Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hallelujah Holla Back!

One of my guilty pleasures over the past few weeks has been watching the train wreck known as "Ego Trip's The (white) Rapper Show." Yes, another bad reality show on VH-1 where a group of aspiring white rappers live together in "the White House" in hopes of becoming the next Eminem. Each week another contestant or two were asked to "step-off" by host and "hip-hop icon" MC Serch (from the 80's rap group 3rd Bass).

Besides the fact that none of these contestants has any real talent, it was sad to watch a group of white people trying so hard to act and sound like what they thought a rapper should sound like. And even when there were signs of hope in the show, they were quickly shot down. During one of the challenges the rappers were split up into two teams in order to write a song and shoot a rap video. Predictably, the videos tended to be...well...predictable. Cars, bling, and scantily clad women. During the evaluation, MC Serch chastised the groups for buying into those rap video conventions...yet in other episodes he chastised them for not embracing those same elements of hip-hop culture. What else are aspiring rappers supposed to do? This is what they have grown up on, and all they have seen. As far as they know, that's all there is. They needed to be educated by the guest rappers and others as to how conduct themselves, but that education wasn't there. On another episode the rappers were told to embrace the "thug" lifestyle and mentality. And even those contestants who had billed themselves as "positive rappers" found they had to stoop down to the least common denominator of hip hop culture in order to stay alive.

In the 5th episode, the losing team is given the challenge of writing raps that criticize each other in order to place blame for a lame video production. Two of the rappers, Sullee and Jon Boy, refuse to point fingers. Sullee removes himself from the show, while Jon Boy is asked to "step off" for not doing as he was told. The one time a few of the rappers actually show some character, and they are eliminated.

A big part of the show was the need for the rappers to "embrace" hip-hop culture. But which part of that culture are they to embrace? And does that mean they need to emulate it? Mixed signals were sent throughout, and sadly, the same old same old won out in the end.

All of the contestants were annoying and lacked talent...but one thing from the show will remain in our least as a joke. Contestant John Brown, self-proclaimed "King of the Burbs" and promoter of a "Ghetto Revival" would constantly shout out his catch-phrase: "Hallelujah Holla Back." In fact it got to be a joke, because every time he was cornered or was in a situation where he had no idea what to say, he would utter: "Hallelujah Holla Back!"

An interesting and valid assessment of the show is posted online by a student at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in this article.

But many questions remain...what is the responsibility of the music community to its listeners and fans? What is the responsibility of the elders of an art form to their followers? And is it really necessary for someone who wants to create rap music to immerse themselves in...and embrace...the hip-hop culture, especially when that culture is so fragmented? And if so, is that sense of history necessary in other musical genres or art forms? And maybe most importantly of all, what are the problems inherent in the existing music industry structure, where art is dictated by a select few, presumably in the name of the almighty dollar?

Answers anyone?

Yeesh. I pray for the future of rap.

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