Film Review: BAD RAP (USA 2017) ***

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bad_rapFour Asian-American rappers run into tough obstacles as they try to make it big in Hip Hop, a genre rooted in black culture.

Director: Salima Koroma
Stars: Awkwafina, David Lee, Richard Lee

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Asian hip-hop is what director Salima Koroma’s odd but occasionally insightful documentary is all about. In this review, hip-hop music and rap music is considered to be the same, as is considered so by the majority.

Rap has got quite the bad rap so far. Of all the music out there, Rap is known for its use of foul language, use of images of violence, sex and guns. It is everything parents do not want their children to listen to. And with reason. Rappers talk shit half the time with the word shit coming out in almost every few sentences. If the word shit or other vulgar four letter words are not heard, the word ‘like’ is used. Poor grammar and mis-spelling is common. The subjects in this film are not like the subjects of other documentaries like CITIZENFOUR where the subjects are often people (Edward Snowden in this case) who have changed the world for good. So, one has to hand it to director Koroma for capturing the energy of these young Asian rappers and creating a film that is an absorbing watch.

The film follows the origin of hip-hop. Hip-hop culture has transcended many racial and cultural boundaries after its founding in the ’70s by African-American and Latino youth in the South Bronx. Since then, rappers have emerged as legitimate pop culture stars around the world and hip-hop’s global movement has become increasingly more diverse. Yet the face of rap in America remains primarily black, brown, and white. This film looks at Asian rappers.

BAD RAP follows the lives and careers of four Asian-American rappers trying to break into a world that often treats them as outsiders. Energetic too, are the dynamic live performance footage and revealing interviews.
The four rappers on display are Dumbfounded, Awkwafina (a female), Rekstozzy and Lyricks.

Koroma shows a side of the rapper seldom seen. Lyricks is revealed as a filial son, helping out in his parents very hot steam cleaning factory. He acknowledges his parents who work very hard for him. And Rick goes to church. His mother on interview, talking about her son forms the film’s most amusing segment.

The film’s dose of brilliance comes when the video of each of the 4 rappers are played to 4 different promoters to judge their reactions. It is here that the audience sees more to rap – as the experts voice their opinions on each song and performer.

Also partly in view for a shooter span is the Chinese rapper Jin the MC. Jin is the most charismatic of the Asian rappers on display and one wonders why Koroma did not give him more screen time. His video “Learn Chinese”, a big hit is funny and unforgettable.

Koroma’s film concludes neatly with a look at the 4 rappers 2 years after their interviews – showing where each of them are, and with them talking about how they have grown.

Will BAD RAP will turn the most skeptical critics into believers?
BAD RAP is available on VOD on all major platforms May 23rd. Warning: Lots of could language and graphic content!


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