Lady Twist got robbed
Miss Rap Supreme ended last night pretty much the same way that The (White) Rapper Show, the ego trip crew’s previous foray into reality TV, ended last year. In a head-to-head song-contest held in some generic club with a cameo from some demented cult-rap figure (R.A. the Rugged Man last year, Kool Keith this year), the relatively calm and unshowy candidate, the one who kept her head down and nailed all her challenges all season, defeated the more commercially-minded drama-addict personality who was lucky to get as far as she did in the first place. And so there’s a sense of final justice there; the ego trip types seem happy to reward their more workmanlike figures even as they depend on their fight-starters for whatever ratings they might get. (Though, to be fair, the second season of Rock of Love ended exactly the same way earlier this year, and if I watched more reality shows, I could probably think of plenty of similar examples of journeyman triumphs.) Last year, it was Shamrock, the really pretty great Atlanta rapper with something weird going on with his lip beating John Brown, the catchphrase-spouting monotoner who I think must live in Park Slope because I keep seeing him on the street. This year, it was Reece Steele, the girl who looked vaguely like a lion and who rapped like a female Freeway (sort of a weird thing to shoot for, but it worked) beating Byata, the white hipstery chick who talked way too much and who I saw lose on 106 & Park‘s Freestyle Friday a few years ago, back when she bleached her hair. That ending was just the last way that Miss Rap Supreme couldn’t quite match up to its predecessor. Last year, there was a real sense of something at stake, and John Brown and Shamrock hated each other at least a little bit. This year, Reece and Byata were totally best friends all season, Reece even sort of playing sidekick to Byata throughout, and I couldn’t, in the end, believe that either of them particularly cared who won.
That’s sort of a circumstantial quibble, and I doubt the producers had a Byata/Reece finale in mind all season. But this year’s show had some real problems, especially considering the general all-around brilliance of The White Rapper Show, still my favorite reality show ever. In retrospect, Miss Rap Supreme peaked with its second episode, the one where Khia, the only contestant who’d managed to make a name for herself, got busted for reciting the fucking horrible hook she’d had on an album that nobody bought. The first episode, where Khia escaped elimination because she was up against some German chick, had been pretty great. But the expression on her face when she got axed early in the second episode made the whole endeavor worthwhile. Khia never should’ve been on the show in the first place, and she was always going to embarrass herself. But seeing her get deposed in the most humiliating manner possible really raised the stakes; it looked like these contestants were in for a rough time. It never came.
And that’s what was missed the worst this season: the humiliation factor. The (White) Rapper Show treated its contestants like freaks and forced them to compete in all sorts of demeaning challenges. And we got to know and like the contestants by seeing them go through the worst crap the ego trip people could think of. The show also made a big point of teaching rap history to its contestants, which was good because it meant Grandmaster Caz got VH1 screen-time and we got to see Jus Rhyme krumping. The producers were probably understandably a whole lot more hesitant to humiliate their female contestants or to teach them the sorts of pedantic history lessons that would imply that they didn’t already know this stuff, but that worked against the show. The contests were mostly boring fluff: doing rap-makeover Shakespeare recitations, shooting at gun-range targets that represented low self-esteem, silly bullshit like that. And since the only real drama involved the boring, shrill, inexplicable season-long beef between Byata and Cheeba (“You’re the devil!“: repeat at least three times per episode), there wasn’t a whole lot else to fill up the hour before the eliminations.
There were other problems, too, most of which only really become problems with the inevitable comparisons to The (White) Rapper Show. Possibly because the show was staged in L.A. rather than New York, the quality of special surprise guests was a whole lot lower: Soulja Boy and Will.I.Am instead of N.O.R.E. and Bushwick Bill? Seriously? And the guests who did show up didn’t really do anything; they just said stuff like, “Um, be yourself” and then listened to the girls rap. And both seasons had a sort of basic issue that didn’t start grating on me until this year: the eliminations. Contestants up for elimination get an hour to write a verse, which they then deliver a cappella. But an hour, it turns out, really isn’t enough time to properly commit something to memory, and so we always get these excruciating shots of contestants getting lost and stammering and trying to remember their lyrics. This might make compelling TV once. When it happens every week, it gets old.
I basically liked Miss Rap Supreme. The show had a whole lot of fun moments: the music-video challenge, the Too Short battle, the random absurdist visual jokes constantly sprinkled throughout, the vaguely interesting reality that at least a couple of the contestants were quietly but openly gay, the masterful handling of the whole Khia situation. And every once in a while, it could be quietly moving, like when Reece and Nikki 2States had to rap about their absentee fathers. It’s definitely been one of the best things on TV for the last few months. But I had astronomical hopes for the show, and it never quite measured up. I’m guessing the ratings weren’t too great, either, given how often VH1 switched its time-slots around. (If it weren’t for DVR, I never would’ve been able to catch every episode.) Mostly, I just hope the ego trip people get another shot at doing one of these reality shows. I know they can do better.