Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap
By Brian Costello,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Fantastic hip-hop documentary has profanity, some drug use.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Rappers from the past and present discuss how rap music changed their lives for the better. They discuss their creative process and the amount of work it takes to create memorable songs. The documentary serves to educate viewers and build respect for an oft-maligned musical genre.
Positive Role Models
The artists use frequent profanity, and some abuse drugs, but they are also leaders of a musical movement and part of a positive reaction to institutionalized racism.
Violence & Scariness
No violence is shown, but gun violence is frequently alluded to in the rappers' written and freestyle performances.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sex is frequently referenced in the rappers' improvisations.
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Frequent use of "f--k," "motherf--ker," "bitch," and the N-word.
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Products & Purchases
Highlights successful musical artists, some of whom have albums and songs for sale.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One of the rappers in the film is shown rolling a joint, lighting it, and smoking it. Snoop Dogg discusses his creative process, and a part of that includes smoking a lot of marijuana.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap is both a comprehensive history lesson on hip-hop and an exploration of the creative processes of the genre's most influential artists. In scenes where the different rappers freestyle, there's frequent profanity -- "f--k," "bitch," and the N-word, among others. There's also a scene in which one of the rappers is shown rolling, lighting, and smoking a joint. But for older teens and parents who are fans of the genre -- as well as music fans, period -- this is an excellent documentary about hip-hop's roots, evolution, and creative spirit.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
In SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: THE ART OF RAP, director Ice-T interviews dozens of rap's leading luminaries. From Afrika Bambaataa to Kanye, Q-Tip to Dr. Dre, Raekwon to Eminem, KRS-One to Royce da 5'9" (among many others), the interviewees discuss rap's roots in the South Bronx and its evolution throughout New York City, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Rappers discuss how they got started and what goes into their creative processes, before standing in front of the camera and freestyling. A celebration of rap's past and present, this documentary also makes the case that rap as a musical genre deserves as much respect as other musical art forms.
Is It Any Good?
Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap somehow manages to be both a nearly comprehensive history lesson in hip-hop and a study in the creative processes of the genre's most famous practitioners. It's a celebration of hip-hop's past and present, as well as a vigorous defense against those who still deny that rap is as much of an art form as jazz and blues. Entertaining and enlightening, Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap is a must-see not just for hip-hop fans, but for music fans, period.
The only small problem with this documentary is the problem that plagues any documentary that attempts to be an overview of a musical genre: There's only so much information that can be given in so little time. This movie could have easily been four hours. While much is covered in under two hours, hip-hop's contributions from Atlanta, Miami, and Chicago are hardly mentioned, to say nothing of the Beastie Boys. But, to be fair, such additions would probably send this into six-hour Ken Burns territory.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Something from Nothing's title. What do they mean by "something from nothing," and what are the ways that hip-hop is shown as a legitimate art form?
In the middle of the documentary, Ice-T asks different rappers why rap isn't given the same respect as jazz and blues. Do you agree with the reasons the rappers give?
The artists discuss their creative processes when writing new material. How do these processes seem similar to or different from the processes of other musicians, writers, painters, and actors? If you rap, play an instrument, write, paint, or act, what similarities and differences do you see in their processes and your own?
How does the movie depict drug use? Is it glamorized?
- On DVD or streaming: September 18, 2012
- Cast: Eminem, Ice-T, Snoop Dogg
- Director: Ice-T
- Inclusion Information: Black actors
- Studio: Indomina
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Communication
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug content
- Last updated: February 1, 2023
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