It’s been nearly a decade since American Idol burst into our collective consciousness, infecting the bulk of the country with ‘Idol fever’ and the music industry with ready-made stars who themselves have sold more than 47 million albums in the States alone as of January of last year.
Of course the show’s success has led to the creation of tons of Idol-like contests from outright rip-offs to the dance shows like Dancing With The Stars and America’s Best Dance Crew, all allowing viewers to have a say-so in the process.
The Doggfather told NBC New York he thinks the natural next step is to create a show “straight directed to the hood” that would feature undiscovered and unpolished hip-hop acts battling it out for a record deal.
Far from an original idea but interesting.
We have seen hip-hop take stabs at this sort of thing before. Diddy’s Making the Band 3 was successful in finding, developing and releasing a rap group, Da Band. Ego Trip’s The (White) Rapper Show attempted to find the best white emcee around and later would search for the best female rapper on Miss Rap Supreme.
So where did hip-hop shows go wrong?
A couple of places actually. The (White) Rapper Show and Miss Rap Supreme were both extremely niche. Let’s face it, how many dope female rappers have you heard since days of Lil’ Kim, Eve, Missy Elliott and others? Nicki Minaj seems to be the only one prospering. Not to say they don’t exist (I could actually point you in the direction of a few) but there isn’t a groundswell of people yearning for it either.
The same goes for white emcees. There are more now than ever, which is pretty laudable for hip hop and it’s beginning not to matter that guys like Asher Roth and Mac Miller, who are already climbing out of Eminem’s large shadow, aren’t being boxed into one group or another just because of their race.
Say the show ends up being essentially a freestyle battle, we’ve also seen this go wrong. Whether it’s 106 & Park contestants being disqualified for freestyles that were ‘too good’ to be on the spot or the same during the VH1 shows, unless their lines were previously recorded or released, someone may be able to pull the wool over all of our eyes.
That said, none of those flaws is enough to instantly dead the idea of another hip hop slanted competition working on air. What has to be determined is where it fits exactly.
Reality television isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon but the window of opportunity for new shows based on the Idol formula may be closing.
VH1 seems to have moved on from its music centric programming in favor of other ‘celebreality’ while MTV seems to be focused on squeezing what’s left out of the Real World, teenage moms and some surprisingly funny original programming. BET’s reality crop is hardly triggering national attention. What channel would it even come on?
Then there’s the matter of just how subjective hip-hop is. The divide between what speaks to one person and not another is so deep.
It’s geographical, socioeconomic, age biased, hell, even recreational drug biased, all of which could cause some serious issues.
Most battle rappers can’t make a radio hit. Some rappers can’t freestyle. It’s not a scenario like Idol where if you can sing, it’ll shine through no matter what you’re singing. You’re not going to trot out some rapper from Texas and judge him on how well he covers Biggie, Pun or Pac.
The most important question to me is who’s going to care?
I know the same could’ve been asked during the planning meetings for the any of the ‘Wives’ shows killing hours of programming now but seriously, what part of mainstream America is going to be interested in watching essentially a national open mic night? At least Making the Band had fights and was undeniably entertaining.
Historically, hip-hop hasn’t been a get rich quick sort of venture, which a season on a TV show sort is. Even for one hit wonders there’s some sort of toil. It’s almost as if rappers need that initial rejection of having their flyers thrown in the trash or mixtapes thrown on the ground to build the tough skin it’ll take to flourish. They sell many aspiring artists on the overnight success when in actuality it’s far less frequent.
Could a hip-hop version of American Idol work? Absolutely. Hip-hop’s international appeal is unquestionable and if people will watch cake, dance, karaoke and weight loss competitions, a prime-time rap battle every week couldn’t hurt.
If it is ever green lit, some careful planning should go into making sure the show does not antagonize or caricature the community. The last thing we need is another 12 people to annually set the race back for all the world to see.