Last night, Netflix crowned the first king of its debut music talent contest. The first winner of Rhythm + Flow, which aims to find the best up and coming emcees, is 33-year-old Inglewood rapper D Smoke. He wins $250,000 and the chance to play at Spotify’s RapCaviar Live concert in Minneapolis. It’s testament to the series that the final result hasn’t been the only thing driving fans to tune in. The humour, sense of camaraderie and overall quality of performance has transformed what could have been a dull watch into one of the best shows on TV. One tellyheads and music fans can enjoy together. Here’s how Netflix pulled off the impossible and breathed new life into a previously dead format – the televised talent contest.
They chose culturally relevant judges
At launch, The X Factor judging panel consisted of Louis Walsh (Boyzone, Westlife), Sharon Osbourne (manager of perma-zonked rocker husband Ozzy) and Simon Cowell (pre-One Direction). Likewise, when The Voice started out they had Tom Jones (snore) and will.i.am alongside Jessie J and some sad lad off The Script. The point is, few of these could have claimed to rest their pudgy digits on the pulse of global culture.
Rhythm + Flow, however, boasts a 26-year-old triple Grammy winner (Chance the Rapper), the only female rapper to attain multiple number one songs on the US chart (Cardi B) and one of the industry’s most recognisable hip hop moguls (T.I., also a three-time Grammy winner). There’s not really an argument to be had here. R+F’s trio are rap royalty and their opinion means something. What Louis Walsh thinks about some 14-year-old’s squeaky James Blunt cover doesn’t.
They ditched the ‘shame porn’
One of the worst bits about UK talent contests – and scarily, the most popular – is the bad auditions section. Stuffed with delusional teens and bored grannies, the mid-episode ‘shame porn’ montage invites viewers to have a good old laugh at the country’s most pathetic suckers. Inevitably there’s tears and tantrums, while the judges do their best to make fun of vulnerable people. As we saw this summer with the cancellation of The Jeremy Kyle Show, public ridiculation leads to mental illness, not laughter.
Conversely, one of the best bits about Rhythm + Flow is the high level of quality throughout. There aren’t many dud performances – and when they do pop up, Chance & co. give constructive, kind feedback. If you’re a real hip hop fan, you won’t be put off by any reality show nonsense. The same cannot be said of any other competition-based show.
They mixed up the format
When Netflix announced, it was hard to see how Rhythm + Flow could work. Part of the appeal of an episode-based talent contest is the journey. Following each contestant, week by week, as they edge closer to the ultimate prize. Contrarily, R+F was to drop in three multi-episode stages (the auditions, judges’ hometowns, the final shows). Weirdly, this approach kind of worked. In keeping with younger fans’ preference for binge-watching, the tactic also helped to build suspense for the next batch of telly. It was the best of both worlds – and we didn’t have to sit through any of that phone line nonsense with Dermot O’fucking’Leary.
They got Snoop Dogg
Hip hop is known for its bonkers collaborations – and they don’t get any starrier than Rhythm + Flow‘s excellent guest judge list. Killer Mike, Anderson .Paak, Fat Joe and a posthumous appearance from Nipsey Hussle were all welcome additions to the fray, adding fresh takes and new vibes. For a TV fan used to seeing Sinita sashay her way onto screen at Simon Cowell’s beachside villa, it made for a welcome change. Of course, none of the above can take the crown for most incendiary cameo. That honour belongs to Snoop Dogg. “This ain’t The Voice motherfuckers,” proclaimed the man formerly known as Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., before unloading zinger after zinger on a hysterical audience, massive spliff in hand. It’s not technically true to say Snoop’s the best thing in Rhythm + Flow, but it’s not too far from the truth either.
They did what no one else would
Rhythm + Flow is the first major music competition show to focus on hip hop. In a world where rap makes up 22 per cent of all album consumption, that’s unfathomable. How has no large studio put its money behind the most culturally credible genre before? You could argue that racism is to blame. I mean, is it any wonder that the only genre dominated by black communities is the one white-owned production companies are loathe to back financially? Probably not. But with their debut talent contest, Netflix has done what no one else would – and it’s paid off handsomely.
Rhythm + Flow is streaming now on Netflix