Sundance fest embraces hip-hop on stage and screen

Common, a cast member in the film “LUV,” performs at the Express after-party Monday for the film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Enlarge photo

Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

Common, a cast member in the film “LUV,” performs at the Express after-party Monday for the film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

PARK CITY, Utah – Hip-hop is making itself heard – and seen – at the Sundance Film Festival.

Along with a slew of performances by rappers and DJs around town, this year’s festival includes documentary and narrative films about hip-hop culture.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see,” said Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame, who stars in a short film playing at the festival called “The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke.” “When you look at the success of Ice Cube and Will Smith, these are traditional hip-hop guys that are very successful in the movie business, so it’s a great thing and I’m happy for all the other guys who are here.”

Rapper-actor Ice-T made his directorial debut at Sundance with the documentary “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” which features interviews with hip-hop artists such as Grandmaster Flash, Eminem, Mos Def, Run-DMC, KRS-One, Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube.

Ice-T said he made the movie to give viewers “a better understanding of what it takes and what we do.”

“I wanted to talk about the craft, not the cars, the money, the girls,” the 53-year-old entertainer said. “How do you write rhymes? Let’s go into the songwriting process. And everybody was really excited because they were like, ‘Nobody ever asks us that.’”

After interviewing his friends and colleagues on both coasts, Ice-T ended up with a four-hour film that he trimmed down to 106 minutes for festival consideration.

“Our only ambition was to make it to Sundance,” he said. “This is a festival about art, and this movie’s about art.”

Another film with a hip-hop focus is dramatic-competition contender “Filly Brown.” The film starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Edward James Olmos and newcomer Gina Rodriguez tells the story of a rising Hispanic hip-hop star and the challenges she faces on the way to fame.

“Hip-hop, the soul of hip-hop and the foundation of hip-hop is just staying true to who you are and your voice, and so I think it’s really nice that the Sundance films are reflecting that,” said Rodriguez, who raps on screen.

“We didn’t set out to make a hip-hop movie,” said co-director Youssef Delara. “We set out to tell the story of this young woman in music, and it’s just like hip-hop is so ingrained in our culture, and a lot of different types of culture, that you really can’t tell a youth story without some element of hip-hop.”

The Sundance Institute Film Music Program hosted a concert at the ASCAP Music Café featuring Ice-T, Chuck D of Public Enemy and rap pioneer Grandmaster Caz.

“Every year the films are so wonderful here and so diverse, and they keep adding new elements and experiences to the festival to keep it current and fresh,” said Loretta Munoz, producer of the ASCAP Music Café. “I’m very happy about ‘The Art of Rap’ and seeing how that goes forward.”

In addition to the films and official music programs, various corporate-sponsored locations held their own parties with big-name rap stars.

Common, a star and producer of “LUV,” a contender in the U.S. dramatic competition, celebrated the film by performing into the wee hours at the Express afterparty. Drake and Wiz Khalifa each took the stage at the Bing Bar, and Drake also hosted a gathering at Park City Live, where Ludacris headlined earlier in the week.

Lil Jon took to the turntables at the Skullcandy Compound above a massive disco ball and Kendrick Lamar inspired the crowd to sing along at Sugar nightclub on Main Street, where Nas is set to perform Friday.

“Hip-hop changed the world,” Ice-T said. “I’m amazed it took so long to get here.”