That’s a good point. Who are your favorite rappers?
Oh man, I like everybody: Rakim, Chuck D, KRS-1, Ice Cube, Scarface, Nas, Jay Z, Immortal Technique, Kool G Rap – I listen to all kinds of rap. I like lyricists and clever rappers. I like people that you can tell took time to write their shit.
This week the world lost Rodney King. You are a West Coast guy. What lesson can we all take away from the experience of the LA riots?
I think the minute that you say Rodney King it a sad thing. You brain connects to the brutal beating, the riots that ensued, and the injustice that went on in L.A. And now to see the man dead at 47 years old – I wouldn’t even write it as a suicide, because he was a tormented guy. I saw him on Celebrity Rehab. It is a sad thing. His name connects with sadness. I believe, every once in a while America needs to hit a reset button for people to get back on track. The uprising was a reset button. We have been going enough in this direction we need to get back on track. In a way, I feel that my film is a reset button. Maybe hip hop is straying because you don’t know where it came from. Maybe if you see where it came from, you would understand its mission. Then you could readdress the issues and things that are going on. Right now, all music is delusional. You can’t even go into punk or rock and find a band that is really dealing with issues. Everything got sucked into the pop vortex of radio, which wants everything homogenized and diluted. It’s nobody’s fault, but we are living in a culture that is more concerned with gossip than issues. In a way, it is very sad.
Last question, Ice: are you more of a fan of hip hop now because of the making of this film?
I am always going to be a hip hop fan. And I’m always going to be able to hear somebody that triggers those emotions. I was listening to Slim the Mobster, and I was like, “Man, I have to make an album.” It’s part of being a rapper, when you hear that particular MC and think that they hit it on the head. I really like that. I think as an elder statesman of hip hop, my job as an O.G. – if I was in a gang, the G’s job is to keep the set in check. Check the youngsters and keep everybody in line. If I am an O.G. of hip hop and hip hop is my set, I am supposed to be a respectable cat in hip hop and lead by example. If somebody is out of pocket, you check them. Just a little bit, you hit them on the head and hint like, “Yo, come on man, what’s good.” With my movie, I’m going to show you a clean glass of water and hopefully people can step up and say, “I hear what Ice is saying. There is no hate involved in it. He wants this to last forever.” Honestly, I just want you to take a ride… I took hip hop on a ride that very few people have taken. I have been around the world 10 times, movies, television, and I’m still eating. This film is a love letter. It’s me reaching back to the culture that got me started and saying, “This is the best that I could do.” And hopefully you will understand what it meant to me.
And that is the best gift that any person can give – giving back to the element that gave so much to them. I wish you much success with this film.
By Marc Cheatham (thecheatsmovement.com)