Ice-T’s Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012) collects narratives about the ways in which rap lyrics are crafted, recorded and performed, while simultaneously re-constructing narratives of the origins of the rhyme-writing craft. The Art of Rap features multiple levels of narration within the documentary, scores of stories about writing and performing rap lyrics, and a small set of key interview questions (and the selected responses to them). One strategy of the documentary is to deploy “voices of the gods” of rap music—those rap artisans who through their monikers and their artistic reputation claim a form of divine respect within hip-hop culture. Ice-T’s own narrative voiceovers tend to re-inscribe this strategy on at least two narrative levels—that of the documentary’s heterodiegetical voiceover narrator and as both diegetical narrator and narratee in various conversational interviews within the scenes of the documentary film itself. These collected, documented narratives transform personal artistic experiences with the craft into broader assessments of the complexity and (by default) the artistic merit of the form itself.
James Braxton Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. He is the founder of Hip Hop Scholars, LLC, an association of Hip Hop generational scholars dedicated to researching and developing the cultural and educational potential of Hip Hop, urban, and youth cultures. Peterson is currently working on his first academic book, Major Figures: Critical Essays on Hip Hop Music (Mississippi University Press). More information about him can be found here.