The Art of Rap with Ice-T

Law & Order: SVU star and rapper Ice-T talks about gossip, writing raps, and forgetting lyrics.

Ice-T’s directorial debut, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, is out now.

  • To see Gina Rodriguez, star of rap movie Filly Brown, spit a little something, click here.
  • To find out about the feature film LUV, starring rapper Common, click here.

How a TV weatherman inspired The Art of Rap:

When I started in movies on New Jack City, I got the bug and wanted to direct features. I’ve been in film now almost 20 years.

One day I was watching TV at home, there was a weatherman rapping.

That gave me an idea… hip hop’s such a part of global culture, but people don’t really know where it comes from.

I wanted to direct and thought that would be a good place to start.

So, I called up all my friends and told them I needed them in it, but I wasn’t gonna ask them about money, cars, girls, or jewellery, I was just gonna ask them about the craft… nobody asks them about that.

Love letter to rap:

If you’re part of any culture, your job is always to uplift, represent, and promote the culture. Rap is what got me started. I wouldn’t be in movies or on TV if I hadn’t started rapping.

This film is just a way for me to give back. It’s like a love letter to rap. I’m never gonna forget where I came from.

Now I have the ability and means, I wanted to make a movie that shows hip-hop as the great artistic gem it is.

Hip-hop’s something that a lot of people don’t respect. I wanted to get that respect.

Even if you don’t like rap, this is a story about a bunch of kids, a youth culture, that created something and now they’re doing big things. In the movie, when we show up at Dr Dre’s house, you’re like, ‘wow, what have I been doing with my life?!’ He deserves what he’s got because he’s produced some of the greatest music in our time.

Anybody can look at the work ethic that the kids in hip-hop have… in 27 years Dr Dre hasn’t been out of the studio for more than two weeks.

This film can work for anybody who’s trying to make it. It’s an inspirational movie.

Interviewing friends:

I only wanted to interview the people I know, my peers. This isn’t a movie about seeing your favourite rapper, this is more like seeing the rappers I’ve worked with in my career and my friends.

That way you get a real comfortable conversation and crazy stories. You don’t get that normal interview.

We had to edit 70 hours of film down to 2 hours!

Gossip vs craft:

Right now, we live in a very gossip-based culture.

You can have someone really important who does great art and all you wanna know is who they’re sleeping with or what car they’re driving. To me, that’s nonsense.

Unfortunately, that’s where we are today – everybody cares about the stupid stuff. If that’s all you get out of the artist,

Image by vic_sf49

then you start to believe that’s who they are.

Somebody will do a 20-minute interview with me and at the end they’ll ask me what kind of car I’ve got and I’ll say I’ve got a Bentley.

The headline will be ‘Ice-T drives a Bentley’ and that’s it, they’ll throw the rest of the interview away.

Nowadays, when I do interviews they’ll ask me questions and I’ll have to stop them and say, ‘well, this isn’t about that.’ Then people say I’m being defensive but there are personal questions and then there are questions about the movie and the art.

Now, you really have to make people focus on the art or they’ll go on some other tangent that’s really a bunch of bull. Or they’ll catch you off guard… you’ll be talking on the way to the elevator, and that’s what gets into the press.

I stayed away from that in this film – I wasn’t concerned with anyone’s personal stuff. By asking my friends to be in the film, they opened up their lives to me as they trusted me.

I wanted to make a movie that was great for them and for hip-hop. I wanted hip-hop to say ‘this is our movie.’

To get something accepted in the hip-hop culture is difficult ‘cause there’s usually some rapper that doesn’t feel it and says something. But to diss my movie you gotta diss everybody in the movie! So that’s very difficult

Writing raps:

When I first started, I would write raps before I’d hear the music. And then as I started to go in deeper, I’d write down ideas but not the rhymes.

Then I usually listen to the music and that tells me what the song’s about. You can put on a track and it’s real sinister and somehow the words just come out of space and start to talk to me. And I like writing to the beat now.

Like I say in the movie, sometimes I can go for months and I can’t write a record. Then I stay up all night and write a whole album. I also get inspired by listening to other rappers.

Everybody has different techniques. Now, some cats rap off phones… they’ll go in the studio and they’ll have their iPhone up. But somebody could hack your phone and steal your rhymes so I’m scared of putting it on the computer!

And after I leave the recording booth, I always take my papers ‘cause I don’t want someone to come in and decode the technique.

Forgetting lyrics:

Here’s a live concert trick I do. You gotta remember, I got 11 albums, so I got a lot of different words going in my head, so you can forget the words to the simplest record because even in the break people are talking to you, things are going on, and you’ll just black out.

What I do is: usually there’s a fan in the front row who knows every words to every record. So, early in the show I’ll pick him out and he becomes my human teleprompter.

I’ll watch him and if I mess up, all I’ve got to do is put the mic in his face and he’ll start saying the rhymes and get me back on track.

The future of hip hop:

If I knew that, I’d own more Apple stock!

But I can see rappers merging back with dance music, a lot more electronic stuff with the dubstep stuff that’s coming out.