Over the weekend, Ice-T's critically-acclaimed documentary, “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap,” hit theaters around the country. Compiled from over over 300 hours of footage, the rapper/actor's first film features Mos Def, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, Kanye West, Dr. Dre, and dozens of hip-hop heavyweights discussing the craft of rapping, along with the genre's rise from the streets to global domination as an art form. It's a must-watch for anyone vaguely interested in the rap game.
Over the years, T has become one of hip hop's great cultural ambassadors. Think about it: Your grandparents know him as the lovable, smart-ass cop on “Law and Order SVU” and you know him as the guy dropped a protest record called “Cop Killer.” Though he likes new guys like Cory Gunz and Kendrick Lamar, T speaks critically of young rappers, acknowledging that “for a moment, [hip-hop] got kind of wack.” So what advice does he have for restoring rap's glory?
During a publicity blitz for the film last week, T waxed philosophically to dozens of media outlets about rap's current state of affairs. Whether he realized it or not, he ended up offering quite a few invaluable words of wisdom for young up-and-comers. In fact, he sorta managed to create an entire hip-hop pedagogy. Here are 15 pieces of advice about how to rap, compiled from pullquotes by the headmaster of VH1's Rap School himself. Get your notebooks and number 2 pencils out. Rap class is in session and professor Ice-T is ready to preach.
Write your verses down, please:
via Rolling Stone
“Jay-Z is like a rap savant. He has that ability to do very intricate stuff in his head and he was the first rapper to say, 'I don't write,” and now everybody is trying to act like they can do it like Jay-Z. Most people have to write it out. It's not that easy to do it well off the head, as they say. You'll get an interesting rhyme, but it won't be anything near something you can write. So to me, Jay-Z is the one rapper who can do it. Everybody else, like Treach says, needs to pick up a pen and take a little time and make it sound right.”
It's all about the vocal delivery, stupid:
“I think hip hop is a vocal delivery and it can go in any direction. You can go rock with it; you can go techno. I think you’re about to see a reemergence of dance music and hip hop, because we all started as based off the DJ. You look at somebody like Flo Rida, he took that and ran with it. Most of his music is based on dance music. So I think there’s a unique connection between those two. But hip hop will continue. People will be rapping on records as long as we’re alive now. It’s part of global culture.” Treat your flow like a stock portfolio: Diversify.
Diversify your portfolio:
via Rolling Stone
“A good emcee will rhyme a lot of different ways. Don't limit yourself. Maybe on this record, you're on something a little bit different, a little house-y, and then for this one you go to DJ Premier for some real hardcore beats, or then you have that big, super, grand DJ Khaled production that's so incredible. You gotta learn how to change your flow so you're not doing the same thing over and over again.
Be descriptive, damnit:
via NY Post:
“When you talk, paint vivid pictures with your words. When I rhyme about the hood, I want a white kid who lives in Omaha to feel like he’s living there.”
It's called “rapping,” not “hooking”:
via Baller Status
“I look at it like this: if your song has more hooks than actual rapping, then you hooking you, not rapping. There are rappers and then there are hookers. Some people aren't saying sh**, but then people like Cory Gunz are spitting fire. If I'm saying something that people don't like, then I am hating. That's a problem if people don't agree with you today, then you are written off as a hater. I have taken rap for a ride that very few rappers could do. I am trying to get Oscars and all that sh**; I'm not hating. I am trying to keep this alive.”
Shock people with honesty:
“I am sure it can shock people, it’s just [about] people having the nuts to do it. You know, it takes a lot of courage to step across the line. It’s very easy to sing within the guidelines of radio. You’re not going to shock people saying something I said. The best way to shock people is to shock them with honesty. Say something that everybody knows but nobody’s saying. It has that ability. I just think right now many artists don’t want to touch it, they’d just rather play it safe.”
Let a good beat take you for a ride:
via Rolling Stone
“If you have a supernatural track, you don't really have to do much to rap on it to sell it. The track is so intense. Sometimes when the beat is so loud or incredible, people don't get to the words; they're just having so much fun. When you got that mega-production, you can hide behind that production. No disrespect, but some of the biggest records … If you take the music from MC Hammer's 'U Can't Touch This” and listen to the rhymes, Hammer was just having fun. He wasn't rhyming incredible, but the track was so intense and that was one of the biggest rap records in history. That's no diss towards Hammer, but if you get on the right track, the track will take you for a ride. These producers got smart and they're charging an arm and a leg for a track now, 'cause they know: “You can't rap really, so I'm gonna charge you!”
Respect the veterans
“Rakim said it best, “You want people to know the history, but where are they going to get it from? They won't pick up a book, so you have to spoon feed it to them.” The few cats that are disrespectful, you're not going to make it. You can't play baseball and diss Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. You can't do it. You can't be in an art form and diss the past. … You can't be in Atlanta and not pay homage to OutKast. It's unacceptable. If you don't know their (debut) album “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” you can't rap. Go to L.A. and try to your luck dissing me. Anybody who has, their career was shortly ended, because it doesn't work. You got to respect Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill. They are the foundation. You see (rapper) The Game giving up props and he goes double platinum.”
Just because you rap doesn't mean you're hip-hop:
“Rap is a vocal delivery. The weather man can rap. It doesn't mean you know hip-hop. I think now you have all these people rapping, but they're not really hip-hop. … Everyone who raps isn't hip-hop. To be hip-hop, you've got to know the culture. You got to know the history.”
When you rap gets labeled with “pop,” it ain't rap anymore…
“Rap will always be critical of itself. That’s just part of it. The Nicki Minaj situation, I think that was not a good call. If they don’t want to respect her, I don’t think they should have invited her. In the movie Mos Def quotes Q-Tip: ‘Rap is not pop. If you call it that, then stop.’ The true origin of rap is counter-culture. The true origin of rap is say something that they’re not saying on the radio. So when you kind of blend into what popular culture is doing, you’re losing the power of hip hop. We’ve got to keep rocking the boat. We’ve got unemployed people, we’ve got a black President, we’ve got election year, we’ve got Occupy Wall Street. If you’re just going to rap about ‘I got money and we balling,’ and all that, you’re not doing with it what it was meant to do. It’s meant to rock a party, but it was meant to change the world.”
I think that a rap aficionado, the hard-core rap fan, will always go away from pop, in the same way a hard-core jazz fan will never think Kenny G is really a jazz artist. You gotta kind of know there’s always going to be that purist who’s going to be like if it ain’t beats and rhymes, if there ain’t a DJ, then that ain’t hip hop. I understand it. I’ve never really been into pop rap but, hey, if that’s what some of these artists want to do, that’s cool, but then they can’t feel like they’re going to be welcomed in that hard-core club where it’s really just spitters.
Remember, rap is a young art form.
“The bottom line is rap gets respect from who it wants to get respect from, meaning it’s its own culture. Rap is a counterculture, so you’re not going to get respect from the mainstream, because you counter the mainstream… I think one of the main things somebody said is, it’s just too new. They didn’t respect blues when it was happening, they didn’t respect jazz when it was happening, so it’s still a baby. It’s only 25 years old. And I think in the world of hip-hop, it’s so highly respected. People sit on Internet forums and debate shit for hours. So it gets respect where it’s supposed to. Remember, Rap is a competitive art form
Remember, rap is a competitive art form:
“It’s an extreme art; it’s a competitive art; a competition art. It’s all about (how) I can out rap you, out dance you, out DJ you.”
Imitation is the highest art of flattery, but keep it real:
“I think Lady Gaga is dope, but she's Madonna. I think Madonna is dope, but she's Alice Cooper…. It's escapism. We need escapism, but we need someone to hit us in the head with reality. Right now, that's missing.”
Just be yourself, man:
“Originality. It’s like, look and see what everybody is doing and don’t do that. Don’t mimic anybody. Find your own niche, your own angle of who you are. Make a decision early. Are you a pop rapper? If you’re a pop rapper, just sing what everybody else is singing, just go right down that lane. If you’re doing your own thing, it’s going to be more difficult but it will be more rewarding at the end.”
Finally, “F*ck It”: