On Wednesday, Stereogum writer Tom Breihan submitted a post for his phenomenal “Status Ain’t Hood” column-a weekly rap roundup that directly inspired what you’re reading now. In his most recent summary, Breihan compiles a range of different hip hop reality shows over the past millennium. Some were funny (Ego Trip’s The White Rapper Show), some were weird (Celebrity Rap Superstar); the rest were borderline forgettable.
Much of the column presents all of these shows as failures because well, they were. Virtually all of them were cancelled at some point throughout their tenure, leading many to believe a “Rap American Idol” would never be possible.
According to Breihan, a lot of the above-listed shows developed in an era when reality television was still trying to find its footing in a dense landscape. It’s tough to land any nationally-televised program without a prior blueprint, let alone a successful one. Too many networks aren’t willing to take risks on past failures. Places like CBS or ABC would much rather rake in the revenue off of low-brow sit-coms that only appeal to white middle class families (The Big Bang Theory and The Middle are common scapegoats). Sorry, just being honest.
But alas! Netflix is here to save the day. The longtime streaming service has recently morphed into a dumping ground for content that wouldn’t find prosperity in a conventional location (movies especially-though I do enjoy their originals). Their contributions are normally hit or miss, especially when it comes to their TV shows. For example, 13 Reasons Why is a disgrace to entertainment, while Big Mouth is the show of our generation. No one can convince me otherwise.
Another undisputed fact (I sound like a millennial, don’t I?); Netflix may have just found their hidden gem with Rhythm & Flow-the newest, and maybe most delightful rap reality show ever. It’s funny, charming, socially conscious, and surprisingly well-structured. So far, seven episodes have been released, with the final three coming out Wednesday Oct. 23. I can’t wait.
The concept of the show is plain and simple; whoever is the best all-around rapper, wins. The prize is a hefty $250,000-making this one of the most expensive programs in rap TV history. And honestly, why shouldn’t be? The show encapsulates hip hop culture to the fullest.
The first four episodes are probably the least interesting, mainly because it follows the same mundane audition formula as past music competitions. Aspiring artists rap a verse, and the judges (Cardi B, T.I. and Chance the Rapper are the main ones) decide who goes on to the next round. The contrasting personalities of each judge is what really makes the preliminary rounds so appealing. There’s a lot of fun to be had between T.I.’s tough-guy stoicism, Cardi’s raucous laughter, and Chance’s blunt criticisms. And since each audition was held in their respective homes (Chicago, Atlanta and New York), there’s a great deal of competition between the judges as well.
The auditions also feature some guest judges and uproarious montages of the worst performances (I love the one where the kid wears a baby around his neck). Superstars like Snoop Dogg, Big Boi, Twista, Jadakiss, Quavo and Royce de 5’9” appear in their respective cities. Most of them were honestly too nice (although Snoop Dogg and Quavo had some hilarious moments; they seemed baked to be honest.). Nonetheless, it was cool seeing the star power.
Things have really started to heat up though. The Oct. 16 episodes included cyphers, rap battles and music videos. Those were great because we finally started to learn more about the actual contestants, both personality-wise and background-wise (the music video episode did a nice job of highlighting these aspects). A lot of the artists carry stories of perseverance-whether that means leaving a poverty-ridden household, or performing in memory of a lost one. These anecdotes add much more weight to the competition. Many are fighting for their lives.
The touching scenes are balanced out by a healthy dose of comedy courtesy of the judges’ raw energy. At one point, Cardi compares someone’s music video to bad sex. Meanwhile, Chance loves to simply state when something is “not good.” T.I. loves to make grandiose statements about how important this competition is. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
It’s not even just the judges that are entertaining either. The rappers bring some life to the competition as well with their sometimes cringe-worthy names (Beanz and Flawless Real Talk may be my favorite) and vibrant personalities.
All in all though, it’s the show’s diversity that really makes this experience a home run. There’s African American rappers; Puerto Rican rappers; LGBTQ rappers, women rappers (London B is probably the clear favorite so far); rappers that switch between Spanish and English (shoutout to D Smoke), and much much much more. Heck, there’s even an average white boy rapper named Sam Be Yourself who still finds himself in the competition as an obvious underdog (Love the dude’s flannel collection though). Point is, everyone has someone they can root for. Personally, I’m rooting for a second season because this shit is gold.
Album to Check Out
Casanova continues to be one of the leaders of New York underground rap. On his newest album, Behind These Scars, the 32 year-old sounds more polished than ever-seamlessly transitioning between heartfelt R&B and grunge-inspired street anthems. It’s a crisp and versatile project for a guy who deserves to break out.