Rhythm + Flow: Season 1 – Review (with Spoilers)

Title Card - Rhythm + Flow Season 1, Episode 1 Los Angeles Auditions [Series Premiere]
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Rhythm + Flow, one of Hip-Hop’s first popularized music competitions, may have a few flaws but shows potential.


Network
Netflix
Creator(s) John Legend, Jeff Gaspin, Jesse Collins
Genre(s) Reality TV, Competition
Good If You Like
  • Hip-Hop/ Rap
  • Battle Rap
  • People Trying To Rap As Fast As Twista
  • Urban Hip-Hop
  • Musical Competitions
  • Musicians Writing Their Own Songs and No Covers
Noted Cast Below
Himself Royce Da 5’9”
Himself Cakes Da Killa
Herself Sasha Go Hard
Himself Chance The Rapper
Herself Cardi B
Himself D Smoke
Himself Flawless Real Talk
Herself Londynn B
Himself Yung Water
Himself Sam Be Yourself
Himself King Los
Himself Ariyon
Himself TI “Tip” Harris

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Review

Highlights

Royce Da 5’9” – 90

Royce Da 5'9" talking to chance about what someone is doing on stage.

Royce Da 5’9” should have been a judge on this show beyond the single episode he was in. The reason being, with him, we heard about more than the commercial side of the industry. He wasn’t talking about how you need a hook for social media captions, and even when he was judging weird contestants, he didn’t toss them aside because he was uncomfortable. Royce Da 5’9” recognized a niche, and while he knew this show wasn’t for that niche, at the very least, he didn’t sound dismissive.

On top of that, he spoke made rap and hip-hop seem technical. It wasn’t just the superficial like finding a good beat and having a catchy hook. He’d talk about structure and the poetic end of things, which made Hip-Hop/rap sound like a complicated art form. One that requires you to study, beyond just knowing classic rappers, but understanding the foundation of rap is more than sampling and commercializing your work. It’s about understanding rhyme, what a double entendre is, and almost having a thorough understanding of linguistics.

Which isn’t downplaying Chance and T.I showing how much they value those things, but they never take it as far.

The Fact Everyone Wrote For Themselves – 85

It can not be understated the ability to write your own songs, especially in hip-hop. Unlike singers, who can rely on their voice and aren’t as harshly judged for not writing their own music, if a rapper isn’t an integral part in the creation of a song, they can be looked down upon by purist. Which, considering this show leans more towards being accepted by that audience, you have to appreciate everyone wrote their own songs. Even if you didn’t necessarily like what they wrote.

The Top 4 Made Sense – 84

We started at 30 people, and by the last episode we had four. Some rappers you may recognize like Cakes Da Killa, Sasha Go Hard, amongst others. Yet, between messing up or not going hard enough, you come to understand why they got cut off. Granted, as noted below, if they had a mentor, maybe they would have done better or have gone farther. However, this is a sink or swim kind of show, and while the judges give comments, their comments were as helpful as someone safe, offshore, telling someone stranded at sea a storm is coming.

Low Points

The Judges’ Biases – 65

Yung Water raising up his baby doll head.
Yung Water

Whether we are talking about Chance being goo-goo over anyone who is a Christian, and against anything which seemed slightly out of his comfort zone, to Cardi B constantly wanting someone who had Instagram worthy lyrics, many times you may find yourself rolling your eyes. Plus, there is this constant tug between artistry and being commercial. Even to the point of the judges questioning what white people would or wouldn’t buy, especially during the audition segments. Making the fact the show ended up with 4 good rappers almost seem like sheer luck.

Most Of The Rappers Blended In – 64

But, with that said, none of them are trendsetters or would bring anything new to the rap game. While none of them are mumble rappers with a “Lil’” in their name, and more so are geared towards 00s rap, in that lies the problem. So many of them have a similar sound. For example, up until halfway through the season, it seems everyone was trying to race their way through every verse or song like they had a gun to their head. Also, while we know everyone has gone through something, the amount of time spent reminding us how hard everyone had it, while a staple of music competitions, got overbearing.

Though the biggest issue is that everyone is pretty much into urban hip-hop. Granted, D Smoke put a conscious spin on it, but his elevated raps didn’t take away from everyone sounding like someone else. Flawless Real Talk, per Chance, had a Drake vibe, and I’d say his cypher and battle raps could remind you of Puerto Rican Eminem. Londynn B, spoiling the end part of the season, was talked about more as a commodity than rapper since what she spits might be quality, but it isn’t exceptional.

Flawless Real Talk being interviewed.

And in many ways, this shows really helps you understand what is wrong with Hip-Hop and Rap (if you consider them genres separated by tone). They are genres that only really allow for diversity in hair and clothes. For those who go beyond that? Whose lyrics are different, think Yung Water, who don’t come from an urban and unfortunate background, or who aren’t Black, Caribbean or Latinx, it’s marked against you. Sam Be Yourself is a prime example of that since this show gave the boy a complex about having to prove being white didn’t mean his production skills are to be disregarded.

On The Fence

The Challenges – 75

Can we all be honest for a second, does any rapper really need to be able to do a cypher or battle rap anymore? Does anyone think Cardi B, if she went against any popular rapper, female or otherwise, could really hold her own and not possibly get washed? This isn’t me hating, but really wondering why would you have contestants do what all the judges wouldn’t be able to excel in?

Now, this isn’t to imply I don’t understand the culture and how many rappers showcase themselves and come up, but how many battle rappers have become stars on the level of Cardi B? As in #1 on Billboard Hot 100 as well as the R&B/Hip-Hop chart? Because, isn’t that what they are looking for? Someone who isn’t just big in their genre but a megastar? So what purpose is there for these people doing what might get them respect, but won’t gain them a hit? Is it just about finding ways to fill up a 10 episode season?

Cardi B: This shit is crazy.
Cardi B: This shit is crazy.

To me, considering how many songs the artists have to write, you’d think they would just have them do what they did in the latter half of the season. That is, make music videos, do collaborations, and give people an idea of what an album from them would sound like. On top of, if you paid to see them, what you would be in for. But note, I’m not a purist, so that’s why, while I get the purpose and history of cyphers and battle rap, I also think neither can determine a star.

The Lack Of Mentorship – 70

Perhaps one of the big issues with Rhythm + Flow is that, unlike most musical competitions, there is little to no coaching or mentoring. There is one person, King Los, who does check on the contestants and give pointers, but outside of him, most contestants get shallow critiques that often came on the cusp of them being eliminated.

This created a lopsided competition for you have kids like Ariyon, who aren’t even out of high school, competing with people like D Smoke and Flawless Real Talk, men in their 30s, who have experience either battle rapping, doing cyphers, or making songs. Thus leading you to wonder, what was the point of bringing on amateurs with no experience?

Well, the only answer I can come up with is the judges wanted everyone to pay their dues. Meaning, no one gave them this much of a leg up, so the contestants should be happy just for the exposure. So whether it is 2 days to write a song, come up with choreography, crafting a performance, or come up with a music video in a few days, they should be happy someone is giving them money, a director, and time to do so?

Londynn B not complaining, but noting how hard the competition is.
Londynn B: This competition is extremely hard.

I mean, ultimately, what Rhythm + Flow does is as Netflix does with its unestablished talent: Give them money, whether they are necessarily ready or not, and allow them to succeed or fail with someone else’s money.

What Each Judge Brings To The Table – 74

In the beginning, the fact Chance The Rapper came up as an independent artist, Cardi B through social media, and T.I the old school way made for a good mix. However, in time, you feel their individual paths matter less and less, and all that matters is they know the industry and how to commercialize not just their rhymes but their person. Combine that with them being rather hands-off with the contestants, and while there is enough there to legitimize them as judges, you may feel what they could bring to the table isn’t tapped into as it should.

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Overall: Mixed (Stick Around)

The main issues with Rhythm + Flow is the lack of meaningful mentorship, the show finding a lot of people the industry already has, and the judges blending together as much as the contestants. Leading to us having 3 people who don’t really harness their different paths to stardom but just think commercial appeal. Leading to the hope that, if this gets another season, they switch up the judges and have it where it isn’t just artists. Bring a producer, a DJ, maybe someone who is a record executive who doesn’t operate a vanity label in which they are the only hit artist?

But, despite some qualms, this is a show worth sticking around and finishing. It’s the first of its kind, at least on a major platform with a notable budget, and the contestants do produce the kind of bops which will have you hoping there is a soundtrack out. For the flaws it has aren’t necessarily major, and many of them are only an issue for it goes against the norm of what most musical competitions do. However, considering this show doesn’t do covers, and all the work is original, Rhythm + Flow gives you a much better idea of what you are investing in than any other musical competitions on its level.

 

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