Friday, January 31, 2020

Bad Rap?

Today I watched Bad Rap, a 2016 crowd-funded "feature documentary about the obstacles and successes of Asian-American rappers."  It starts out with a little history... Yes, they briefly summarize Jin and The Mountain Brothers, but they never even mention Fresh Kid Ice, Lyrics Born, Dragons of Edin, Key Kool or any of those Up Above cats, let alone Hip-Hop artists in Asia who've broken out here like DJ Honda or DJ Krush.  And it would be perfectly fine that their backstory was just so short that they breezed over most of the important figures, but their point was that the two or three artists they did name were all there was, as if they'd just thoroughly covered all there was to know.  So it got my back up that they were skipping over so much.  I mean, say what you want about Fresh Kid Ice, but 2 Live Crew were larger than all the guys they discussed put together.  A history of Asian-American rappers that doesn't seem to have even heard of the world's most famous Asian-American rapper?  Weak.  But you already knew I was gonna get hung up on this part, right?  Really, it's a small matter, because that part of the film turns out to be there only to serve as an introduction.

Because the film quickly devolves into a reality TV-style show where we follow four up and coming unknowns where we're asked to pick who to root for.  They only missed one trick by having them training for an "ultimate rap battle" that squares them off as the climax of the movie.  They get close, though, as we follow one of them through a tedious battle rap tournament that grinds the film to a halt for almost half an hour.  There are a couple interesting, genuine seeming moments, like one rapper struggling to convince models to sexualize themselves in his music video, or another who seems to find more success making cooking videos from his apartment.  There's a section where they show their four rappers to some prominent industry people, like Ebro and Riggs Morales, and they mostly seemed to be sincere and give legit criticism.
What'll make this doc of interest to most people today, though, is that one of those unknowns did break out and become a big celebrity - Awkwafina.  Even though this is only four years old (though I'm guessing most of this was shot at least a couple years earlier), it's already a historical artifact: pre-Crazy Rich Asians, Oceans 8, Comedy Central and all that, where we see just performing in local clubs and starting to get noticed with Youtube videos.  On Netflix, they've changed their thumbnail to a giant close-up of her, even though her role's actually probably a little bit smaller than several of the other unknowns.  But she's really a secondary character, even in terms of screen time, so if you're just a fan only interested in her, you're going to be disappointed.

Overall, the doc's pretty short and seems to end kind of arbitrarily.  I definitely would've been more interested if they just expanded the opening history into a full, rich discussion of the legacy and challenges facing Asian MCs, instead of trying to turn it into another sports-style "pick your favorite" doc.  But even if you dig that kind of thing, it gets meandering and sluggish with low stakes and zero tension.  Had the filmmakers kept rolling until after Awkwafina turned into a pop star and could've included that, they would've had more to work with.  Instead, this is the rise and fall of four aspiring rappers who never really rise or fall.

They also never explain why the film is called "Bad Rap."  It's tempting to make the crack that they're just telling on themselves; but to be fair, I wouldn't say any of these rappers are bad (leaving the jury out on how you feel about Awkwafina's skills, since she's clearly aiming for easy-to-follow joke songs).  I guess they mean it in the sense of Asian rappers consistently getting a bad reputation.  But it doesn't seem like they do?  The movie presents them as being overlooked and ignored, but not exactly treated like hoods or whatever. 

So yeah, Bad Rap is streaming on Netflix.  It's on some other services, too, like Amazon Prime and Youtube, but for a fee.  If you really like the film, it's worth looking into the physical release, since that includes exclusive extras like deleted scenes and extended interview clips.  There are DVD and blu-ray options, though they're both Made On Demand burnt discs, which have shorter shelf lives and have trouble working with certain players.  Still, the blu is definitely the ideal option.  But that's only if you feel like this film is worth it, which I can't say it was for me.

No comments:

Post a Comment