Monday, January 29, 2007

ego trip’s “The (white) Rapper Show”

VH1 site

So, there are a few people out there talking about this thing (Pop Culture Junkies on Ep 1, 20/20 Proof on Ep 3 ), so I made a point of catching episode three on Saturday. As a reality show, I don’t see it really taking off – there just aren’t the sort of compelling, outsize personalities that are necessary for the genre. There’s definitely some promise in the premise, and even more in the fact that it’s produced at least partly by ego trip, who put out a rap mag in the nineties, and then eventually went on to produce books, including the absolutely incredible Book of Rap Lists. A good bit of the ego trip design sensibility shows up in the show’s set and a few props, like the “You’ve Got Mayo” screen – a giant jar of mayonnaise that beeps when the host (MC Serch) wants to communicate with the contestants.

What doesn’t show up so much, at least so far, is the more biting side of ego trip’s sensibility. The social critique of the show stays somewhat out of sight – the white rappers are not, on the whole, there to be mocked, which at least some of them richly deserve to be. For example, there’s G-Child, who got kicked off the show in last week’s episode. She openly claims Vanilla Ice as her main inspiration, and rocks the sort of visor-raver pants-asexual braids look that’s common to Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid, and other acts at the absolute bottom of the white-rap totem pole. The show gives her a pass, though, and misses the opportunity to point out just how out of touch this sort of rapper/fan is with the reality of the music.

G-Child is a really shitty rapper, to boot, and so are several of the other contestants, which is a real letdown. I know for a fact that if they’d really wanted to, the producers could easily have found ten genuinely hot white MCs. Instead, they went the much more conventional route of giving us a laundry list of white rap stereotypes – the round the way girl, the rap-rocker dude, the trailer park hoodrat, the Atlanta bro, the suburban ‘thug,’ etc. This sort of casting is usually intended to cause some conflict, and in some sense it’s working – the “conscious,” anti-racist white rapper, Jus Rhymes, is pushing his agenda hard, and about to start pissing off the meatheads around him, which I think I might tune in for more of. But if they’d gotten a higher percentage of good rappers on the show, ego trip would have actually been doing better by the genuine rap fans who are their core audience.

The one guy who does seem really talented is Shamrock, from Atlanta. In the Episode 3 elimination challenge (basically a really lame battle-of-the-writtens), he delivered a sincere meditation on whiteness that was way more effective than Jus Rhyme's polemics. Shamrock seems like a really decent and sincere guy, too, which makes him a little bit of an oddity amid the cast, who mostly seem like posers to various degrees. This includes Jus Rhymes, the guy with the political agenda. I of course really identify with the guy on one level – I’ve got a similar agenda, and I think it’s great that he’s on the show. But on another level, the guy is a bit of a joke – he dresses like a black militant and slips in and out of street slang, both of which kind of undermine his agenda. His group's name is AR-15, fer chrissakes - that really goes a long way to dispelling images of rap and black people as inherently violent, bro. He also can’t rap all that well.

Final Verdict: ego trip disappoints so far. I’ll give it another episode to see what’s really up, but The (white) Rapper Show seems pretty cookie-cutter out the gate.

No comments: