Rhythm + Flow is like American Idol for rappers. It features rags-to-riches stories and talented musicians looking to make it in the music industry.
The premise of the show is very familiar: a rapper goes up and raps in front of the judges. From there the judges decide whether to advance the contestant or send them home. The episodes are divided by location, the show aims to scour America to find rich hip-hop culture and new upcoming rappers. As the show narrows down the contestants, the stakes get higher and the competition gets more vicious. The contestant groups get narrowed down by competing in both group and individual challenges. The prize for winning is hefty: $250,000 along with the guarantee of a song put on Spotify’s Rap Caviar line up.
The judges are Cardi B, Chance The Rapper and T.I. This panel was controversial among rap fans, as Cardi B is relatively new to the rap scene. A substantial amount of her catalogue is singles, especially with features from pop or rap artists, that usually peak on the charts and fall to the wayside quickly after (aside from a couple of tracks that withstood the test of time like “Bodak Yellow”). Her music is catchy, easy to sing along to and she has a Grammy to her name, but is there enough substance in her career to justify her spot on the judging panel of Rhythm + Flow? The producers thought so, but many fans made cracks at the desperation the show must’ve had to give her a judging seat. Despite speculation, her humour and personality bring a certain flair to the show and she represents the women of rap well.
Chance’s seat was also disputed because his rap is, like Cardi B’s, very poppy and modern. The judges do not strike many as pioneers in the rap game, contributing to the hesitations many had about this show. However, the names are easily recognizable today and there are sufficient guest judges to keep the show interesting (like legends Snoop Dogg and the late Nipsey Hussle). Other judges are brought onto the panel depending on what city the episode takes place in, which brings expertise to the show and helps the audience understand how much rap can vary based on location.
The show is heartfelt and explores why the contestants and judges alike love rap music and have dedicated their lives to it. There are touching stories and triumphant journeys which give the show a personal touch — the real life stories of the contestants range from single parents to teens subjected to gang violence. It is hard to not fall in love with the contestants as they are not scripted and are clearly hustling for the chance to make it in the music industry. The commitment to their craft is evident, unlike the cheap drama other contest shows usually exploit for more press and views, giving Rhythm + Flow a certain rawness.
The diversity in this show is admirable, the judges listen to every artist equally, whether they have an ethnic background, are gay or straight, have money or are broke. The judges are rooting for the contestants because they know what it’s like to be struggling in the rap game. Often, the judges give invaluable advice to the artists, whether they are advancing in the competition or not.
A huge asset to this show is the way it honours local rap. Each episode is set up and shot in a local, usually intimate club. For example, while in New York (Cardi B’s hometown) the competition took place in SOB’s, a popular club that even Cardi B had once performed at when she was an up and coming rapper. In the Atlanta episode, T.I. spent time in a barbershop to hear more about the local’s opinion on new rap and listen to a couple of underground rappers looking to break into the mainstream. The show’s attention to detail and commitment to honouring authentic, local talent makes this more genuine than many other popular competition shows.
Rhythm + Flow is a worthwhile watch, it is heartfelt and overall is a well-done show. It gives insight into the competition in the rap scene, along with the triumphs and sometimes the hard reality checks necessary to find the next big rapper.