The 10-part hip-hop competition “Rhythm + Flow” wrapped up on Netflix this week with a whole bunch of winners. At least that’s according to one of the high-profile judges, Chance the Rapper.
“I need a feature” from any of the four finalists, Chance said to his fellow rap adjudicators, Cardi B and T.I. “I’m gonna take a verse from one of them.”
All of which means that if Flawless Real Talk (Providence, Rhode Island), D Smoke (Inglewood, California), Londynn B (Atlanta) or Troyman (Atlanta) end up on a Chance track in the next year, don’t be surprised.
Chance proved an earnest judge who prized artistry over gimmicks, Cardi B waxed both surreal and cutting while maintaining a girl-next-door earthiness, and T.I. brought an orator’s gravitas to his pronouncements, a cut-to-the-chase hip-hop reality show version of TV’s Judge Mathis.
“Rhythm + Flow” was as much about back stories designed to personalize the competitors as a skills contest. This presumably promoted the audience’s deeper rooting interest in the unknowns being showcased. But their tales of personal turmoil began blurring together, as did the “surprise” family reunions immediately preceding the final competition.
The artists struggled to find their voices, as they were paired with A-list producers (Sounwave, London on Da Track, Tay Keith, Hit Boy) and collaborators (Miguel, Jhene Aiko, Ty Dolla Sign, Tory Lanez), and two of the finalists slipped into well-paved lanes: Troyman as growling, prowling MC of the streets, Londynn B as would-be trap queen.
Flawless Real Talk oozed cockiness throughout the competition as he climbed the ladder to the final four, then unveiled a rare vulnerability. “My career froze, I wish my clock wasn’t runnin’,” he rapped on the anthemic “On My Way.”
But it was the 33-year-old elder statesman of the group, D Smoke, who took the most chances, as he baked his life story into metaphysical lyrics, inventively arranged songs and dark, unconventionally theatrical performances. Working with Sounwave (who has produced Kendrick Lamar and the “Black Panther” soundtrack among other projects), Smoke turned his original composition, “The Last Supper,” into a multi-part psychodrama to take home the $250,000 winner’s paycheck. “Eat Smoke, take your time, it’s a long dinner,” he rapped.
Does it presage a long career? If music reality shows such as “American Idol” and “The Voice” are any indication, the future is murky at best. A teacher from a hardscrabble neighborhood who is a decade older than most rap upstarts, D Smoke may find that his fight for recognition is only just beginning.
T.I., in his best Judge Mathis voice, didn’t sugarcoat it: “You’re gonna be chasin’ this high right now for the rest of your career.”