“You’ve Got To Respect The Culture” – Ice-T On His Directorial Debut

From The Quietus:

So hip hop wasn’t a fad after all. Unless a fad can survive 35 years and permeate the mainstream off and on throughout that time. It hasn’t changed much either. When you strip away the corporatism, the polished veneer and blaring ostentation, it always comes back to the basics. Rap music is a product. Hip hop is a culture, and one that demands mastery and respect. Partisans will do anything to protect its integrity and keep the candle burning. Anything including pitching their director’s chair for the very first time.

Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap is what happens when one of gangsta rap’s few architects flicks through his Rolodex and picks up the phone. It’s a fanatic’s dream. And for anyone unfamiliar with hip hop’s mythologised pioneers, it’s the ultimate disclosure of those originators’ love for its most exalted medium: rapping. It’s not just the opportunity to see and hear the greats share their most personal introspections, it’s their story told from home – either where it all began or where it later arrived. All the while, New York’s twinkling skyline and vast, sun-drenched shots of LA immerse you in hip hop’s own back yard.

Yet while the culture has boldly stood its ground in the last 30 years and counting, it’s been sprouting grey hairs. Pop has embraced all of its stylings, quirks and ticks uninvited and newcomers have hijacked it, contorted it and made it their own. It’s been reinvented and morphed, states and regions picking up the ball and running with it. Much like the upstarts who cut and pasted James Brown drum breaks in late ’70s and early ’80s NY, incomers have since seized rap’s instruments for their own intent. The most ardent guardians, not to mention hardened fans, aren’t happy about this at all.

It’s easy to view this sense of imposition, whether deserved or not, with scepticism. Who says what’s credible or not? Who determines who’s allowed in the circle? When ‘keeping it real’ becomes rhetoric, what authenticity is left and where do you find it? Ice-T won’t allow for blurred definitions or hazy misconceptions. He’s categorical and certainly won’t watch as hip hop’s virtues get papered over. Not on his watch.

You’ve gone from rapper to actor, actor to director. What was the biggest step for you?

Ice-T: Honestly, the biggest jump was getting out of the streets to rapping. Once I’d made it over to living legitimately, it was more like taking opportunities that were available to me. Everybody wants to do everything, they just don’t have the opportunity. I’d love to be a Formula 1 race car driver but no one’s thrown me the keys to a McLaren. That mental transition from infamy to the world of fame was a big step. If somebody says something about you, you can’t go see them. Everyone knows you, people have lawyers. It’s a totally different world, but it’s better. You lose a lot of the baggage – the paranoia – you get money and can spend it. But this jump to directing, it’s a lot of work and I have nothing but respect for the craft. I had no idea how much work’s involved.

Hip hop is in its fourth decade and its story has been told numerous times already. Is your film necessary in 2012?

IT: For the people who were around while it was being created, it’s dead serious. So I wanted to document it so people can learn who Grandmaster Caz is, who Afrika Bambaataa is while they’re still alive. You see at the end of the movie the RIP list and these people are dying. If you’ve got the chance to create a documentary with Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and all the cats from the West Coast who created that footprint, you have to. When you can get all these legends together while they’re still alive, you have to. That’s why it wasn’t about getting the new school cats. I was like, “Let’s get the Gs!” Otherwise it’s another movie, you can do the next movie. We wanted to capture the foundation of hip hop culture.

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Quietus