No gas face
I don’t care who wins the final contest on The (White) Rapper Show. Actually, that’s not true; I really want Shamrock to win since he’s the only one of the show’s ten rappers who’s been rapping well with any sort of consistency and because he seems like a pretty nice guy. But I’m not really looking forward to seeing whether Shamrock can defeat John Brown and win the thing, mostly because that final contest will mean the season is over and I won’t have shit to look forward to anymore. With reality shows like this one, the destination is way more important than the journey. Once an American Idol season ends, for instance, all the show’s contestants have a roughly equal chance of becoming stars; it doesn’t particularly matter who wins the thing. The contest itself is what defines its contestants; once all that’s over, they’re just not as interesting. Whether or not Shamrock wins the hundred thousand dollars up for grabs, eight days from now he’ll just be that one Southern rapper with the weird-looking face who was on that one show that one time. He may or may not actually become famous, but winning the show won’t affect his chances in any appreciable way. Case in point: Sullee, who quit the show a couple of weeks ago, already has a distribution deal with Warner, and his album has a release date, so it might even come out at some point. Teddy Riley and Slash are both supposedly working on the album; if this was 1991, Sullee would be Michael Jackson. “What ‘Cha Tryin’ 2 Do,” the single on Sullee’s MySpace page, has a decent fake-Swizz Beatz track and a Joe Budden verse, and it proves that Sullee can be a serviceable enough club-rapper. But none of the tracks on that MySpace page make Sullee out to be anywhere near as intriguing a figure as the Sullee from The (White) Rapper Show, the conflicted choke artist who came closer to the breaking point every week even as he constantly outshone most of the rappers around him.
MC Serch, the show’s host, cut a pretty ridiculous figure as the show was starting, since he seemed to be the only person involved who took it the least bit seriously. The show was almost certainly pitched as an elaborate running joke even if it wasn’t conceived that way, and the show’s producers didn’t miss a lot of early opportunities to make fun of the contestants. As the show has continued on, though, everyone involved seems to have developed a certain affection for both the contestants and the competition. The rappers have to go through goofy challenges all the time, but those challenges, more and more, are being presented in ways that reveal the rappers’ characters, not as cheap jokes. When the rappers all went on Hot 97 and Miss Jones talked a lot of shit at them last week, they didn’t really look any worse for it; the show just made Miss Jones look like an asshole. When Persia had to go to the hospital last week after doing a couple of minutes of mild outdoor exercise, the show didn’t even make any obvious jokes at her expense. On last night’s episode, the remaining rappers went to Detroit to meet the Insane Clown Posse and Kid Rock, both of whom are widely (and, in ICP’s case, justifiably) reviled, at least in rap circles. But the show didn’t even bother to mock either of them; instead, it held them up as viable career-models for white rappers who might face an uphill battle gaining respect within mainstream rap. It wouldn’t be quite right to say that the show has become a generic rap competition whose competitors all happen to be white, but its perspective has moved toward treating its contestants’ condition with serious interest, and it’s actually pushed them to improve as rappers. When half the contestants made a video full of empty visual cliches, they faced serious consequences, and Serch has been pretty good about giving his charges valuable pointers. That video-challenge episode was, by far, the series’ high point thus far, what with Sullee’s crippling inner crisis and Bushwick Bill’s serenely generous cameo. Maybe the most interesting thing about that episode was the sudden metamorphosis of Jon Boy, who’d previously been the most quiet and reserved contestant but who suddenly became an egotistical fuckhead. On a clothes-buying field-trip to a Queens mall, he started signing autographs and launched into a ridiculous impromptu performance, and then he carried himself like King Shit at the video-shoot. To the show’s credit, it kicked him off as soon as he started acting like God’s gift to anything. And that’s part of the show’s beauty; it gives its contestants chances to develop on their own, and it only gets rid of them when they reveal too many of their own weaknesses. It does them the honor of taking them seriously.
That’s not to say the show isn’t funny; it is. On last night’s episode, Serch kept referring to Detroit as “the Mecca of white hip-hop,” like white hip-hop was a scene or a genre or something. During the battle segment, it showed Jus Rhyme making the inexplicable and hilarious decision to attack his opponent by constantly calling him a snitch or a narc; I guess Jus Rhyme really hates cops. It also showed Jus Rhyme, the embarrassingly sincere ethnic-studies grad-student, finally saying, “That’s what Jus Rhyme does. I just rhyme.” I’ve been waiting for him to say that since the show started; as catchphrases go, it’s at least as funny as “Hallelujah holla back.” On last night’s episode, Jus Rhyme decided to give up his PhD fellowship to pursue his rap career maybe a day or two before he got sent home. The show made it clear that this wasn’t a wise choice, but it didn’t dwell too cruelly on it. The show works, in part, because it lets the laughs come without forcing them. And, as Brandon Soderberg points out, it also finds oblique, indirect ways to include criticisms of rap culture beyond the show, like when Serch gets a chance to go off on rap’s current no-snitching fixation.
Now that it’s down to two contestants, the show’s not as fiercely interesting or complicated as it once was. All the tensions and conflicts among all the rappers have come down to a simplistic little opposition: Shamrock, the warm and open-hearted Southern kid, against John Brown, the cold and calculating suburban businessman. Still, I’m expecting a lot of that last episode, Fat Joe’s participation notwithstanding. I’m just not looking forward to it, since it’ll mean the season is over. If VH-1 doesn’t bring it back for another season, I might have to start an online petition or some shit.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 20, 2007