The principle may seem innovative, yet it is as old as the world. Or rather like the music industry. For nearly a hundred years, the sector has been organizing competitions between male and female singers receiving notes and appreciations from a jury or the public, with the aim of finding the chosen one, the one who will have the potential to make his mark in this competitive environment. The chance of a lifetime, the starting point of a lucrative career, that is what is promised.
By its disciplinary aspect, by its culture of confrontation, by the history of battles and crews, rap has never escaped the phenomenon. Logic. From 1984, the program “HIPHOP”, presented by Sidney and broadcast on TF1 for a year, gave birth to an entire generation of rappers, graffiti artists and breakdancers, gave birth to vocations in the six corners of France, while putting in competition the different stables of each city.
In the 2000s, Skyrock allowed listeners to vote for rappers in a radio contest, even if it is frankly rumored that the contract and therefore the victory of the winner, in this case La Fouine, had been signed a long time ago. So, Netflix which creates a rap tele-hook by putting young rappers and rappers in competition? Nothing really new or “revolutionary” – contrary to what Liberation says.
A shameful achievement
Hubs of the show, so here are three heavyweights of the gameeach representing a stronghold of French-speaking rap, which “return their city” for “find the nugget”: SCH for Marseille, Shay for Brussels (and Belgium in the broad sense) and Niska for Paris and its region. In front of the cameras, they judge rappers between the ages of 18 and 30 and, step by step, weed out those they don’t think live up to their expectations.
So, let’s be clear: “New School”, it’s a gloubi-boulga ultra cheap ingesting the “New Star”, “The Voice” and “Popstars”, rap version. Something produced in a hurry, done with the hair, far, very far from honoring the status enjoyed by French rap in the hearts of the public and, more surprisingly, in the portfolios of record companies.
Of course, there are musical surprises and, once you get in, you get used to the freezing water, you will come back to it. But that the largest video streaming platform in the world, capable of delivering blockbusters to the chain, innovative programs, can deliver such a visually disastrous finished product is incomprehensible. Next to the successful American version, “Rhythm + Flow”, of which it is the French adaptation, it stings, it puffs. But hey, obviously, for the Black Dynamite production company, the important thing is not there.
No, the important thing is the 100,000 bullets. That’s all. This is the one and only carrot thrown to the twenty-four candidates in addition to the visibility offered by the program. And advice. There is surely something else planned in the packed basket, but after the four episodes already published (out of eight planned), the viewer knows nothing about it.
Whatever, here are our three heavyweights surveying their respective cities in search of the famous “nugget”. Netflix took care to recontextualize – a little – the place of rap in France and in these strongholds. The artistic profiles of the candidates are varied, complete strangers mingling with a few names already resonating in the industry such as BEN plg, BB Jacques, Houssbad, Leys or the Swiss KT Gorique. Because if Marseille, Paris and Belgium concentrate most of the living forces, “New School” has decided to rake a little wider geographically.
The search for the “nugget”
who will bring money
We will not redo the match here. No question of criticizing the choices of the jurors who, by nature, are subjective and therefore subject to debate. Above all, it is absolutely necessary to bear in mind this notion of “nugget”. A nugget is rare, it’s hard to find, it takes shape, it sculpts and above all, it brings back money. The idea, totally assumed, is therefore not for the jurors to find the best rappers and rappers in their eyes, but the artist who can finish a gold record.
So, BEN plg, 30 years old, big ch’ti from the North who sets up writing workshops and access to rap for people with disabilities, two excellent projects released in 2020 and 2021 but still remained too confidential, zip , it releases. He’s not a nugget, just an excellent rapper, too bad for him. But in short, we said that we would not talk about the choices of the juries.
Cult of determination, staging with laughable suspense, sometimes non-existent arguments, artists who are anything but ready… Netflix loves live crashes, we are served. Do you remember Jean-Pascal, from the “Star Academy”, who could not sing but was kept for the good story? Well “Nouvelle École” has found Myra, a Belgian who is unable to rap without sputtering, but who has a heart. You always have to ridicule one in order to enhance the others.
“That’s not what we’re looking for”
The first selections made, here are the survivors swinging on the stage of La Place, a Parisian cultural center dedicated to hip-hop culture. A visually unsuitable choice, but we are no longer close to that on the aesthetic level. If “New School” is greatly inspired by the concepts of “Popstars” or “The Voice”, we can also clearly read the influence of the election of Miss France. The rappers and rappers parade in events of freestyles, cyphers, must warm up a shapeless public who have put on their most beautiful bandanas to act gangster… We are impatiently awaiting the episode in which the artists will have to rap in bikinis, decked out in a scarf bearing the name of their city.
From the famous beauty contest, “New School” also shares an aberrant sexism. At the same time, when Niska is chosen as a juror, how could it be otherwise? If the young rappers have a good place among the candidates, if Leys and KT Gorique are among the contenders for the last places, the sentences and problematic situations are linked. Anthology:
- About the rapper Soumeya and her committed texts: “That’s not what we’re looking for”, asserts Niska. Oh good? Well what are you looking for then? SCH, who judges her “revolutionary”adds: “If she wants to shine, then I think you have to be much more generalist.” We’ll let you guess what these gentlemen mean by “generalist” about female rappers.
- To KT Gorique, who has just returned to the stage of La Place, SCH, enthusiastic, swings: “Euuuuuh I think you’re going to give your feminine design a hard time here.” What the rapper has to answer: “Not only in the feminine design.” We are in 2022, make an effort, Julien.
- When Niska must select or eliminate the talented Leys, placed in the middle of a pack of guys at the bottom of the blocks of Évry, only woman against twenty men on the screen: “The only thing is that female rap in France is difficult.” And? Is that an argument for not taking it? We hesitate, we hesitate.
The slaughterhouse then the butcher
The big problem with “New School” is this: the teams, including the jury, already have commercial standards in mind and are looking for someone who sticks to them. It is assumed.
Shay actually says so. About Vink, rapper “countryman” originally from the Bordeaux region, not really the best of the bunch, she essentially explains that“we will end up with the countryman as the winner because he will never miss the stage. And we don’t want that.” That we don’t like Vink, why not. But if he has no chance, why invite him to participate?
So yes, as in all programs of the genre, as in all the prime times masses of TF1, M6 and others, there are artists who are not lacking in talent and originality. Still happy. Houssbad, Leys, BB Jacques, Elyon, Soumeya… Offering visibility to rappers who should, perhaps, have more, is the key argument of this type of show, the relentless good deed. Great lords…
The truth is that we still send them a little to the slaughterhouse. Between those who are not even worthy of appearing on screen for more than ten seconds (the end of episode three is a series of eliminations of seemingly uninteresting artists), those who do not fit in the right box, those who are absolutely not ready (there are many), we still have a small butcher’s shop which borders on humiliation at times.
Of course, in rap, you have to be ready, and beware of those who aren’t or who can’t hold an audience. The culture demands it. But the slaughterhouse in front of millions at the start of a career? Really? Good luck to Myra, Rayanr or Naimless to follow up after wallowing in good and due form. But Netflix doesn’t care, seems to love the ridiculous. The important thing is to make good TV, not good music.