Ice-T’s directorial debut is a documentary of epic yet intimate proportions as he embarks upon a series of discussions with legendary rappers and purveyors of hip-hop in the cities of New York, Detroit and Los Angeles. Not a history lesson per se, the film merely touches on some of the more historical elements of the genre – how it originated, how it progressed and grew – but focuses more on each rapper’s individual process and attitude towards lyrics as well as their theories on why it’s not quite a well-respected art form in the same respect as jazz or blues.
A whole host of MCs offers up insight on their approach towards rhymes and one of the overwhelming features of the film is how we see rappers with actual pen and paper crafting their verse with consideration and diligence. This is not something that the genre of hip-hop often brings to mind. Seeing Grandmaster Caz’ obvious irritation at running out of ink and having to switch pens halfway through his flow is something quite brilliant. His neat handwriting fills the page, albeit littered with F words and N words. Another who is interviewed by the always eloquent and directive Ice-T discusses the construction of a track from the outline of a plot, kicking off with its conclusion and there are also some great shots of sheets of paper with flowchart diagrams tracking the progression of lyrical content. Dr Dre teaches us that Tupac wrote all his lyrics (again with pen and paper) inside the vocal both and then would lay them down immediately.
This film teaches us many things about legendary rappers’ processes and also how they think the genre is viewed and why it’s perceived in such a way. It also brings us a series of original a capellas as the likes of KRS-One, Melle Mel, Q-Tip and Kanye West present original rhymes direct to camera, prompting woops, gasps and general sounds of approval even in a half empty cinema. This is the sort of piece of cinema that should really be shown in schools and universities in years to come but is also a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.