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Rappers out to prove they're not plain vanilla

January 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

Their very names strike fear in the hearts of white rappers everywhere: Vanilla Ice. Snow. Kevin Federline.

Though there are notable success stories -- Eminem and the Beastie Boys, most obviously -- pale emcees often travel a hard road to respect. "The White Rapper Show," a new reality program debuting at 10:30 tonight, is both a parody and commentary on race in hip-hop.

The setup is simple and instantly amusing: Ten white amateurs are picked to live in an apartment in New York's South Bronx, where they must prove their rhyming skills and gain respect. The winner gets $100,000.

"White Rapper" is produced by "ego trip," which started as a magazine co-founded by Sacha Jenkins and Elliot Wilson. The magazine is now defunct, but ego trip has grown into a media company that produces books and provocative television shows ("Race-O-Rama!") often dealing with race and hip-hop.

Michael "MC Serch" Berrin, known for the early-'90s hit "The Gas Face" with the group 3rd Bass, schools the twentysomething contestants on the history of hip-hop and the art of the rhyme.

White rappers have always been easy targets, of course, and the series is not lacking in Vanilla Ice-style punch lines. But ego tripper Jefferson "Chairman" Mao insists the show isn't just trying to "shoot fish in a barrel."

"We don't have disdain for our cast," he says. "We're trying to show that there is some complexity to them."

Executive producer Ken Mok, who has helmed reality contest shows like "America's Next Top Model" and "Making the Band," says "White Rapper" is "really about race and the context of white culture verses hip-hop culture."

"Why leave it to the scholars?" Mao says. "We feel we're hip-hop scholars."

A cackling Wilson quickly rhymes, "And we want to make dollars!"

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