NOTNo matter how much some people hate it, reality TV continues to dominate our screens. Of the performative greatness of The Real Housewives franchised to the island of love‘s cynical romantics, you can’t get on TV these days without splashing about in some soapy drama. Next on our watch list is The Rap Game UK: a BBC remake of the talent contest produced by Jermaine Dupri and Queen Latifah in which veteran duo Krept and Konan plus 1Xtra’s DJ Target search for Britain’s next great MC.
Moving from Birmingham to Manchester for the third series last year, The Rap Game UK launches its fourth season tonight (August 11). Six new budding artists will be introduced before taking on challenges like the beloved “cypher” performance round. The ultimate price? At first it was a rare record deal with Krept and Konan’s Play Dirty label, but they scrapped it and are now giving the winner £20,000 to launch a career. But that’s where its similarities to other talent shows end. Instead of pitting hungry youngsters against hungry youngsters and crushing their morale by sending one home every episode, this show nurtures its performers, keeping them together in one house for six weeks until the champion be crowned.
Another unique thing about The rap game is its ranking system – the way the show charts the progress of its stars throughout the series. When NME meeting them, judges Target, Krept and Konan all admit to having “heated debates,” taking “hours and sometimes days” to decide who will top the list. As no one is eliminated from the show until the finale, the mentors’ priority is not to bestow bragging rights but – in Konan’s words – “to give them the gems, knowing that this journey will not is not easy and will never begin to be easy.”
This year, those hoping to receive the Konan gems are Mwangi, the 22-year-old ‘real rap’ star from Leeds; the youngest of the P3Lz group, an 18-year-old Liverpudlian; 20-year-old rapper-producer hybrid from South London, J Clarke; Big Jest, a 27-year-old boy from Croydon; and two 21-year-olds: Mayo from Edinburgh (pronounced my-oh) and rap debutante Brum Zoellz, who only started her career during the 2020 lockdown.
For Mwangi, these are “the Olympics” of British rap. “It was a crazy revelation [coming into the competition] because I think I’m doing my thing and killing it,” he said via Zoom. “And then I jump into a scene where I realize I can’t mess around anymore… There’s some serious talent out there and you have to beat the best to be the best – and the best are those people. ”
As the youngest in the house, P3Lz begins the race to the top with an experience deficit. “When [the producers] made contact for the first time,” she tells us, “I was a little unsure about that because I’ve watched the show before and I’m not the kind of person who would jump into something and stop because it’s getting too hard. Count it at your own risk: “The experiences I have [from The Rap Game UK] I won’t find it anywhere else, and getting the reviews and everything has been really surreal.
These experiences include industry heavyweights coming to watch budding stars show off their skills and offer advice, and the season four batch are some of the coolest the show has ever seen; melodic trap stars D-Block Europe, grime pioneer Lethal Bizzle, and more. One piece of advice that stuck with P3LZ came from popular guest mentor and exercise superstar, Unknown T: “Confidence was a huge thing too. Unknown T said if I put more behind [my raps], then it may look better. So I incorporated that into every performance. Everything has to be 100% for me to be on that different level.
Big Jest, another of our favorites this season, highlights the importance of the show: “As far as Black[-fronted] rap competitions are held in this country, it’s the biggest. Well, it really is only a. So it’s a huge platform for UK rap… Lots of people want to be involved, but not many people want to.
During each rapper’s stay, the rap game house is their creative hub. We watch them prepare for this week’s challenge in a chic penthouse apartment. They write rhymes, practice their flow and record under strict time pressure. It’s a bit like The X Factor, but they are not isolated from the world of superstars that they will soon join. They rub shoulders with some of the most coveted spitters in the industry and work with established names in music to improve their skills. As a testing ground for new talent, there’s no place like this.
Just ask DJ Target. While part of the seminal grime collective Roll Deep and a presenter of BBC Radio 1Xtra since 2013, he has been at the forefront of the scene for decades. “We like to observe the development and growth of candidates,” he explains to NME. “And when they factor in the feedback, not just from ourselves but from all the guest mentors, you can see their progress.
“I really enjoyed doing this show – and seeing these contestants come in with a problem and, by the time they leave, be transformed in confidence, stage presence or ability.”
In a similar way, The Rap Game UK has also evolved over its four seasons. Starting as a hidden gem in the middle of BBC Three’s then-online-only bustling stream, it’s set to reach a much wider audience thanks to the channel’s return to linear TV earlier this year. These new episodes are expected to be the most watched to date.
“I feel very blessed [that I was in the] first conversations about the show and [discussing] or U.S [wanted to] try to take it,” Target says, reflecting on The Rap Game UKthe inheritance. “We couldn’t have imagined how well it is done. People are watching the show to the point that it’s big enough to win awards “- an Edinburgh TV Award for Best Entertainment Series of 2020, to be precise -” and hopefully we’ll be nominated for more .
In just four years, The Rap Game UK has become a staple for UK rap fans – and gives those aspiring to be big stars an extra boost of confidence as they watch others in their position thrive in the presence of UK rap’s hunchos. Krept — speaking on behalf of all the mentors — now wants only one thing to happen: “We still have a bit of a way to go where someone went to do the show and then had wild success. I feel like we still have that to do. But there are so many stars this season, this could be the one. Do not bet against.
The fourth series ‘The Rap Game’ airs tonight (August 11) at 9pm on BBC Three