WASHINGTON WATCH: Ice T On The History Of Rap & New Film Something From Nothing (VIDEO)

It is one of the most influential forms of music in the history of music. Yet, for a lot of folks, it gets no respect whatsoever.

One of the pioneers of hip-hop joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch. He is Ice T, and he has a new documentary out, “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.”


VOICEOVER:  It didn’t start out as a popular cultural movement.  It didn’t even have pop culture ambitions.


VOICEOVER:  We’re not supposed to be thinking like this.  We’re not supposed to be talking like this.


VOICEOVER:  We created something from nothin’.

VOICEOVER:  We wanted to hit everybody across the head with a sledgehammer, like, “Listen to what we’re doin’ out here.”

VOICEOVER:  There has to be a method for the madness.


VOICEOVER:  I don’t like lookin’ at you.  Fix your pants.  Fix your hat.  What are you doing invading my home?  Why are my kids liking your music?


MAN:  Why are you guys bringing street conversation to the mainstream world?  Stay in your place.  Stay outta there.  I don’t like lookin’ at you.  Fix you pants.  Fix your hat.  Y’all supposed to stay in the gutter.  Get outta here.


MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back.

It is one of the most influential forms of music in the history of music.  Yet, for a lot of folks, it gets no respect whatsoever.

Joining us right now is one of the pioneers of hip-hop.  He is Ice T, and he has a new documentary out, “Something from Nothing:  The Art of Rap.”

Hey, man.  Good to have you on TV One’s “Washington Watch.”

ICE T:  Hey, good to see you again, boss.  I mean I’m happy to be here.  This is very cool.

MR. MARTIN:  We try to mix it all up on this show –

ICE T:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — beyond politics.

At its origin, what was the most important thing that rap was trying to get across as it began to establish itself in New York City and then as it traveled all across the country?

ICE T:  Hip-hop is the culture.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

ICE T:  Rap is a vocal delivery.  In the movie, Big Daddy Cane* says, “Well, you can call Dr. Seuss a rapper.”

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

ICE T:  If you can rhyme “cat” with “hat,” you’re a rapper.  But hip-hop is that whole culture – people that – that had something to do with that – and that was born over, like, 25 years ago; and now it’s part of global culture.

MR. MARTIN:  It was interesting in – in watching the documentary.  One of the artists said, “They began to take the instru-” — “instru-” — “instruments out of the schools, so we turned the record player into an instrument.”

ICE T:  Yeah.  Well, that’s where rapping really came from – or, MC-ing.  The deejays in the Bronx found out that if they could – they found the breakdowns of the records.  There’s a part in near[?] every record where it breaks down, and no one sings, and that’s usually the best part of the record.  They found that, with using a mixer, they could spin the record back and forth and keep a drumbeat going, or a groove.  Then the deejay said, “Tell somebody how great I am.”

So, the rapper – that’s why all early rap records are Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five,* or they start with the deejay’s name.  [They] started to tell everybody how great the deejay was.  Then the rapper stole the show.  He said, “But I’m kinda cool, and I’m kinda fly.”

And then the next rapper got up [and] said, “Yeah, you’re cool, but I” – “I was kickin’ it with your sister.”  And that’s where all this – this competition and all that happened, ’cause hip-hop is a very competitive culture, too.

MR. MARTIN:  But it’s interesting.  You – one of the artists talked about that – this whole notion of you don’t have that kind of competition in – in other music forms, but the reality is when you look at the history of blues artists and also Motown, when those cats went on the road, I mean it was all about, “We’re gonna destroy this stage.”

ICE T:  Yeah, I think it’s positive competition.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

ICE T:  You know, it’s positive.  It’s like – oh, my God.  Like, I used to sit on the side of the stage and watch the people before me.  I’m like, “Wow!”  You know, the – the whole term “It’s a hard act follow.”  Well, hip-hop, in – and hip-hop also has a word – a default word – called “wack,” which means it ain’t good.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

ICE T:  So, you – if you get called “wack,” you gotta fight to get outta wack-ness.  You gotta –

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

ICE T:  — try to become better.  But that’s what keeps the bar going up –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

ICE T:  — and up.  So, as long as it’s – it’s positive – you know, we’ve seen it become negative, with Tupac and Big, where now the – the co- — the competition spills out into the streets.  That can never happen again.  But inside the art form, where you’re just saying, “Hey, man.  I” – “I’m better than you,” that does help us.

MR. MARTIN:  What I appreciate about – about the doc [is] you said from the beginning –

ICE T:  Yes, sir.

MR. MARTIN:  — “This is about the craft.”

And speaking of that, throughout – throughout the piece, you and others talked about the poetry of rap and also what it means.  And do you think too many people do not truly appreciate the skill set that it requires?

ICE T:  A lot of time[s], you’ve hear rapper- — heard rappers talk – rap off the top of their heads, where they make it up as they go along.  But the great sons are sittin’ dow- — are – are written.  They’re well written, and they’re very intricate poetry, you know.  There’s a degree of difficulty that’s involved in a lot of it.

And I was talking to Rakim about this.  He said, “We want the youth to respect the craft, but where ’re they gonna learn it if n-” – “There’s no way to teach it.”

So, kinda like this film is a way of me saying, “Let me lay out the foundation” –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

ICE T:  — “for all of y’all.”  It’s a loosely based history, ’cause there’re so many more people than I could get in a two-hour film, but it gives you an idea of the passion and what it takes to do it.  And remember that it’s titled “Something from Nothing” for a reason.  I started rapping before anybody ever bought a car rappin’.  There were no rap radio stations.  There were no BET rap stat[ions], so you were – we were coming from absolutely nothin.’  And now it’s here, and I – I think that deserves a level of appreciation.

MR. MARTIN:  Now, every artist who comes on this show – Charlie Wilson sat in that seat.  Raheem DeVaughn, Marvin Winans sat in –

ICE T:  I’m honored.

MR. MARTIN:  — that seat.  But they all got to do somethin’.

ICE T:  Oh, Lord, have mercy!

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

ICE T:  You can’t put me – you – you can’t put me on the spot.  Okay.

MR. MARTIN:  That’s what I do.

ICE T:  [He begins to rap.]  I t- — I spent my life between the light, blue lines of loose leaf.  I spit my time between impressionable minds and true beef.  I spend my days up, nights up.  It’s too hard to sleep.  Look at my face.  It’s not the one of someone of peace.  I carry guns, and I don’t need to; but my mind’s so buck, I see assassinations comin’ outta the rough.  I keep my door shut, windows up, shades down, fo’[?] pound[?], waitin’ for some satans who may think of invadin’.

When I do sleep, I dream about pain and unrest, about gunshots and dumb-dumbs explodin’ my chest.  I see my boys that have died sittin’ with me again.  And when I wake, I realize I lost most of my friends.

MR. MARTIN:  ICE T’s film, “Something from Nothing:  The Art of Rap,” is now in theaters.  I have seen it; and, folks, trust me.  You should, too.