has come a long way since Suge Knight dangled Vanilla Ice over a balcony,
right? While Eminem has had tremendous success, you still would not describe rap
and hip hop as tremendously diverse. Yet, it speaks to many young Asians as a form
of underdog expression. Salima Koroma follows four aspiring Asian rappers in Bad Rap (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
doc commences, Jonathan Park, known professionally as Dumbfoundead is by far
the best known of the quartet. He made his reputation and a sizable following
competing on the Battle Rap scene. However, he has stepped away from the
cutting contests to try solidify his career as a headlining solo performer.
However, it will be Awkwafina, who breaks out, thanks to her satirically
feminist take relationships and sexual politics. Frankly, she seems to be
exactly the sort of fresh voice rap and hip hop desperately need, regardless of
race, ethnicity, or gender.
both Lyricks and Rekstizzy will struggle to find their niche. To some extent,
all four draw support from the diverse Asian American community, but it seems
pretty clear if they want to take it to the next level, they will need to
Bad Rap starts out as a fairly
conventional documentary about rappers trying to make it. Show business is tough,
we all get that. However, the straightforward introduction sets-up Koroma’s
surprisingly edgy second half.
uncomfortable centerpiece squarely focuses on Dumbfoundead’s return to Battle
Rap competition. He is paired up against the popular “Conceited,” who engages
in the most clichéd and offensive brand of Asian racial humor you can imagine.
He stoops to the level of “flied lice” material. In his post-battle reflections,
Dumbfounded admits even he was shocked by the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Conceited’s performance was appallingly racist (that is the only appropriate
word for it), particularly because he knew full well Dumbfoundead could not
respond in kind.
even more eye-opening are the segments in which Koroma films the reactions of
four hip hop experts (journalists, A&R executives) as they watch the four focal
artists’ videos. Their responses reveal as much (or more) about the collective
biases of the industry as they do about the artists under discussion. Yet in
retrospect, they all seem to pick the one who will emerge from the pack.
All four featured rappers are charismatic and likable on-screen. There
ought to be enough room for the four of them in the business, but it remains
far from clear whether they will all indeed make it. Koroma also deserves
credit for her approach. She does not merely follow them around with a camera
and stitch the resulting footage into some kind of arc. She brings the
value-added by forcing the hip hop establishment to take notice of her
subjects. Bad Rap ought to spur some
soul-searching inside the industry, but that might be asking too much. At least
it provides a further platform for the ambitious rappers profiled within.
Highly recommended, Bad Rap screens
again tonight (4/18), Wednesday (4/20), and Saturday (4/23), as part of this
Labels: Awkwafina, Documentary, Dumbfoundead, Tribeca '16