Netflix' "Rhythm + Flow" Will Say More About The Culture Than You Think
It has been a couple of weeks since the announcement that Netflix & a production team featuring John Legend, are creating a brand new Reality/Talent Show as part of their push to conquer the Reality TV scene. Because... You know... They own every other facet of Film & TV these days.
The show is called "Rhythm + Flow". It's basically going to be a "Hip-Hop" version of (Insert whatever singing competition you watch), specifics of the show aren't clear yet, but what we do know is the name and the judges of the process. Cardi B, Chance The Rapper & T.I.
For those that don't know my stance on shows like these. I'm very dismissive, I don't watch any of them. I feel like if you have the talent & the persistence to succeed, then you will make it to where you want without the show. Talent shows such as these are basically a fast-track to a moderate celebrity.
"HEY! Want a singing career?! Be on TV for 12 weeks and if you win, you get to have an album!!!" (Warning: After that first album, you're on your own.)
I have wondered why nobody has done a Rap talent show yet. This is clearly a direct symptom of Rap music being officially mainstream, this will be watched by many people. Now, you may have saw this announcement and either nodded your head in approval or go "Ugh, piss off." I had both reactions at the same time. Because while I have a distaste for Reality/Talent Shows, I do like the fact that Rap is at the forefront.
But even as I say that, I'm very, VERY hesitant about this as a concept & what it says about Hip-Hop's place in:
A) American Culture
B) Mainstream Music
This is maybe just me reading too much into it, because I value Hip-Hop as a culture more than the average person, but if I don't, who will?! There are a lot of questions that need to be answered here. Because a "Hip-Hop" competition is VERY different to a "Rap" competition. Notice how the show and all the publications covering this have said "Hip-Hop" and not "Rap". What does that say to you?
It all depends on what they're looking for. What is the perfect contestant? A Kendrick that can push the culture forward? A Travis Scott that revolutionises the latest sound? Or a 69 that just rides the wave Hip-Hop creates and trolls for attention? The reason why the singing based shows were so accepted was because it's singing! If you can hold a note, you're pretty much good. But with Hip-Hop, for better or worse, there's a lot more to it.
Are we taking in the person and where they come from? Will it be more than just bars and how they perform on stage? Are they just going to do karaoke like the singing competitions do? Or do the contestants have to come through with their own lyrics? Are they going to judge simply by personality? Because if that is the case, who is to say a Vanilla Ice type can't just walk by and say he's about the life but actually isn't? "His bars are clean, and that's all we're looking for here!"
This show is walking on a cultural tightrope from it's mere existence. Not for me, but for the mainstream. What if the winner of this show goes on to be a staple in Rap? Is that a bad thing? For me, fundamentally, it is. Hip-Hop was built on hustling, doing you and keep being you. Respect the culture and people will respect you for that alone.
Acts like One Direction & Fifth Harmony (More specifically, Normani & Camila Cabello) have used their respective talent shows as launching pads, but without those, they wouldn't be here! On the other side of the coin, Ella Mai auditioned here in the UK around a decade ago and now she's the flavour of the year!
And referring to the Hip-Hop or Rap point. If we're truly doing a Hip-Hop talent show. Shouldn't we cater it to all five elements? Imagine that! Five winners. One MC, one DJ, one Graffiti Artist, one B-Boy/Girl & one knowledge based winner. (Maybe in a Mastermind format?) I think I have something here! Don't steal it...
Thinking out loud aside... I won't be watching this show, simply because I don't find these shows entertaining. (And I can't listen to Cardi B talk for longer than five seconds.) I know I am probably blowing this up to more than it is and I'm calling it "bad for the culture" before the synopsis has even dropped. But can you blame me?! Hip-Hop is safe, the people that appreciate it, know what it is all about. Rap, however, isn't.
I'll be very interested in what they consider the perfect contestant and how they will find that person. At the end of the day, it's a Reality show, so I don't expect an Earl Sweatshirt type that isn't the most "camera ready" to come through winning. I simply don't trust this show to lean more towards talent than sheer personality. If they do that, it says that Rap culture is all about what you look and not about the craft.