Time to drop the bomb and make the devil pay the piper
John Brown + Persia + G-Child
February 26, 2007
There were plenty of things to love about the first and hopefully not last season of ego trip’s The (White) Rapper Show: the incisive-but-not-preachy commentary on rap culture and the role that whiteness plays in it, the constant parade of half-forgotten rap luminaries, the jokes that hit their marks more often than not. But the show’s greatest strength was both more mundane and important enough to dwarf all the others: it took a fairly uninteresting group of cannon-fodder jokers and, through sheer ingenuity, turned them into a compelling cast of characters. By bombarding its cast with humiliating challenge after humiliating challenge, the show revealed hidden depths in its often-cartoonish cast-members and made them a whole lot more interesting than they would’ve otherwise been. That’s what pretty much every reality TV show tries to do, and the success of The (White) Rapper Show throws the failures of so many other reality shows into stark relief, especially when you consider that this show is the brain-child of a group of music-writers with precious little previous TV experience. I’m sad to see the season come to an end, and I hope the ego trip people find success in their campaign to convince VH1 to spring for another season. But last night’s finale party at Southpaw felt almost like a eulogy for the show’s characters. Three of the show’s rappers performed last night, and it was pretty amazing how boring all of them were without the show’s struggles defining them anymore. On the show, all of them were rich and complex characters with their own strengths and weaknesses and motivations. Onstage last night, they were three random-ass rappers who weren’t particularly good at rapping.
The finale party still made for a fun night out, mostly for the novelty of standing in a club with a bunch of other people, all voracious fans of this one TV show, and watching the last episode. There was a weird culty Rocky Horror thing going on: people parroting MC Serch’s catchphrases back at the screen, hooting derisively when John Brown’s tight-shirted hipster friend showed up, cheering triumphantly when Shamrock won. The ego trip people (or at least Sacha Jenkins) can be as funny in person as they are on the page or on TV. Serch did a great job holding the evening together, especially considering the vast swaths of time he had to fill between the rappers’ short performances. He’s an entertainer, so he entertained: telling old rap war-stories, pulling out his verses from “The Gas Face” and “Steppin’ to the A.M.,” and doing a couple of long freestyles that absolutely destroyed anything that the show’s actual competitors did on the same stage. At one point, he told the crowd, in rhyme, to clear out of the area near the door. At another, he interrupted a freestyle over the “All for One” beat to let Lord Jamar run through his verse from the song, and then he just continued on like nothing had happened. (Unfortunately, I haven’t heard whether Jamar saw John Brown backstage and bitched him out again.) Serch has a bad habit of laughing at his own jokes, but that’s about the worst thing I can say about him; if any of the other rappers exhibited anything close to his charm and charisma, they might’ve become something more than reality-TV footnotes.
In a way, G-Child, the tiny redneck punk chick from Pennsylvania, turned in a better performance than Persia or John Brown; unlike them, she was fired-up and almost painfully determined. As a rapper, she’s just awful. She’s got this unrelenting snarl-bark, and she seems totally incapable of showing any hint of nuance or emotion beyond cliched get-out-of-my-room-mom anger. As she showed on the TV show, she also has no confidence or self-awareness whatsoever, and she proudly announced from the stage that she’d be opening up for her idol, Vanilla Ice, next month in Allentown. She also did a breakup song that I can’t imagine will ever make anyone regret breaking up with G-Child. But that unapologetic awkwardness at least made for an endearing spectacle, and it wasn’t like the show ever tried to convince us that she’d be anything other than a terrible rapper, so I got seriously pissed when people in the audience started booing her. When she turned the mic over to random-ass freestyle-rappers in the crowd after her quick set, it’s not like any of them did any better than her. If anything, she proved that virtually no one can rap, regardless of race.
The show actually did do a pretty good job convincing us that Persia, despite her constant breakdowns and her inability to do six minutes of semi-strenuous outdoor exercise without going to the damn hospital, was actually a credible rapper with potential, but Persia herself didn’t do much to prove that last night. She rapped over a prerecorded vocal track and told the crowd before every song that we knew the song even though we totally didn’t. She called her upcoming album a “2007 female Illmatic,” which, I mean, come on. Maybe Persia will do something good someday, but it’s tough to see that happening without the context of the show there to define her. Her one great moment was also the one time she made explicit reference to another contestant: “Next time you see my dildo, it’s gonna be inside you / Persia’s the real ghetto revival,” which was doubly impressive considering that John Brown was presumably in the building to hear her say that. John Brown cultivated this persona on the show as a scheming, calculating businessman; he had a whole lot of people convinced that he was actually going to win the thing despite not being half the rapper that eventual winner Shamrock was. (Seriously, that “Car Wars” song from the finale might’ve impressed a few people, but Shamrock’s white-guilt verse from a few weeks back was way more incisive and powerful.) So it was a bit of a shock to see John Brown coming off onstage like every other halfassed sub-mixtape MySpace rapper that I’ve ever seen in this city. Brown came onstage with three or four members of his Ghetto Revival crew, a group of unbelievably shitty rappers who yelled over all his lines. I left after a couple of songs; it just got to be too much to handle. The show did a great job of creating a good-guy/bad-guy dynamic between Shamrock and John Brown, but Brown didn’t look like much of a villain last night. He just looked like a chump. (Also, G-Child brought her own DJ, but J-Zone served as DJ for both Persia and John Brown, and neither of them ever acknowledged him; it was just weird.) So ego trip’s The White Rapper Show made for a great reality-TV show on reality-TV’s own terms: it took a bunch of otherwise uninteresting people and made them interesting. If a single rapper from the show goes on to lead a halfway respectable career, I’ll be shocked.