For years, the American music competition show has been a staple genre in television. It’s reliable — it’s always the same sad stories, the same person covering “Firework” by Katy Perry, and the same person that thinks they’re gonna change up the music industry. You’ll find the same reliability in Netflix’s first rap music competition, “Rhythm + Flow.” It’s a refreshing new take on music competition shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice,” streamlined into the hip hop genre. It’s necessary; nobody ever really auditions to these classic competitions through rap or hip hop, and when they do, they rarely ever make it that far.
“Rhythm + Flow” keeps it authentic, using rap industry icons Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and T.I. to judge the contestants. The main judges band together in the first round of auditions in Los Angeles along with guest judge, Snoop Dogg to kick off the show, then break apart to go to their native cities to find the next rap icon. When they break apart to find worthy contestants in their native cities in the later episodes, it feels a bit like the family’s broken apart, and it never feels like the guest judges have much of a say in the decisions of who gets to move on or not. Had the main judges stayed together and rotated the guest judges out, they could have brought similar and reliable chemistry to each episode. After all, the audience sticks around for the Simon Cowell, not for the rotating-out Luke Bryan.
Familiar music competition tropes are followed, but the focus on hip hop allows us to see contestants with different backgrounds and origin stories than your average suburban pop star. This ensures that the sob stories and contestant motivations aren’t regurgitated from typical competitions, and we get to see another side to the music industry. The tears are limited and don’t seem overdone, and it’s just enough to attach the audience to these individuals and their stories. But like Cardi B mentions, everyone in the industry is going to have a sob story — it’s about who can redirect it into their music and sell records with it.
Its intentions are different than other music competition shows out there. They’re not looking for the next “American Idol” — they made it clear in the beginning that they were looking for someone with star quality who can collaborate with other rap artists to make money and get signed to record labels to turn a profit. They don’t bullshit the purpose of music competitions like some others do. The judges know that the contestants are there to start their career, not win an ephemeral competition. It feels directed toward a purpose, like the judges are really there to support the up and coming music artists of the rap industry.
However, like all competition shows, “Rhythm + Flow” also has a tendency to drag on. Especially without the presence of all the main judges in each episode, episodes featuring dry guest judges make the critiques bland and repetitive, and it often feels like the main judge is holding up the ship on their own. That being said, the stories and relatability of some of the contestants makes it easy to get attached and root for the people you believe in. If they push together the main judges further on into the season and figure out how to separate themselves from average music competitions a little bit more, “Rhythm + Flow” can jumpstart several careers and have a good Netflix run.