Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The White Rapper Show: Best. Thing. On. TV.

White rappers all across the suburbs probably hated VH1's reality TV series "The White Rapper Show," and it's understandable.

Here was a show that seemed to bypass selecting MC's with discernable talent in favor of characters, and exposed every single stereotype that has been attached to white rap artists since Vanilla Ice bought his first can of bleach. Monday night's season finale pitted the final two contestants on the reality-show competition against one another, with a satisfying if not anti-climatic finish.

The show's premise - 10 white rappers from across the nation are chosen to live in the Bronx, the birthplace of hip-hop, to get a crash course in hip-hop culture and compete against one another for $100,000. Along the way, the contestants/characters are subjected to a number of physical, creative and racially charged challenges, from going through their ethnically-diverse neighborhood to earn street cred to filming videos and recording music to competing on a television game show that challenges their knowledge of black stereotypes.

The cast members themselves were an oddball, sometimes cringe-inducing assembly of white rapper personalities - a PhD candidate/white guilt tripper named Jus Rhyme; a Queens, NY-bred, n-word spouting, gutter princess named Persia; a sweet but awkward tomboy named G-Child (who wore her hair like Da Brat and openly admitted to idolizing Vanilla Ice); a dirty South, grill-sporting good 'ol boy named Shamrock; and a wide-eyed, seeming clueless yet fascinatingly ambitious hip-hop persona named Jon Brown (representing the suburbs of Davis, California, hollaback!).

Along the way, they were sheperded by one of the most legitimate hip-hop personalities from the golden age of rap, MC Serch (former member of the rap group 3rd Bass and the man who helped discover and launch the career of Nas). It made perfect sense to have Serch as the show's host. As a white rapper during the early 90s, Serch was on the frontlines to combat the inherent fraudulence of acts like Vanilla Ice, famously beating Mr. Ice (played by Henry Rollins!) in effagy during the video to "Pop Goes The Weasel."

Back to Monday's finale, I couldn't help but root for Shamrock as he battled Jon Brown. Shamrock seemed like a cool, down to earth guy who I might want to hang out
with and have a beer. Brown, on the other hand, immediately set himself apart from his fellow white-rappers during the show's pilot episode, declaring he is not a rapper, but an "entity."

Brown's schtick revolved around a "company" he founded called "Ghetto Revival." The principals were curious and a bit undefined. A "Ghetto Revival" was somehow necessary to unite the masses, under a proclamation of "Hallelujah, Hollaback." That's about as much as I could gather from Brown's babble. Oh, and Brown proudly proclaimed himself "King of the Burbs," which was a microcosm for the show's ultimate intent.

Hip-hop, like rock and jazz before it, has been reappropriated by white, suburban youth for the past 15 years. The outgrowth of that is folks like Brown, who log on to the culture and purport to be champions for the cause. Ultimately, their credibility has to be called into question because, unfortunately, of their ethnic background and social status.

Which also brings us back to the reason I would understand white rappers, or white people who like hip-hop in general, would dislike the show. Since hip-hop culture has been reappropriated to the point that white rappers can feel comfortable enough to flaunt their suburban status (like Brown), seeing these seeming charicatures can be a viewed as a threat. Maybe even set the white rapper movement back a few years (making Marshall Mathers hard work all in vain).

A lot of the contestants were lacking in the talent category. Although Persia, Dasit, Sullee, Shamrock and Jon Brown each had a legitimate reason for being there, the rest of the pack pretty much sucked.

To top it all off, the stereotypes of white rappers were on full display - Persia using the N-Word and trying to play it off like it was cool; JusRhyme doing his whole "We are all one people" conscious white MC routine; the british girl who was a fifth-rate knockoff of Fergie from Black Eyed Peas. It could have been called the White Rapper Stereotype show.

The show's producers, Ego Trip, a writing collective that published a dope indy magazine during the 1990s, knowingly put these people on the show because it was more interesting to play on those stereotypes and seach for the humanity beneath the fronting. Besides, who wants to see people with talent compete for a prize? You can watch American Idol for that kind of crap.

Personally, I think the show was one of the best things on television in a long time. Of course, I laughed at the characters, at Persia having to wear a large platinum chain that said "N-Word" after getting busted for its usage (imagine if every white person that said that word was forced to suffer through such a humiliation, Micheal Richards included).

I laughed at Jon Brown's embarrassing "King of the Burbs" boasts.

I laughed when the white rappers thought they were going to the studio to record and wound up on a game show.

But I also got a kick out of seeing these characters reveal their human side. Persia, a hard as they come homegirl, getting humbled after her N-word check. Or G-Child's manic insecurity upon her imminent departure from the show. I really felt sorry for the girl when Serch told her, politely, to step off.

And Monday's finale was cool because Shamrock, a level-headed dirty-south representative, beat out Jon Brown for the title. Although Shamrock's flow weren't ziplock tight (Jon Brown actually had a more polished delivery), Sham held it down for the Dirty and got by with swagger and style. Yes, he looked like Paul Wall with a busted grill, but that's beside the point. When it came down to it, Sham stepped up and did his thing, which was be himself on stage.

That's something any rapper or hip-hop fan can appreciate, black or white.

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