Eric Thurm is a chain-carrying member of the Lethal Interjection crew.
“Oh shit, it’s one of 2 Chainz’s chains!” – This is literally the most specific joke about rap music in a television show that is supposed to be about a rapper. When Chozen was announced last year, I was fired up about the premise—a gay, white rapper fresh out of prison, tries to figure out the new, crazy world of 2014 and get back in the game. A show about a rapper on a network that doesn’t usually air that sort of stuff is already almost too good to be true (co-starring Method Man!). There’s so much possibility in setting a long-running series in the rap world, and in a protagonist who could be controversial for all the right reasons—Chozen was either a recipe for hilarious, thought-provoking TV or a total disaster. Unfortunately, it’s the latter.
Everything in the show that’s ostensibly about “rap” is lazier than latter-day DOOM. With the exception of a single joke about Kanye’s obsession with the Grammys, nothing is more specific or complicated than the aforementioned 2 Chainz “joke.” The better and funnier moments all come close to hinting at actually making fun of something specific, especially a music video called “Bitches Hitting Bitches” that I think might be a dig at Lil B and an “emotional” song about “feelings” called “Nuance” that’s probably a Drake reference? Otherwise, the rappers of Chozen are all broad caricatures: The up-and-coming hedonistic manchild (Chozen, who as voiced by Bobby Moynihan sounds like a giant baby), the evil impresario (Chozen’s nemesis Phantasm, voiced by Meth), the sidekicks (Crisco and Ricky, voiced by Hannibal Buress and Michael Peña), and whoever made “Bitches Hitting Bitches.” Most of the stories are broad, sitcom-type stuff: Chozen’s prison boyfriend threatens to tear the crew apart, his sister Tracy might break up with her boyfriend, etc. The understated approach to the rap world makes sense in theory (especially since Chozen isn’t really taking place in the real world), but it’d be great if the writers could give viewers even a slight indication they knew what they were talking about.
There’s almost no actual rapping, either. Sure, there are a couple of original songs in each episode (which is pretty rare for a TV show that’s not named Glee), most of which are basic boasting about Chozen, though others do stuff like describe a game of World of Warcraft. The music itself is fine, but mostly it’s boring beats over boring lyrics on tracks with names like “Murder, Sex” without ever becoming offensively bad—the Magna Carta Holy Grail of TV music. Comedy rap is hard—there’s a reason no one actually makes their great idea for the Lonely Island-style parody song—and Chozen’s tracks just don’t make the cut. To make good fictional music you still have to make good music (this problem has plagued shows and movies about writers for years). And there’s no rapping from Phantasm, the worst part of the show’s criminal underuse of Method Man, who just snarls over the phone to deliver his lines before retreating to smoke a Spike Lee joint.
And the character of Chozen, which is supposed to be the most interesting part of the show’s premise, is just a mess. Like his obvious spiritual ancestor, Malibu’s Most Wanted’s B-Rad, Chozen is an overgrown child, but where B-Rad’s “I am who I am” routine reveals him to be a generally sweet dude, Chozen seems borderline deluded about his music, and too busy fulfilling a ton of stereotypes about wanting to kill people and bang everyone in sight (even if they’re dudes) to do anything besides make shitty music. Chozen’s musical aspirations aren’t much better than window dressing for the show, his whiteness is never mentioned, and though his homosexuality isn’t handled terribly, it’s still used mostly for button-pushing, raising the question: Why did Chozen even need to be about a gay, white rapper at all?
It’s tough to blame Chozen for not getting super detailed with its rap jokes (though even one Drake joke would have been great). It airs on FX—where some of the other popular shows focus on gunrunning motorcyclists who tangle with white supremacists, a quick-draw lawman in rural Kentucky, and a pathetic but also weirdly heroic and moving fat divorcee in Manhattan. That puts it in the sketchy domain of mainstream depictions of rap music (read: made by people who don’t know a lot about rap). These attempts at “doing rap” are almost always ignorant and terrible, coming out of the mindset that the people involved can accurately represent and understand rap without knowing anything about it—like claiming that Macklemore is the first “civilized” hip-hop artist.
For every 8 Mile, there are a hundred terrible episodes of Law & Order with rapper characters or Vanilla Ice rapping with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (we’re counting this as fictional). The worst offender, though, might be “Pranksta Rap,” an episode of The Simpsons that features a rapping Homer and Marge and artists like “The Glock Pointers,” “Queen Booty Shaka,” “Alcatraaz,” and 50 Cent as himself. All of them (including 50 Cent) are cardboard cutouts who look and sound like a Simpsons writer’s idea of a rapper. Chief Wiggum’s hallucination of Barney Fife is a thousand times more realistic.
It’s not like there aren’t good fictional rappers, either. Tamra Davis and Chris Rock’s CB4 was number two at the box office! All of the rappers on The Boondocks are great, and all of the show’s music from “Eff Granddad” to “Thuggin’ Love” puts Chozen to shame—and the last Boondocks season premiere got over three times as many eyeballs as the Chozen premiere. Sometimes, it’s as easy as acknowledging your limitations—in the way Ali G’s cluelessness is the whole joke. Hell, even Larry David created a decent enough rapper in the same vein: Krazy Eyez Killa, the best character in the best episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Krazy Eyez Killa works because he’s just a dude in the Curb universe of painful social interaction who just happens to be a rapper. He’s more interested in giving his house tour than being a ridiculous, fake idea of what a rapper is, and when he talks to Larry about his lyrics, he’s making fun of Larry rather than the other way around. It’s weird to suggest that a show about a gay, white rapper take notes from the co-creator of Seinfeld (maybe Wale from 2008 can guest star), but at least Larry David wouldn’t make jokes just to show he knows who 2 Chainz is.