He may, as he admitted in his interview with Time Out last week, have ‘picked the low-hanging fruit’ for his first feature, but Ice-T still makes a solid directing debut with this hip hop documentary. Raiding his little black book of rap legends, Ice tours America tracking down the MCs who created, developed, revolutionised and commercialised this now dominant genre, asking them to explain their methods, name their heroes and spit a few rhymes straight to camera.
It’s this last request that results in the film’s most exhilarating moments: on the big screen, the sheer force and energy of these poets is extraordinary. The highlight is old school legend Grandmaster Caz, whose freestyle verbal attack is simply jawdropping, but KRS-One, Kanye West and Ice himself also grab the opportunity to show what they can do when the gloves are off. The only letdown is Eminem, whose darting glances off-camera suggest he’s a little unsure of himself.
As a history of hip hop, however, this film is less successful: that’s too much story to cram into a single film. Ice’s initial quest – to figure out why rap is so popular, and what makes a good MC – are quickly jettisoned as it becomes clear that there are no simple answers. The result is messy and repetitive, but it looks great – the glittering New York and LA landscapes are beautiful to behold – and there’s no faulting the lyrical excellence on display. These guys are legends for a reason.