Finally, hip-hop gets its own Ken Burns-style historic
account in the form of Ice-T’s phenomenally intricate documentary The Art of Rap, which will air on VH-1
Classic next at 1:30 AM on Saturday October 27th so set your DVR if
you are cool and it is well worth the 113 minutes of your time in front of the
television. And the soundtrack, compiled by Ice, the film’s producer Paul
Toogood and co-director Andy Baybutt, is without question a formidable look at
the craft from the din of its most vital span of years, the early ‘80s through
the late ‘90s.
But at the same time, you can’t call yourself a true hip-hop
fan if you just accept what is dished out to you. Don’t get it twisted, the
soundtrack as it stands is no joke, blessed with a non-stop onslaught of street
classics from such past maters as N.W.A. (“Straight Outta Compton”), Run DMC (“Sucker
M.C.’s “), Eric B. and Rakim (“Follow the Leader”), Big Daddy Kane (“Raw”), Nas
(“The World is Yours”), Das EFX (“Real Hip-Hop”), Schoolly D (“P.S.K. ‘What
Does It Mean?'”), Ultramagnetic MCs (“Ego Trippin’), Mantronix (“King of the
Beats”) and Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force (“Don’t Stop…Planet
Rock”) among others.
Sounds off the hook, right? Well, for the most part, yes
that assumption is indeed correct. However, the abundance of freshness on hand
within the crux of this 23-track collection only makes the selectors’ more
dubious song choices stand out. Like, for instance, why on Earth would they
include Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock’s guido club standard “It Takes Two”,
especially when such legendary acts as De La Soul, Souls of Mischief, Del, the
Beasties, Tupac and most shockingly Biggie Smalls are nowhere to be seen or
heard here? No B.I.G., really? And going with Q-Tip’s lackluster solo joint
“Vivrant Thing” over, say, anything from A Tribe Called Quest’s catalog is
beyond me. Plus, I’d rather listen to old nuggets from Mellie Mel and
Grandmaster Caz than weak a capella freestyles from their present day selves,
though KRS One still brings the fire in his ‘50s and Immortal Technique is
always a guarantee for some thought-provoking lyrical improvisation and indeed
comes correct with his live off-the-dome take on Ice’s “New Jack Hustler”.
Also suspect are the song choices from a number of marquee
cats on the tracklist. “Full Clip” over “DWYCK” for Gang Starr? “As High As
Wu-Tang Get” over “Protect Ya Neck”? Public Enemy’s “Harder Than You Think…Just
Like That” over “Fight The Power”? And how the heck do you put out a soundtrack
to a film directed by Ice-T and not have a full-length track from the O.G.
himself on here? I mean, the freestyle he busts at the top of this album is
great and all, but it would have been much, much cooler to hear “Rhyme Pays”,
“Colors” or “You Played Yourself” in its stead.
Look, as a lifelong hip-hop fan, I can go on ad infinity about how I’d tweak this
soundtrack. Hell, if it were up to me, I’d have went all Harry Smith on this
MOFO and made it a three-disc anthology that really gives heads something to
spin on the regular.
Yet warts and all, much like the film it represents, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap is successful in its detailed journey into the intricacies of this great
American music format, and one that will indeed be quite an eye-opening
education to younger hip-hop fans whose concept of the craft is defined by guys
with names like 2 Chainz and Waka Flocka Flame.
Daddy Kane (“Raw”), Nas (“The World is Yours”), Das EFX (“Real Hip-Hop”),
Schoolly D (“P.S.K. ‘What Does It Mean?'”), Ultramagnetic MCs (“Ego Trippin’),
Mantronix (“King of the Beats”) –RON HART