The Buzz: 'Rapture' Brings Rappers to the Forefront

Everything works in cycles. Rock music was the derided artform of the youth in the 1950s, became the dominant genre in the 1970s, and fizzled around sometime around the 1990s. The specific dates are debatable, but something that is not is the impact it had on popular culture during that time. Rock music was what famous athletes listened to. Rock music was what characters played in the movies. Rock music was what filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme made documentaries about.

Now, it’s hip-hop.

The genre birthed in 1970s New York recently overtook rock as the most popular sound in the United States, and its influence on other mediums has been swift. Hip-hop is what athletes now listen to. Hip-hop provided the musical landscape for the 2017 Best Picture winner, Moonlight. And with Netflix’s Rapture, hip-hop is beginning to receive the adulation it deserves in the form of documentary.

Rapture is straightforward anthology series, a six-episode run that delves into the creative processes of various rappers and producers. The names listed are varied as they are prominent, with crossovers stars Logic and G-Eazy following up veterans T.I. and 2 Chainz, or industry legends Just Blaze and Nas. The variety proves welcome, as no two episodes feel the same, and the personalities of each artist are given ample room to shine. We see the ambition of an upstart like Logic, or the charisma of a Just Blaze first hand, embellishing why we are drawn to their music in the first place. Some may deride them as glorified commercials, and to some extent, they are, but showrunner Sacha Jenkins strikes a tasteful balance between genuine insight with overt praise.

The episodes featuring T.I. or Nas, men who have proven themselves in the industry for decades, tend to lean more comfortably towards the former. Because their legacies are secure, and their stories are largely already written, they feel more willing to speak candidly. This candor is revelatory, especially in the T.I. episode, as the Atlanta rapper struggles to reconcile his criminal past with his current activism against police brutality, and how his music untangles this dichotomy. The episode’s director, Marcus A. Clarke (who directs two other episodes), does an outstanding job at fleshing out the man behind the hit singles.

Touching revelations spring from unexpected places, as evidenced by the 2 Chainz episode. The characteristically goofy spitter recounts harrowing encounters he had as a youth, when a militant drug force in Atlanta known as the Red Dog unit used to hide out in bread trucks and snatch up unsuspecting denizens. “To this day, I look at bread trucks different,” he admits, “Super scared.” Elsewhere, noted femcee Rhapsody rummages through an old photo album with her mother and lifelong friend/singer Heather Victoria. They are clearly at ease with the filmmakers, and the trust manifests in genuinely compelling content.

There are unfortunate instances, however, where the attitudes of the given artist stiffles the flow of the episode. The installment on Logic is fun in it's irreverence and humor (an animated short details how he met his wife), but the young emcee feels guarded when discussing his process, and even more so when considering his place in the larger hip-hop spectrum. He and G-Eazy, a pop-rapper without much street cred to begin with, feel a bit more conscious of what they’re allowing the camera crew to see and not see. 

Since its release, Rapture has received general acclaim from critics and fans, who’ve taken note of how important it is to document this particular moment in hip-hop. Artists from every walk of life are hitting it big, and the series offers a compelling snapshot of why that is. Highly recommended for hip-hop heads and casual fans alike.

All six episodes of Rapture are currently available for streaming on Netflix.