The three-week reality competition event, featuring T.I., Cardi B and Chance the Rapper as judges, showcases why hip-hop is America’s most thriving art form right now, says Spencer Kornhaber. "Singing competitions tend to portray stars as needing a combo of vocal ability and, per the title of one Idol knockoff, the charismatic X factor," he says. "But the formula isn’t so straightforward for rap. Subject matter counts; so does songwriting; so does novelty; so does audience engagement. In place of the Mariah Carey melisma that many young vocalists try to use to prove their chops, a lot of the newbie emcees attempt the high-speed, rat-a-tat delivery of rappers such as Twista and Eminem. The judges often shoot these types down." He adds: "Most fascinating is the range of musical approaches. Some contestants treat the stage like a block party, and others stalk around to tell serious tales of struggle. The art form’s enormous demands on performers—to create intricate lines and deliver them cleanly and confidently while also interacting with an audience—make even the most cringeworthy sets worthy of respect."
Rhythm + Flow saves the talent show genre, which has been in a funk: "Rhythm + Flow strides into this unpromising wasteland like the T rex finally making its entrance in Jurassic Park," says Rebecca Nicholson. "This is the talent show updated, beefed up – and it will either save the format from oblivion or annihilate all competitors completely. Three famous judges are looking for the next hip-hop superstar, via auditions, battle rounds and tasks, and the eventual winner will receive $250,000 and a slot at a Spotify gig. So far, so talent show."
Cardi B is a perfect reality show judge: "Cardi B has become a ubiquitous pop culture staple so quickly that it’s almost hard to imagine a world without her," says Caroline Framke. "But as she reminds us over and over again, both explicitly and through her own undeniable wit, Cardi carved out a place for herself by understanding and exploiting systems that would otherwise have shut her out. She funneled her wild charisma into bite-size pieces on social media, leveraged her following into a TV spot on Love & Hip Hop, proved her worth in the recording booth and developed a bona fide empire. She’s as sharp as she is funny, hyperbolic and hyper-aware of it."
Why Netflix is dropping Rhythm + Flow episodes over three weeks: “We are trying a new approach. It is very much an experiment of rolling it out over three weeks, which is a little bit of a nod to the way that consumers are used to viewing these shows. But we’re striking a balance between a weekly cadence that you see on linear and this all-at-once pattern that people are familiar to on Netflix,” says Brandon Riegg, Netflix’s VP of nonfiction series and comedy specials. “We felt so good about this series as a whole that we wanted to turn it into a true event, and the hope is that we’ll create this buzz around the event over those three weeks.”