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Deeper Than a Netflix Show: How Rhythm + Flow Combats Systematic Racism

Cardi B, T.I. and my personal favourite, Chance the Rapper, are the main panel of judges on Netflix’s new music contest, Rhythm + Flow. 

If anyone knows me at all, they know I’m a huge hip hop/trap/R&B junkie. Whatever label you want to put on the genre, it’s my thing. I love legends like Tupac, Biggie, Nipsey Hussle, T.I., Drake, Snoop Dogg, Wale, Lil Wayne, Future and so many more timeless talents, and up and coming stars like Lil Baby, Gunna, Summer Walker, Ella Mai, Jaden Smith and now D Smoke, the 2019 winner of Rhythm and Flow. 

Although one of my biggest pet peeves about the hip hop industry, is when people refuse to acknowledge that artists within this genre are actually very talented and that not everyone can do what they do. 

I will not deny that, yes, rap music is considered mainstream. Lots of people, especially the younger Millennials and Gen Z-ers, like it. That does not make it any less valuable than any other genre – that’s what I think the world needs to understand. Just because hip hop music is popular doesn’t mean it isn’t good or that just about anyone can create it well. 

As for Rhythm + Flow, the show begins with auditions that take place in all the Hip Hop and Rap hubs of the United States, like LA, New York, Chicago and Atlanta. To anyone not familiar with the importance of these four places to rap music, the first four episodes would thoroughly educate them on the ins and outs of the individual rap scenes of these places. 

For everyone who isn’t familiar, here’s a rundown of the four locations, their styles and their musical legends:

California

They started off in LA with hard west coast rap. It’s a very gritty style of rapping. A lot of West Coast rapping revolves around how hard it is growing up in the streets where drugs, gang violence and corruption reign supreme. 

The LA auditions feature a couple of California legends, including the godfather of Californian hip hop, Snoop Dogg, the late legend, Nipsey Hussle and singer, songwriter, Anderson .Paak. 

New York 

The second episode sends Bronx native Cardi B to New York, the birthplace of hip hop, to find the next star from her home state. The East Coast rapping style is very different from the West Coast, as East Coast rap is very lyrical and complex. The bars are very intricate and make you think. In the words of the Cardi B herself, “We just have this cocky style when we rap … We’re very aggressive.” The episode brought out New York icons, Fat Joe and Jadakiss. 

Atlanta

The third episode features Atlanta boy himself, Tip (T.I.) on the streets, searching for the next star among his own. Atlanta is the birthplace of trap music and what T.I. calls “the new Mecca of hip hop.” The Atlanta trap scene stays true to the south, where the music revolves heavily around low 808s

In this episode Tip brought out one of the biggest names in hip hop right now, Quavo from the ever famous trio, Migos and also Big Boi, from the legendary group Outkast. 

Chicago

The final set of auditions took place in Chicago, home of Chance the Rapper, one of the greatest talents the hip hop world has seen. The immensely diverse Chicago rap scene has created greats like Kanye West and Chief Keef. 

Chance says believes the rampaging poverty in Chicago is what fuels the beautiful art that comes out of it. Chicago bleeds creative energy and truly allows its people to express themselves through art. Chance brings out Twista, Lupe Fiasco and Royce Da 5’9, in this episode, three of Chicago’s greatest. 

All these places are so diverse and different but what they do have in common?

They struggle; their populations are largely made up of racialized minorities and their love for music. 

Although there are amazing white rappers like Mac Miller, the hip hop and trap genres were pioneered by racialized minorities. Hip Hop originated in New York City in the late 1970s, almost entirely by African American and Latino teenagers. These teenagers came from impoverished neighborhoods like the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. To this day these neighborhoods are some of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in New York. With many of the residents living well below the poverty line, gang violence and struggle is rampant to this very day. 

Despite the struggle, the people rose up and created a beautiful form of art to show the world their story. This was not limited to music but also portrayed through art, in the form of graffiti and dance. In a world often dominated by white people, people of colour finally had something to call their own. 

The show went on to showcase some of the oldest hip hop traditions in the form of challenges. Things like cyphers and battle rap are showcased to the world, bringing to light the true culture of hip hop. This proves that the musical genre goes deeper than rapping about money, girls and guns. This segment of the show was one of my personal favourites because it really brought to light how culturally rich the hip hop world is. 

It is worth mentioning that the show didn’t try to profit off shame porn like many of its competitors do. Shows like X-Factor, The Voice and the various Got Talent series’ thrive off of ridiculing ‘bad auditions.’ In Rhythm + Flow, we barely see any of the failed auditions, and when we do, they are followed by solid constructive criticism from the judges.

But why did it take this long for someone to put their money into a competition surrounding the most popular and culturally credible genre of music? Why is Rhythm + Flow the first hip hop based competition?

The answer: systematic racism. This genre is one of the few that is predominantly made up of minorities and racialized groups. In our world, people of colour need to be twice as good as white people to even try to be taken seriously, and the music industry is no stranger to that. 

The world is not willing to see the amazing art this community has to offer because it refuses to see past their skin colour. It has become a paradox in a sense – the highly successful hip hop industry is a multi-billion dollar one yet it still has to fight to be taken seriously by everyone else. 

Through the release of Rhythm + Flow, we can see the world is moving in a more accepting direction. Bar by bar, we’re collectively pushing down every single barrier the world has put up for this industry.

Disclaimer: I do not mean to discredit, slander or speak down on any white rappers and their struggles. White rappers face a lot of the same struggles as any other rapper. Legends like Mac Miller have been huge players in the fight for equality within the industry. It is important to realize that despite their race, white rappers face the same adversity because they are creating within a predominantly radicalized genre of music. The emphasis here is not the race of the individual, but the race of the majority and their collective struggle.

Duaa is a third year journalism student at Ryerson University. Being a lifelong athlete if Duaa isn't on the ice or the basketball court you can probably find her watching hockey. Her main motivation in the field of journalism is to show young girls that they can do anything the next person can do, no matter what the world tells them.
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