Friday night, Ice-T's new hip-hop documentary The Art of Rap opened in theaters nationwide. I went and watched it at the AMC Studio 30 at Westheimer and Dunvale. Here are ten things from the movie that are interesting and one thing that will be picked over:
10. Grandmaster Caz Is Ruthlessly, Seamlessly Brilliant: A considerable amount of the documentary is emcees rapping directly into the camera. Nearly all of the interviewed parties participate. Snoop, Eminem, Kanye, Melle Mel, KRS-One, more, more, more.
It's mostly a fun thing, with only a few feeling unnecessary. Chino XL must've just been walking by while they were filming or some shit, because why else would he be included? Grandmaster Caz's offering, a blindingly cool collection of "I'm that [SOMETHING] nigga, that [SOMETHING ELSE] nigga" punchlines, was the best.
It was perfectly done: Smart, funny, pulverizing, etc., and rates, without hyperbole, as profound. It unintentionally pulls the legs off of any other rappers trying to sprint past him. When he finished, people in the theater clapped.
9. Brand Nubian's Lord Jamar Is Called Lord Jamar For a Reason: The first interview Ice-T conducts is with Brand Nubian's Lord Jamar. During their discussion, Jamar crafts what very well may be the most logical, most well conceived, most HOLY FUCK HOW HAS NOBODY EVER MADE THIS POINT BEFORE? observation for how rap birthed itself of all-time.
In Chuck Klosterman's Eating The Dinosaur, Klosterman describes rock critic Rob Sheffield's assertion that Garth Brooks became so unfathomably popular because America missed Bruce Springsteen as something "so simultaneously obvious and unseen that only someone as supernaturally brilliant as Rob Sheffield could possibly make it."
As soon as Jamar stopped talking, that was the first thing I thought about. Lord Jamar is called Lord Jamar for a reason.
8. Ice-T Loves Aerial Shots: He does. There are 1,000 of them in the film.
7. Ice-T Has A Bunch Of Bad Shirts: He does. He wears 1,000 of them in the film.
6. Ice-T Is Considerably Funnier Than You're Expecting: There are several parts during the movie when Ice, comfortable as he can be, jokes and jests without hiccuping. It's really a fun thing to see.
Highlights include when he describes some of the tricks he'd use during shows when he'd forget lyrics, which gives him an excuse to use the phrase "human teleprompter," and when some people wander into the shot while he's interviewing Q-Tip (he basically tells them, "Hey, move the fuck on"). He works as a proper vehicle for the documentary's narrative.
5. Chino XL, Immortal Technique, Xzibit and Royce Da 5'9" Must Be Friends With Ice-T: Those guys all make appearances in the film, though it's never clear why. They don't offer much, and mostly serve to just clog things up.
4. People Really Like Bun B: When he showed up in the movie, people in the theater started clapping.
3. KRS-One Has the Best Story For How He Started Rapping Somehow, in the 400,000 things that KRS-One has said to media since people started caring about what he had to say, the story about how he began rapping was neglected. To summarize: While standing around watching two other guys battle-rap, he became an incidental victim (one of the guys made fun of his clothes).
He chose to defend himself, rapping his rebuttal. Things grew from there. (He tells the story about a million times better.)
2. You Might Walk Out of the Movie Not Knowing What the Movie Was About: This might be the most prescient point of the movie, or it might be the most confusing, or it might not be anything at all, but still: While walking out of the theater and towards the exit, a man a few paces ahead of my wife and me pulled out his cell phone and (I'm assuming) returned someone's call.
His words: "I just got out of the movies. [Other Person Talking] We saw Ice-T's rap documentary. [Other Person Talking] Um... I don't know. They talked about rap."
This might've been a common feeling. For an hour and 40 or so minutes, you hear Ice-T ask a bunch of men (and two women) that like to say words that rhyme questions about what it means to them to say words that rhyme. Conversations are never pushed beyond that point (or any directly related points, to be more specific).
And that's part of why it's such an interesting documentary. Ignoring that Ice-T is clearly of the mind that rap as an entity needs to be defended (curious, considering it is the driving force in popular culture today), it never feels heavy-handed or preachy. You get to listen to brilliant people (and Chino XL) talk about being brilliant at things. It's serious and it's funny and it's entertaining and it's enlightening.
I suppose you could argue that Ice finds a way to reference himself in each conversation, but there are worse things in the world.
1. Dr. Dre Never Once Talked About Himself As a Rapper: Not once in his entire interview. He is a producer. That's it. That's how he sees himself. And that's pretty remarkable.
Oh, also, there's one part where he goes into that whole "I Don't Do It For The Money" spiel, and that's cool, except he's giving it while standing in front of his new $13 million home on top of goddamn Zeus' mountain.
One Nit That'll Inevitably Get Picked: Omissions
1. How about the Southern United States? Minus Bun B's brief cameo (shot in New York, mind you), there aren't any interviews done with Southern rappers. Where are OutKast, Lil Wayne (or any of the guys from that family), Master P, Goodie Mob, T.I., Scarface, Willie D, so on and so on? They belong.
2. Also not included: Anyone from The Roots, Busta Rhymes (let him talk a bit about Leaders of the New School), The Pharcyde, keep going and going.
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Maybe get rid of those guys from earlier and throw some of these in their places? Just thinking out loud.
Other than that though, really, The Art of Rap is a documentary worth seeing.