You are now entering the Twilight Zone
Here’s a fun mental experiment: watch tonight’s episode of Celebrity Rap Superstar, the MTV show where actual rappers coach semi-obscure celebs on how to rap on live TV, and imagine me on the judges’ panel. It could’ve happened. Maybe it was never anything more than a remote possibility; I’ll probably never know. Last month, someone at MTV emailed me and asked if I’d be willing to come into the Times Square office and talk about a possible on-camera role on this show, which they were calling Rapping With the Stars at the time. And so I went in and sat for what amounted to an on-camera job interview. In the office lobby, I walked past Ashton Kutcher. During the interview, a couple of disarmingly affable and normal people asked me a bunch of questions on what kind of rap I liked, whether I’d be comfortable with live TV, whether I thought it possible that a bunch of non-rapping celebrities might be able to become convincing rappers. Apparently, someone involved in the show’s production had read my stuff and thought I might make a good Simon Cowell-type asshole judge. For a minute there, I got all excited about the possibility, even though the entire concept of the show seemed totally ridiculous. I figured this would be something I could tell my grandchildren about, and I liked the idea of being semi-famous for being a dick. I also liked the idea of flying out once a week to LA, a place where I’ve never been, to film the thing. Well, it didn’t happen. The show is already on, and the three judges are all exponentially more famous and credible than me: DMC, Da Brat, and the LA radio DJ Big Boy, who I sort of recognized because he’s been on Entourage once or twice.
They probably made the right call in not bringing me in. I literally can’t imagine what I would’ve done on that show. Last week, I tried to visualize myself sitting behind the table, delivering pithy sound-bite verdicts and participating in the whole circus of it. I couldn’t do it. It just didn’t make sense. Picking one contestant who’d be safe from elimination next week? Bantering with the unbelievably obnoxious Chris Tucker-esque host? Being in any way physically present for the awful, mesmerizing spectacle of Perez Hilton awkwardly but enthusiastically yelping out his rendition of “Right Thurr,” let alone saying stuff like, “Perez Hilton, the hip-hop Oompa Loompa, is in the house”? No. Just no. Celebrity Rap Superstar exists in the same telegenic California parallel universe as most reality shows. Some reality shows gain momentum from the friction that comes from putting recognizable human beings into this universe and watching how they react. Consider, for example, The Pick Up Artist, in which some guy who looks like Perry Farrell teaches a bunch of self-conscious dorks to become sleazebags. But all the contestants on Celebrity Rap Superstar already come from the remote, mysterious world of semi-fame; they’re as untouchable as their rapper coaches and judges. Can you picture yourself playing an active role in that? I can’t, even if I almost did.
The show actually did a shockingly good job rounding up a group of credible rapper coaches. There are a few attention-starved has-beens in the mix (Tone Loc, Bizarre from D12), but more of them are actual great rappers who you wouldn’t think would go in for this sort of thing: Too Short, Redman, Bubba Sparxxx. Some of them are also more famous than the would-be celebrities they’re coaching: Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite, some guy from Laguna Beach, etc. As glad as I am to see some honest-to-God good rappers on this show, there’s also something sad about it. Kurupt should have better things to do than helping Sebastian Bach perfect his version of “Mama Said Knock You Out,” you know? And I swear I’m not saying this out of bitterness, but the show could seriously use a Cowell figure; all the judges are polite to a fault, and only Brat seems to take any pleasure whatsoever in bashing the especially shitty contestants. Still, rendering any sort of critical judgment on this show seems preposterous. It’s just another part of MTV’s numbing arsenal, a readymade guilty pleasure, bereft by design of redeeming social value. If I’d ended up a judge, I wouldn’t have been able to convince myself that I’m not part of the problem. So yeah, sour grapes.