Back in 2002, aspiring musicians Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd were laughed out of an open audition in London, where Warner representatives were looking for the next Eminem. Their rejection had nothing to do with a perceived lack of talent, however, the friends had drawn crowds back on home turf, but because they were from Scotland and dared to rap in a Scottish accent.
The friends understandably wanted revenge, and rather than giving up concocted a plan that would allow them to do so while also exposing the prejudices of a biased music industry. Inventing Californian personae and perfecting American accents, Gavin and Billy became Silibil ‘n’ Brains and returned to London where they almost immediately attracted interest. Dubbed the next big thing, they were signed by Sony UK and welcomed into the industry with open arms.
Comprising video recorded by the musicians long before video blogging was commonplace, clips from television programmes on which Silibil ‘n’ Brains were featured and individual interviews with the two ex-collaborators, The Great Hip Hop Hoax plugs the gaps in the narrative with quirky animations by Jon Burgerman, Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson. Wisely, director Jeanie Finlay lets the extraordinary story tell itself, working behind the scenes with editor Jim Scott to tell the most comprehensive and complete story possible.
What’s particularly interesting is just how open the music executives involved in the original deception are. Manager Jonathan Shalit gives a particularly candid interview, appearing remarkably unconcerned with the lies and deceit. And yet, despite their interactions with such high-profile figures (Silibil gained access to the Brits by pretending to be Jamelia’s stylist where he appears in pictures with the likes of Natasha Bedingfield and Matt Lucas and David Walliams) they are still largely unknown.
However, the documentary does bring some catharsis to a series of events that left a friendship in tatters and the industry apparently unfazed. Gavin and Billy sought to shed a light on the bigoted representatives that dismissed them for being Scottish, and now, thanks to Finlay, they have achieved just that. Dundee and Arbroath are rarely seen onscreen, and the film shows them — through the act’s friends and families — in a very positive light, rightly serving to highlight the views of Shalit which, as a throwaway comment at the end of the film shows, are still heavily prejudiced.
A fascinating true story that explores not only patriotism and the music industry, but psychology and relatively little-known forms of addiction, The Great Hip Hop Hoax is very entertaining indeed. Funny, touching and utterly unbelievable, Finlay’s film is a must watch, whether you like rap music or not.