Like many viewers during the height of “American Idol” fever over a decade ago, Cardi B was glued to the TV, imagining what kind of judge she would be if tasked with critiquing aspiring performers.
“Everybody always wanted to be a judge on one of those judgey shows. You see Simon Cowell and you think, ‘I can do that,’” she said in her thick Bronx accent before letting out a sinister cackle and clinking together nude-painted fingernails far sharper than Cowell’s infamous shade.
Now, ahead of her anticipated sophomore record, Cardi, 26, is trying her hand at reality television judging alongside Chance the Rapper and Tip “T.I.” Harris on Netflix’s first foray into music-based competition shows, “Rhythm + Flow.”
“A lot of people wonder how was I going to judge a competition, because I’m so new,” Cardi said, “but I know a hit record when I hear one.” Her debut album, “Invasion of Privacy,” won in the rap category at the 2019 Grammy Awards and is still No.51 on the Billboard 200 after 78 weeks on the chart. “There’s so many good rappers right now on Instagram, but they just don’t have star quality. I’m looking for that.”
The 10-episode series, which premiered Wednesday, follows the three judges as they search for rap talent in L.A., New York, Chicago and Atlanta.
“Rhythm + Flow” doesn’t come with the lofty promise of finding America’s next big superstar or a million-dollar prize for its contestants (the winner scores a six-figure cash award and a slot on Spotify’s Rap Caviar Live tour). As guest judge Snoop Dogg says on the premiere, albeit more profanely: “This ain’t ‘The Voice.’”
“I’d seen a million voice competition or talent competition shows that were broadcast in a certain kind of way. And that wasn’t something I was into,” admitted Chance the Rapper, 26. “This was my chance to put my mark on (a talent competition) and see it through the way I would want to see one of these shows go.” While the heyday of music-based competitions peaked in the pre-streaming, “You’re a little pitchy, dawg” aughts, network television still boasts weekly talent shows like the relaunched “American Idol” and “The Voice,” now in its 15th season, while regularly springing new variations and gimmicks, some successful (“The Masked Singer”), most less so (“Songland”).
The episodes are packaged into three chunks, to be released weekly. The first four episodes follow the judges as they audition talent in L.A. and in their respective home cities (Cardi in New York, Chance in Chicago and T.I. in Atlanta), with the help of guest judges. The following week, in episodes 5-7, the top 30 contestants are pared down through rap cyphers and battles and judged off original music videos. And during the final three episodes, the rappers sample records and collaborate with artists to make original songs, and a winner is crowned.
“We aren’t trying to teach the contestants how to become famous,” explained Chance. “We wanted to show them how to deal with being an artist: how to have the right stage presence, or how to make a dope music video, or how to collaborate with people from other genres.”
Adding to the show’s cachet is a rich roster of hip-hop and R&B stars who were tapped to guide contestants. The late Nipsey Hussle is featured in the premiere, and there are appearances from Killer Mike, Fat Joe, Quavo, Anderson .Paak, Lupe Fiasco, Jadakiss, Ebro Darden, Big Boi, Miguel, Jhene Aiko, Tory Lanez, Ty Dolla Sign and DJ Khaled, among others.