The Great Hip Hop Hoax
Bittersweet doc focusing on two Scottish chancers in the rap game
Not quite the grand affair the title suggests, Jeanie Finlay’s documentary is a mixture of found footage that tells an intriguingly obscure story about deliberately mistaken identity. Featuring two young Scots who passed themselves off to music industry insiders as cool Californian rappers circa 2004, it’s a bittersweet reflection on the dangers of stardom.
Peppered with bright animation, Finlay’s film quickly establishes a miserable Scottish cultural wasteland from which Billy Boyd and Gavin Bain emerge. A trip to London for an audition leaves them with nothing but a lack of faith in how their Scottish accents were received by the judges. Re-inventing themselves as Silibil N' Brains, and featuring broad Californian accents, Boyd and Bain were touted alongside the likes of Muse before the pressure of maintaining character caused their friendship to burn out.
Although the unfamiliar quality of the story gives The Great Hip Hop Hoax some narrative drive, it also diminishes the stakes; the most significant figure who bought into the con is no less august a figure than James Bourne from Busted, which hardly makes this deception the musical crime of the century. Neither Bain nor Boyd are shown in a particularly sympathetic light, and a clip from a video diary in which one band-member urinates into another’s cupped hands sets a tone as crude as the quality of the video-clips.
From Chung Ling Soo to Milli Vanilli, many entertainers have been revealed as imposters, and The Great Hip Hop Hoax is interesting while the deception is in play. But killer footage never emerges, just guys goofing off; unlike the hard-working rock-band depicted in Anvil, whose belatedly found fame through their own doc, Silibil N' Brains are revealed here as nothing more than cheeky blaggers who took a blag too far.
Screening at Odeon Wester Hailes, Fri 28 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013. Selected release from Fri 6 Sep.