Ice-T Breaks Down Why “Art of Rap” Festival in July is Important to Hip-Hop, Art and Music

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“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is by far one of the most important records known to man.  A “total knock out of the park” as Public Enemy’s Chuck D once told Rolling Stone, the 1982 record marked a pivotal moment for hip-hop.  The first of its kind, at seven-minutes rapper Melle Mel and co-writer Duke Bootee traded clear-cut lines about the everyday struggle and decay in America’s ghettos. From the ubiquitous “broken glass” to the “junkies in the alley” and how the kids that are “born with no state of mind” end up succumbing to the live fast, die young statistic. It’s an monumental piece of recording that perfectly demonstrates the foundation on which hip-hop was founded.

Beyond that though, it’s also the very record that Mickey Bentson, co-founder of The Universal Zulu Nation, and Ice-T brought up during a phone conversation with REVOLT. “Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel made one of the hardest records ever: “The Message” with no cursing. Wow. That’s unbelievable,” Bentson exclaimed.  “Where you gonna get all this stuff at? Nowhere but at the Art of Rap Festival baby.”

In 2012, Ice-T chronicled the rich foundation and importance of the hip-hop into a one hour-and-a-half epic, better known as the critically-acclaimed documentary, “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap.” An intimate journey that uncovers the layers, elements, and science of hip-hop, the film took it back to the essence, while bringing along famous faces like Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Eminem, Q-Tip, Chuck D and many more for a discussion on the art form. Three years since he opened the conversation, Ice-T,  joined by Bentson, has added another layer (and new meaning) to the “The Art of Rap,” with an inaugural event he is calling “the most prolific and essential hip-hop festival ever.”

The Art of Rap Festival, which will take place over the course of two days in California, features a dream team line-up of emcees that range from Big Daddy Kane to Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa, EPMD, Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Melle Mel, King T, Kurtis Blow, Biz Markie, and more. Just like the film, the festival, which will feature co-headliners including Game and Ice-T at its July 18th Irvine date and Ice-T at the July 19th Mountain View show, takes it back to the essence.

Speaking about the summer must-attend festival, Ice-T and Mickey Bentson hopped on the phone with REVOLT and discussed just how and why this event came together.

In 2012, Ice-T, you released this film and now it has transformed into a full blown festival. How did you two come together for this?

Ice-T: Well, [The Art of Rap] happened for me, I was sitting around and for a while when you would say you an emcee, people actually had this heavy respect for you. Well the point that when you would say ‘rapper,’ people would kind of look at you like a clown. Rappers were kind of acting up and I didn’t like that, so I said you know what I want to make a film that makes people really respect the art of rap. It’s not a game, it’s real stuff. I worked really hard on my music, I grew up with [Big Daddy] Kane and Rakim and people like that, and I said this is serious business. So we shot the film, it did what it was supposed to do, make people understand that it is an art form and the next obvious move was to take it on the road. The Art of Rap Tour is meant to be about the craft and the culture of hip-hop, so we go all the way from The Soulsonic Force to somebody like The Game.

As you mentioned, this festival is about the craft and culture. Why is this such an important element for this event? 

T: We want people to take pride in what they do. If you take pride in your music, you’re going to do good music. If you look at music as just a way to get paid, then you might throw up any ol’ shit, and you also ain’t gonna represent it right, [because] when you get interviewed you gonna say any ol’ s*** — and that bothers the artists. That’s like me coming into jazz and not knowing who Miles Davis was, and there’s going to be people who’s going to have feelings about that. 

Considering your respective statuses in the game, I can imagine how easy it was to round up these hip-hop legends for the line-up.

T: It was easy. Mickey is one of the founders of the Zulu Nation, so he got that old school on lock, he used to manage Fat Joe and Big Pun…

Mickey Bentson: As well as Afrika Bambaataa and The Furious Five, and by doing that it was simple for us to do because of the simple fact they respect Ice-T and they respect me, and especially they respect Afrika Bambaataa. So as you can see, we put the founder of hip-hop in this concert with us for July 18th through the 19th to make it very authentic that this is the real Art of Rap. With Afrika Bambaataa and The Soulsonic Force, who else has [them] on their tour? Nobody. Who got the Chief Rocka Busy Bee on their tour? Nobody.

T: One thing that I want you to know is, this isn’t just the lineup of the tour, the Art of Rap is meant to be a brand tour, meaning next time you see it, it could be headlined by Wu-Tang and next time it could be headlined by Cypress Hill or Public Enemy, or anybody. But it’s about creating tour lineups without using the people that have the hottest records on the radio, without using the number one pop name out at the moment, [it’s] just good solid emcees that people want to see and we’re going to prove to the people out there that you can sell out tours like this.

Mickey: Also young brother, it’s not just about the emcees it’s about the culture of the music. When I go to concerts, all I see is hip-hop on stage. I don’t see no break dancers, I don’t see no DJs getting it on, I don’t see no graffiti people doing they’re thing, this is supposed to be hip-hop and this is the art of rap, so the art of rap has elements into it. It has all the elements from where hip-hop was birthed from and all those has not been done on no one else’s tour except the Art of Rap.

What should fans expect from these sure-to-be epic shows?

T: Hopefully it’ll be a fun afternoon. The festival starts in the afternoon, there’ll be stages, there’ll be people performing and it’ll move on into the night, and it’s our attempt to do something and if it goes down the way we expect it, the Art of Rap tour will be on deck indefinitely.

Are we looking at a possible annual thing or indefinitely in the sporadic sense?

T: Indefinitely meaning we could launch Art of Rap tours in smaller venues like B.B. King’s, it could be like the House of Blues, or all over so, it would just be a brand. If me and Mickey have anything to do with creating the roster for the tour, it’ll be an Art of Rap tour. So we would be able to market and move it all over the world. One thing you know, when you go to the Art of Rap tour [there] ain’t gonna be no corny motherfuckers. Trust me. [Laughs]

Were there any other guests you wanted, but weren’t able to book?

T: We wanted Cypress Hill for this one, but they were in Europe. We wanted Public Enemy on this one, but they were out of the country. KRS-One, but he was out of the country. But they all down, so when the Art of Rap comes to maybe Chicago it could be a totally different roster. We might have the Funky Four Plus One, we might have Kool Moe Dee, we gonna move it around. [Overall] you get a chance to see some of the legends along with some of the new cats, you dig.

Ice, earlier you mentioned that this festival is built to show and prove that a lineup of solid emcees could sell out shows. What’s your thoughts on this current state of hip-hop where guys like a J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar can do wonders in sale numbers without the need of a radio record or as you mentioned, “pop name.”

T: Listen J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar are welcomed on the Art of Rap tour. They definitely welcomed on the tour, and hopefully we’ll get them at some point but we just had to jump this off. We just had Raekwon over here and he was like, “Why I ain’t on this show?” Bun B is on my lineup right now. So this is just like the movie, once we get all this going, everybody was ready to jump on. So people support this tour and you’re going to see this happening. You got to get out here and tour nowadays and we gotta create the tours.

Mickey: And also for some of the younger crews that are reading this, [the show] could be a lesson that you can learn to see where hip-hop came from and how it started with all the elements in it, not just the one person on stage rapping. The Art of Rap is really — it’s actually educational too, so I think they should come out if they want some education on it.

Ice T: If you a young group and you want to be in the art of rap tour, you can definitely get on it. It’s not like you gotta be old-school to be on this tour, you just gotta be dope. The only thing is, Ice T has to think you’re dope. [Laughs] That’s right of passage. I’m not a hater…

Mickey: But we hate shit. [Laughs]

What’s your thoughts on the current state of things, like the happenings over in Baltimore?

Mickey: Zulu Nation’s always stood for peace love, unity and having fun. A lot of people have been asking about what’s going on right now, [so] I asked a person: When you go to war, what are you fighting for? Respect and territory. Correct?


Mickey: Well people need respect and sometimes you got to respect their territory too. I’m not saying that what they’re doing is right or what they’re doing is wrong, but you have to respect them. When the U.S go out, we’re fighting for respect and territory. So people doing that today, they want to be respected.

T: That’s pretty much it, what you saw me doing when we talked in ’92 and we did “Cop Killer,” well you know, [that] was going on 20 years, 40 years, 50 years before that and for a while, music kind of stopped dealing with the issues. Like I wrote in my song, “Pop Bubble Full of Bullshit” I said, “Obama did eight years, cuz / why you singing about bottles and clubs?” Like really? So I think now, with all this tension going on maybe it’ll reformat hip-hop to where it’ll get away from how much money we got to

Mickey: I miss KRS-One, I miss Public Enemy, I miss those kind of guys in hip-hop, we need more.

Ice T: It’s like this man, I understand you got money, I got money, but what else? I think the youth is going to understand that every time something goes wrong, you can’t call me, Chuck and KRS-One, and Ice Cube — I want to go to the new artists. I need a 21-year-old KRS-One, we need youngsters to stand up and be about something. I also think it’s the job of the hip-hop press that when you’re reviewing these guys’ records, saying I get you got money and bitches but is there anything else on your motherfucking mind? [Laughs] Like really? Challenge them. And if they say, “Nah, I don’t give a fuck,” put them on blast.

That’s what happened to me when I was coming up, you had to sing about something or you would get put on blast for just not giving a f*** And that can’t be okay right now. We need the youth to be a little bit more conscious. I understand you got the new Ferrari and you got the b****** and the guns, but is there anything else that’s on your mind that bothers you.  And that’s why I listen to Kendrick Lamar, that’s why I like Lupe Fiasco, that’s why I like T.I., those are the cats, they are spitting the truth.

Mickey: We forgot to mention that Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel made one of the hardest records ever: “The Message” with no cursing. Wow. That’s unbelievable. Where you gonna get all this stuff at? Nowhere but at the Art of Rap Fest, baby.

Also, one of the hardest albums that tackles similar social commentary is your O.G. Original Gangster album, Ice. It turns 24 next month. How does it feel to have material like that, which goes back two decades, still be referenced and used to describe today’s climate?

T: I think when you go in to make a record, you want to make something that stands the test of time and it becomes a classic. Like Chuck D says, “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddling.”So I’m not just saying some s*** and it’s a challenge. I mean that’s what the art form is. If you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there’s only certain artists in there, the ones that did the classics, the impressionists, and artists that said something with their art, so that’s who I always wanted to be and I still do. Everything I do, I want it to be important and this is an important tour. My name is connected to it, this man’s name (Mickey) is connected to it, and I’ma say it like Mickey said, this can’t be no monkey shit.

With what you guys are bringing to the table with this, we definitely can’t expect monkey shit.

Mickey: No monkey shit.

Ice T: This got to be the real.

article by Ralph Bristout via

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