The Art of Rap Movie Review
In The Art of Rap, Ice T shows there's a method to the madness you hear in hip-hop. We cram to understand in our review.
Dear Ice T,
You are one of the greatest voices hip-hop culture has ever produced. You are a model emcee because the culture raised you, and as an OG statesman, you always reach back to teach the ones who walk in your shadows.
I know you got into that little thing with Soulja Boy some time back. He didn’t have the benefit of the thorough hip-hop education you had. After you left the army, your love of rap delivered you to the Bronx, where the real bluesmen lived and pioneered this culture. People think I’m talkin’ greazy when I say the greatest rappers come from Queens, and on a commercial level, yes, I stand behind that. Run DMC and Tribe and Nas and 50 and Mobb Deep and Superlover Cee and Casanova Rud and Large Professor and yoga-flexible moguls like Russell “Rush” Simmons. Queens was able to crystallize her creativity into cash and cultural currency world-wide, on a recognizable level.
Yup, Queens is it when it comes to record sales and the popularization of rap. But when I look at your film, The Art of Rap, I have to go the fuck back to Afrika—as in the Bronx and Bambaataa. That is where you take the viewers, many of whom have no idea who the fuck Grandmaster Caz or Melle Mel or Lord Finesse is. I love Queens, but I must say that the three gentlemen I just mentioned are powerful emcees—they can take out the entire Young Money Cash Money squad with one verse each.
Maybe that’s why Young Money ain’t in your film. You focused on the artist and his process and art is the driving force here. Your film is essentially a conversation between you and the most magnificent voices this culture has birthed. At the tippy top of your opus, Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian very simply breaks down why hip-hop came to be. He said that black folks had created jazz, that black folks were often proficient musicians who respected the art of rocking and knowing an instrument. He then said that “they” took away music programs in the public schools. He said nothing about New York City clawing through a fiscal crisis back in the early ’70s. He said that jazz was stripped away, like a football slapped out of a quarterback’s hands by a coked-up Lawrence Taylor (well, those weren’t Jamar’s words, but you get the drift).
Jamar said that they took away the instruments and the music education, so “we” turned the turntable—a device meant to play records—into an INSTRUMENT!!!! Ice, what Jamar said wasn’t news to me, but how he said it was NEW to me. Such a dynamic statement. Thank you for giving Jamar the forum to say that.
Ice T, your film doesn’t have any dumbass rap bloggers who wear kneepads to work and whenever they’re sitting behind a computer weighing in on the process of being a true emcee, so thank you once again. Hearing Rakim break down how he structures his rhymes via some Mayan-like system based on sixteen pen dots was unbelievable; hearing KRS recount why he became an emcee (because he was watching a rhyme battle and one of the battlers decided to randomly snap on HIM) was profound.
And, I must say, I’m not up on Kanye’s entire catalogue…probably because I’m always distracted by his non-rap escapades (he’s soon to have an Ice Loves Coco-styled show with Kim Kardashian—WATCH!). I’ve gotta say though that the acapella that Kanye dropped in some random doorway probably at a cheap hotel in Indiana was one of the most brilliant moments in the film. Helped me to better understand that Kanye is searching and trying hard to get his mind right—but his rhymes are like therapy sessions that reveal where he wants to go and what he wants to leave behind.
Same for Eminem. He basically said that rap saved his life. He also said that Treach’s rhymes were so dope that he quit rhyming for a whole summer. Your film shows us how hip-hop is transformational, Ice.
Kanye West—respect, bro.
If you had to get an emcee from the South, Bun B is the man to scoop, so it was great to hear what he had to say about the craft. Woulda been nice to hear from a few more Southern mic checkers. And if you had to get someone from the female squad, MC Lyte is the woman. Woulda been nice to hear from a few more lady mic checkers. But as you said at the screening, you had a SIX HOUR CUT. I’m sure the DVD extras are spectacular.
The pacing can be a bit slow at times—like an episode of 60 Minutes from the ’70s—but the rhythm of the piece is deliberate. Ice T, you are a serious master of ceremonies, and as the director or visual DJ of the film if you will, I respect your desire to have us viewers stay focused on the art of rhyme, and I think many of us will benefit from what you put forth. Rappers are entertainers, and emcees are scientists—your film shows us that.
You are a pioneer, Ice, and everyone you interviewed knows this. It was interesting seeing Dr. Dre in his crib up in the hills; he seems detached, like a gym teacher who spits out positive messages because it’s his job, not his passion. Funny thing is, I was sitting in the same row as former Aftermath emcee Busta Rhymes. I watched him as he watched Dre up on the big screen. He didn’t blink and he didn’t show any emotion outside of slumping in his seat. That’s saying something.
If you love hip-hop, go spend money on Ice T’s film. Where else are you gonna see Ice T and Kool Keith dining at a Chinese restaurant in the ‘hood? Bulletproof glass, pork-fried rice and rap (no pork on Lord Jamar’s fork, though).
Thanks for listening, Ice
ps: “Invincible Gangsta”–the Bodycount joint–is my SHIT.