Netflix’s Rhythm & Flow: Negotiating hip-hop, race and gender through the reality talent format

Abstract: In October 2019, Netflix launched its first reality talent show Rhythm & Flow. It has been praised for revitalizing the talent competition format and its authentic approach to hip-hop. Furthermore, the show has a large number of female contestants, and is distinctly and unapologetically ‘black’. This paper analyzes Rhythm & Flow’s representation of hip-hop, race and gender. What is the social, cultural and political relevance of introducing a reality talent show about hip-hop, in a time where music genres are increasingly blurred? Using Benedict Anderson’s notion of the ‘imagined community’ and drawing on works on the meaning of race and gender in hip-hop, I argue that Rhythm & Flow imagines the hip-hop community as a real and unified entity, to draw attention to persistent racial inequality in the US. The show uses the reality talent format as a vehicle for emotional engagement, while trading in liveness and interactivity for the authenticity of socio-political relevance.

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