Ahead of the impending streaming wars of 2020, Netflix is upping their original content. The most recent addition to their lineup is the first hip hop competition show Rhythm + Flow. The episodes are being released in increments of four on October 9th, October 16th, and October 23rd, respectively. The show is hosted by the marketing-minded Cardi B, artistically driven Chance the Rapper and the critical T.I. The jury is still out on what T.I adds to the show, nonetheless, the show brings together an interesting set of judges with eclectic guests from different corners of hip and hop and rap.
The first four episodes released feature the great minds of Snoop Dogg, Anderson Paak, Lupe Fiasco and a much needed posthumous appearance by Nipsey Hussle. This show is definitely a response to new respect and attention being given to hip hop as the biggest genre in the world right now. Although it’s geared and marketed “for the culture,” it showcases the darkest part of the music industry and is the perfect example of hip hop being a shameless money cow and not an art form.
With a better lighting scheme and amazing guest hosts, I believe Rhythm + Flow has the same goal as American Idol does: give people a chance at their dreams. A casting call for artists to be on the show went out as early as a year ago when Chance the Rapper posted one of his infamous iPhone notepad pictures saying “Myself, T.I, and Cardi B are looking for artists who are unsigned, dedicated and ready.” Fast forward to Fall 2019, we see the product which is far from DIY as his artist outreach usually is. After the pilot episode, each host goes back to their hometown and has an open audition for contestants to go on to LA. There, they will be apart of the main competition which will be featured in the following drops on October 16th and October 23rd.
As a huge fan of Chance the Rapper since Acid Rap, this is far step from his usual platform and messaging to up and coming musicians. As a contestant on the show, similar to American Idol, Netflix owns the music that you make on the show. Every time an artist raps, his feedback is the only sliver of hope I have and he doesn’t always deliver. His face during every episode reminds me of Vince Staple’s placement in Sprite commercials.
They both have daunting expressions of “How the hell did I end up here?” I’m not knocking a black man for making money but wasn’t “Hot Shower” enough selling out for 2019? The contestants all come with a struggle story that they must display to validate their art which at the end of the day won’t legally even be theirs. Once spitting their raps, they are judged with a strange criteria of what will the most marketable.
Cardi B’s feedback only touches whether the artist can make money, if they have the look and of course the caricature that every brand pays her to sport. Again, I’m all for Cardi B as an entertainer, not a rapper. I don’t think she’s qualified to be a host and that’s quite apparent when she doesn’t comment on the music but the branding of each artist.
T.I.’s a little more silent and echoes Cardi B or Chance the Rapper. The shining light of the show is the guests who should have more time speaking, but in the grand scheme, don’t. In addition to the guest I listed prior, legends like Twista, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Jadakiss, Royce da 5’9 and others grace the show. Some of hosts haven’t been in the public eye in a substantial time that it was great to see their faces and hear their judgement. Unfortunately, the guests have the final say on whether the contestants advance or not. It’s left up to Chance, Cardi, and T.I.
This show has the potential to be a great launchpad for artists coming up but I feel the criteria that they’re being judged under doesn’t serve anyone and takes away from the beauty of the genre. I’m not an old head who thinks every song has to mean something. There is a time and place for people to just make money and get out but I don’t think there needs to be a whole show dedicated to veering artists in that direction.
A lot of the show is dedicated to showing how hungry all of these hopefuls are which is inspiring but equally heartbreaking as you realize how they’re all being groomed to be digestible for the masses. As we’ve entered the era of Hip Hop and Rap dominating the charts, dollar amounts can’t be put on struggling artist that want it more than anything.
I’d rather a show that is actually developed to studying the art of bars, flow, and pockets which this show doesn’t quite deliver on. It jumps through obstacles to be comparable to American Idol and The X Factor, when it should just be itself. As Hip Hop and Rap move to the mainstream the goal shouldn’t be for it to perform like pop did but to keep it’s roots as rebelling, contradictory and revolutionary.