The Rap Game UK, Redefining Reality TV
Words: Anny Ma
The Rap Game UK is a breath of fresh air in the crowded talent show genre, prioritising talent and growth over dramatic tropes and shock value - highlighting much of the integrity missing across competitive reality television.
The modern music talent show has seen a few waves of innovation but generally rests on recycled formulas to deliver acceptable and mildly enjoyable content. While these shows might rate, they’re not maximising their potential to create artists with career longevity, which is usually the contestants’ ‘ultimate dream’.
Music shows often overlook the opportunities they have with rappers by treating them the same as other contestants, which simultaneously ignores their value while flattening them and sending them to the periphery. The shows aren’t designed for them to succeed, as history tells us they want to deliver a mainstream artist, i.e. a pop star.
The Rap Game UK rightly positions rap as a standalone genre to be respected and taken seriously, and sets this tone through having DJ Target and Krept & Konan front it. The three hosts aren’t just household names, but they’re also cultural pillars in the UK rap scene with strategic business minds that have helped cement their status. I’ve been a fan of DJ Target and Krept & Konan for many years and when I saw they were fronting a show on the UK rap industry, I was gassed, to say the least.
I was really overcome in Episode 3, when Krept told the artists: “I want you lot to pen 32 bars about someone who means something to you. I want you to dedicate a track to them, and just let everything off your chest”. The challenge was set with reference to his cousin Cadet’s passing, and the track ‘Last Letter to Cadet’, eliciting tears from me for the rest of the emotionally charged episode as the artists recounted and shared their pain too.
It was refreshing to see the softer sides of the artists this challenge brought out, but it was more important to see the way the conversation on mental health was approached. Hearing Krept say “Music is seen as our therapy, and how we get things off our chest” just felt so poignant, and I hope it helps in the destigmatising of mental health conversations to encourage both reaching out to give and receive support.
I feel with mentor-style music shows, there are usually background TV producers and other industry types doing the one-to-one work to prepare the contestants to perform. While watching the growth in comfort and openness between The Rap Game UK contestants and the hosts as the weeks went on, it was clear this was not the case. These genuine relationships meant the hosts were delivering constructive and tailored feedback that accounted for the artist’s wider context as well as their challenge delivery - all with the aim of getting the artist to be record label ready.
In addition to treating the contestants respectfully, The Rap Game UK made me feel respected as a viewer as well. The content wasn’t overly simplified to broaden the appeal, or centred on fabricated drama to create entertainment. The show focussed on the challenges and getting to know the artists, which didn’t require dramatic pieces to camera playing “he-said-she-said”. Every minute of the show was genuinely compelling, and instead of having the show play in the background, I would fully focus on the show for the entire hour.
The Rap Game UK touched on many more social issues through a sensitive and kind lens, never sensationalising or dehumanising the stories for the viewers. Conversations around contestant Chade’s homelessness - something which causes one death in the UK every 19 hours, and the deaths of contestants Lady Ice and Ransom’s loved ones were respectful and well-delivered, which is refreshing in times where poverty/trauma porn is often thoughtlessly rolled out.
We live in an era where everybody is obsessed with good content, but not everybody is producing good content. The Rap Game UK, in my opinion, is the most premium music television content to grace our screens this season, simultaneously setting and raising the bar with every episode. This is something I desperately want to see more of, and I hope BBC Three will provide.
You can watch the Rap Game UK on BBC iPlayer now.
Words: Anny Ma
Photography: Vicky Grout