The White Rapper Show: The Best Thing on TV

johnbrown.jpgOh my god, they all have MySpace pages

There's been a lot of really good stuff on TV lately: 24, 30 Rock, Big Day, Rome, the new cruelty-enhanced season of American Idol. People are finally fighting on Heroes. This season's Real World cast is pretty much completely insane. Lost is coming back soon. A whole lot of people I sort of know from Baltimore are on Ace of Cakes now, which is really weird and exhilarating to see. I like all those shows, but there's only one show on right now that makes me do the thing where I look at the clock on the side of the TV and get all panicked when the show is about to end, and that's The White Rapper Show. I didn't really see this coming. I expected to like the show, especially since the ego trip people were involved, but the show always seemed like a cheap-but-entertaining joke, an excuse to throw a bunch of human cartoons on TV so we could all point at them and laugh. Almost despite itself, though, The White Rapper Show has somehow become the most engrossing thing on TV. It's only three episodes in, and I'm already wondering if VH1 will bring it back for another season.

After the first episode, it looked like the show was going to be a shrill freakshow, a parade of deluded attention-seekers with no idea of how ridiculous they all looked. I can't imagine too many people think they'll ever manage to use a jokey reality show to launch an actual rap career, so all the show's contestants looked like clueless chumps. But over the last couple of episodes, most of the characters have evolved into actual people. There was a moment last night when Sullee, my favorite guy on the show, bitched that the show started out as a straight-up MC contest but that it'd turned into a demeaning joke. Sullee was mostly just mad that he had to do laundry for some of the other cast-members. The show was always a demeaning joke, and I think Sullee probably knew that from the day he walked into casting and saw the parade of goofs with whom he'd be sharing screen-time. The really great thing about the show is that all the contestants seem to realize that it's all a big joke but that they all still really want to succeed. And because the show's producers keep sticking the contestants in excruciatingly embarrassing situations, we end up developing sympathy for them anyway. The show's most outwardly ridiculous contestant is the constant self-promoter John Brown, who's always spouting nonsense catchphrases, saying that he's the king of the burbs and that he's launching a ghetto revival, whatever that means. (And those catchphrases actually seem to be catching on; I heard at least ten different people at last week's Sean Price show say "king of the burbs" or "ghetto revival.") This week, Brand Nubian's Lord Jamar got all pissy at Brown about the ghetto revival thing, and all Brown could do was plaintively mumble "Hallelujah holla back" a bunch of times. He really seemed hurt, and I actually felt sorry for him.

As the show goes on, most of the really irritating contestants are being weeded out early. By now, most of the people on the show can actually sort of rap, and not too many of them are outright repulsive. (I really hope Jus Rhyme, the earnest political guy, is the next to go; he bugs the shit out of me.) It's hard to watch people endure all these indignities without getting to like them at least a little bit. The embarrassing setups are mostly genuinely funny, and the show is jammed full of rap-nerd touchstones (Grandmaster Caz! Serch getting to talk shit about Vanilla Ice again! Just Blaze next week!). But the real appeal is in watching a group of people, some of whom are actually talented, surviving all the trials that the ego trip people can think to throw at them.

I can't help but to continually compare the show to I'm From Rolling Stone, which is still pretty entertaining but which makes the mistake of treating its contestants' trials with total seriousness. The people on I'm From Rolling Stone don't really face any massive struggles besides having to do rewrites, and so they come across as being bitchy and self-obsessed. As Tad Friend pointed out in his New Yorker piece, those contestants don't really seem to give two shits whether they'll win the contest or not; they're competing for TV time, not writing jobs. All the people on The White Rapper Show actually want to be taken seriously on some level. They don't stand a chance, but they're still trying anyway, and there's something heroic about that.

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