The Death of Rap City

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Rap City won't be on in the afternoons anymore. The show is moving to 1 a.m., and BET is filling its old afternoon time-slot with some other video-block show. And honestly, I'm not even sure why I care. For one thing, I never watch the show in the afternoon anyway. And it'll still be on, so I'll still be able to stick with my old daily ritual, fast-forwarding through 80% of the previous day's DVRed episode while I'm eating my Lucky Charms every morning. And for another thing, the show has been god-awful terrible ever since Big Tigger quit the host position two years ago. A lot of people didn't like Tigger; he was definitely prone to mugging for the camera too much and showing off whatever shitty drawings some viewer just mailed him. But I liked Tigger. He had an unforced amiability, and he always managed to be respectful of his guests without getting too ingratiating or ass-kissy. It was fun to watch him in the booth, cracking up at the other rappers' punchlines and then jumping in for his own goofy little mini-freestyle at the end. Ever since Tigger left, things have gone to shit. The show has had three hosts, each more witless and irritating than the last: Mad Linx, J-Nicks, and most recently the utterly detestable Q45. Q45 is just the worst. Rather than actually interviewing his guests, he just sort of fawns all over them and parrots whatever they said at the camera with more yelling. Here's a typical exchange. Rapper X: "Yeah, so I've got a line of contact lenses coming out." Q45: "Please understand, people! This man just said he has a line of contact lenses coming out!" Rapper X: "Yeah, and, uh, Paul Wall is on my album." Q45: "Hold up. Do you understand the magnitude of what this man is saying to you right now? Paul Wall is on his album! This is crazy! I don't think these people understand." BET is legendarily chintzy about paying their on-air talent, but I seriously can't believe they couldn't find anyone more qualified than this guy.

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Nobody complained much when Rap City went from two hours to one, and nobody's likely to miss seeing Rap City in the afternoon lineup either. And I'm still pretty sad about seeing the show disappear off into late-night exile. My reasons are mostly sentimental. I grew up in a house without cable, but I have fond memories of hijacking the TV at friends' houses and absorbing whatever bits and pieces I could: Method Man's gold fangs, Goodie Mob creeping through a gated community, Krayzie Bone sitting back on the hood of a moving car. When I got to college and finally got cable, I'd race home from classes to catch the show's second half: Silkk the Shocker getting electrocuted, shaking-camera shots of Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel intercut with Mark Wahlberg and Chow Yun-Fat, the Iconz' "Get Crunked Up" in constant rotation. A whole lot of people probably have Rap City memories that run even deeper; the show debuted in 1989, and it ran through a whole assortment of hosts before Tigger. Perhaps even more importantly, the show always played a whole lot of videos from Southern and Midwestern and West Coast rappers, which means it was responsible for introducing a lot of kids to music and images they might've never heard or seen otherwise. Rap City might've actually been partially responsible for the success of both No Limit and Cash Money Records, since those guys usually had flashier, more jarring videos than most of their contemporaries. Even as the show shrank to an hour and lost its last good host, it could still be responsible for some fascinating moments. And it went out on something of a high note. Several days last week, 50 Cent played guest-host. Since he taped those episodes before losing the sales-battle to Kanye West, those episodes might be some of last we'll see of 50's unchecked bravado, and he was in rare form: clowning Soulja Boy, blithely talking shit about all of his recent adversaries, and sitting down for a deferential, conciliatory interview with an obviously pissed Master P, who he'd talked shit about at a BET press conference a few months ago. (Side note: It's been really, really weird watching P transition into Bible-thumping middle age.) It seems fitting that the show would end its daytime run during the one week this year when a couple of rappers managed to sell a ton of CDs.

Last night's episode of Rap City was pretty funny. I was hoping the show would turn into just a block of rap videos with no host, but no such luck. Q45 is still there, and last night he was trying to figure out some way to spin the change in time-slots and make it sound like a good thing: "I'm up at this time of night every night anyway. Guaranteed." (He also did a whole lot of "No, your TV set is not malfunctioning" bullshit. It was kind of sad.) Maybe Rap City will do just fine in its new time slot. BET Uncut, after all, managed to hang on for years in an even later time slot, and maybe the network's programmers will take advantage of the new time to play videos from lesser-known artists, clips that they might not have been able to get away with during the day. And in any case, YouTube has made the show pretty much obsolete; new rap videos sometimes hit the internet weeks before they end up on TV. Still, I can't imagine any big-name guests will bother to stop by the show and freestyle in the booth, the show is sure to lose whatever cultural cachet it might've once had. Rap City's been dying for a long time, and it's still not quite dead yet, but I already miss it. --Tom Breihan

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