Images c/o Ice-T's Myspace.
Even though it's one of music's youngest genres, hip-hop seems to have grown far from its roots in a rather short period of time.
Raising awareness of hip-hop's lost origins is a new documentary about the genre's history directed by none other than rapper Ice-T titled, "The Art of Rap". Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival this year, "The Art of Rap" explores the terrain of hip-hop and how it's transcended its political-activist underpinnings into the realm of "booties, parties, and girls." Starting at the basics of the craft, Ice-T interviews 54 rappers from Chuck D. to Mos Def to Q-Tip to Ice Cube on their music styles and techniques and is ultimately inspired by the simple question, "How do you write a rhyme?"
Of course the answer to that question depends on when you ask it and to whom it's being asked. In a quote from the trailer, Ice-T says, "We changed the world with it [hip-hop]. Now, you're doing it, but you're not using it at full power." In other words, the message is completely and lyrically different. Take Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message" for instance. Written to raise awareness about the ghettoization of New York cities in the 80s, the lyrics emphasize the struggles and hardships felt by the people:
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back / Junkie's in the alley with a baseball bat / I tried to get away, but I couldn't get far / 'Cause a man with a tow-truck repossessed my car
Similarly, N.W.A's "F*ck tha Police" brings police brutality to the forefront and gives a voice to race and class inequalities:
Comin straight from the underground / Young n*gga got it bad 'cause I'm brown / And not the other color so police think / They have the authority to kill a minority
From these examples it's clear that hip-hop was used more readily as a platform to express struggles within the Black community and elevate them to a mainstream level where hopefully a solution could be found. Not that politically charged content in hip-hop doesn't presently exist, it's just a hell of a lot more difficult to come across any mainstream hip-hop song that doesn't mention cash, cars, or women. And this is precisely what "The Art of Rap" is hoping to reconcile: exactly how did we get here?
Just after watching the trailer, you can already tell that this documentary will become a hip-hop history staple for both avid fans and curious spectators alike. Peep it down here: