Review: Growing-up Hip Hop

Growing-up Hip Hop may seem like an unusual addition to WE tv’s catalog but it is actually aligned with its other reality shows: Braxton Family Values (’11), Vince and Tamar (’12), Mary Mary (’12) and SWV Reunited (’14). Executive Produced by two of its young stars, Angela Simmons and Romeo Miller, the show follows the children of hip hop legends: Rev. Run, Russell Simmons, Damon Dash, Pepa, El DeBarge, and Master P.  With a Breakfast Club interview,  a NY Times review by the legendary Jon Caramanica and a premier in Atlanta, the show should reach its target audience, hip hop listeners, and may even achieve cross-over appeal if its stars really open the window to their authentic lives.

No fan of reality shows, the pilot’s teaser and the show’s premise convinced me that this show deserved my attention, at least for one episode. The teaser highlight’s the show’s emphasis on the challenges of fame and the universal story of young people attempting to gain independence and success. The teaser’s tempo and tone is definitely aimed at millennials.

This episode, The Master Plan, introduces the stars, their hip hop parents and more importantly their latest projects. While Angela is prepping for the launch of her faux fur line and fashion show, Romeo is preparing to succeed his father as President of No Limit, Kristina is completing her latest album, TJ is working as a DJ, Boogie is managing Poppington and Egypt is also working on music. Though we learn of some of their interests and projects, the only progeny that seems to have a coherent plan in action is Angela. She has employees (assistant, stylist, fashion coordinator) and is shown managing a variety of tasks for her business.

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Romeo does not have one scene illustrating his ability to run a record label. In fact, when he meets with his father, he tells him that he doesn’t think he is ready for the job because he has so many projects. It would have been nice to hear about some of his projects. While Romeo seems apprehensive and a little disinterested, his father is dispensing advice… It is unlikely that this planned succession will come to fruition. Even more interesting, is the introduction of his girlfriend who happens to be white. Though she is in NY with him, we only see her once briefly and Romeo tries to prepare her for the harsh realities of his world by reading her tweets and comments from ignorant and racists people. When he visits Angela, he mentions that his girlfriend, Toneato, is with him and he wants Angela to meet her. He wants Angela’s approval and guidance, but with a freudian slip or script direction, he says he wants her to be like Angela. Of course Angela and Romeo would make a beautiful couple. They have a lot in common, but their driven careers may make their union impossible. TJ even asks Romeo if he ever dated Angela. Romeo never responds. And of course, Angela’s stylist and assistant are wondering the same thing. But he has a girlfriend!

If Romeo and Angela are the leads, then Kristina are Egypt are the emotional core of the show. Kristina is the most vulnerable and authentic of the group. As a child of an incarcerated addict, she did not grow-up with the same level of luxury as Angela and Romeo. As a singer songwriter she maybe indeed be as talented as her father and uncle, but her success may be hindered by the baggage she carries as well as the way she is branding herself and her music. Expect to see her perform for Angela’s fashion show and maybe visit her father in prison though her uncle has advised her against it. As a singer/rapper we should also see Egypt perform on the show, but we have seen her very little in this episode. When she is seen she is with her loud and pushy mother. Egypt appears much younger and inexperienced compared to the others and less self-assured. It will be interesting to see where her talents are and what her relationship is with her momanager.

The tension on the premier episode is two-fold. First, Dame Dash. Need I continue?  Well, he and Pepa show-up for Boogie’s event at Poppington, art studio. In typical Dame fashion, he comments on Angela’s concerns of stress telling her that she doesn’t know what Stress is. For him stress is a gun to your head… Angela leaves soon after this awkward conversation; she eventually discusses the incident with Romeo who tells her that he understands Dame’s point and that she should not worry about him. Romeo understands how to deal with difficult people far better than Angela. He is rather protective of her so it will be interesting to see how he responds if she is in danger. The episode ends at TJ’s birthday party when Angela, in melodramatic fashion, leaves because she realizes her stalker is there. Her father wisely told her to cancel her up-coming show, but when she refuses he suggested security be hired. This will continue in the next episode.

As I  feared, the show is one extended infomercial or platform for Angela, Boogie, Egypt, Kristina, Romeo and TJ. Well, this was expected, but where the show is failing, is in living up to the tacit agreement it made with its viewers. While this episode, The Master Plan, has to serve as an introduction of the cast, it has done very little to address what it was like to grow-up with iconoic hip hop parents. The viewer wants to understand the cast’s lives, including the challenges of their childhood and current lives. The show’s focus on their projects, anemic scenes with their parents and confessionals did little to address the show’s premise. It would have been valuable if the show thought outside the box to bring the NY and LA cast members together to meet and maybe play some kind of get to know you game to begin the show. This would have set the tone and given viewers a unique show opener.

The show attempts to appeal to the VH1/MTV/BET demographic without losing WE TV’s demographic. Though the show does lack Love and Hip Hop‘s ratchet hijinks, it does not have the sheen or patina of WE’s other reality shows or Run’s House, who’s an executive producer. The first episode is uneven and often feels scripted and inauthentic. The show will need a couple of episodes to find its rhythm. My hope is that the show has more substance than the high fructose sugar of bling, selfies and red bottoms.

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