by Carmen Van Kerckhove
VH1 will debut a new reality show in January called “Egotrip Presents the White Rapper Show,” hosted by white rapper MC Serch from the early 90s hip hop group 3rd Bass. From Variety.com:
Contestants will live together in the South Bronx as a series of challenges test their music talent and ability to mesh with black culture. Michael Hirschorn, the net’s exec VP of programming, emphasized that the show would be equal parts culture study and comedy…
Hirschorn was mum on specific situations and obstacles that the competitors will face, saying only that there would be both “creative and cultural trials.” Challenges could include anything from freestyle battles in Harlem’s Rucker Park to selling sno-cones in a hip-hop club.
But some white hip hop heads worry that the show will turn into a mockery of white rappers. (Hat tip to Rafi at Oh Word for the links.) MC Serch has been blogging about the upcoming show on his MySpace page and recently wrote this:
A white rapper cannot be considered a white rapper until he rips in front of a crowd of black people. I am not saying they all have to be black. You can have some spanish, some multi-racial kids mixed in there for flavor, I would even say Asain people. But if you are a white rapper that performs in front of a white crowd then you are not a rapper at all. You are a guy who is simulating what it feels like to rock a crowd.
A white rapper named Sage Francis responded to MC Serch in a long open letter on his own MySpace page, refuting Serch’s points:
If a white rapper cries in front of a black crowd and no one posts it on youtube, is he still emo? If it IS posted on youtube and a black person watches it…does that make him an official rapper? If your group was manufactured by someone who wanted to put two white rappers together and hopefully exploit the race situation…and then someone named Vanilla Ice comes around and gets exploited even BETTER than you…and you beat down a Vanilla Ice impostor in the video to a song that actually makes its way onto commercial charts…are you street? Are you hood? Are you an honorary black person if you co-opt enough black culture? How’s that high top fade doing these days?
It’ll be interesting to see how this show turns out, considering how many tricky issues of cultural appropriation and authenticity are involved. The Egotrip team has done some good shows for VH1, dissecting race issues in pop culture (huh, sound familiar? ). They were the ones behind “TV’s Illest Minority Moments” and the three-part series “Race-O-Rama,” both of which I thought were pretty entertaining and for the most part, on-point.