The Great Hip Hop Hoax

The Great Hip Hop Hoax


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

In the little notebook I use for, well, notes, the first words I wrote about The Great Hip Hop Hoax were "remarkable honesty". Jeanie Finlay's film is so complete a story, so carefully constructed around its subjects' tale that it starts and ends with two people opening up to her camera - two people telling the true story of an astonishing lie.

Back in 2004 or so the rap game in London was blowing up around a duo from California, two large-living rhymesmiths who went by SILIBIL & BRAINS. They had flow, they had charm, they had audiences on-screen and in-screening in stitches. They couldn't have been more party-minded if they'd grown up in North Korea - but these Sony-signed MCs were fae Arbroath.

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That's Arbroath - a town that's famous for a seven-century old declaration of Scottish Independence and a form of smoked haddock. It's not so small that doesn't have its own Wikipedia page, but it is the kind of town that you "grow up to move away from". Arbroath that's 371 miles from London, and then another 4750 away from San Jacinto. That's the San Jacinto that was home to SILIBIL & BRAINS, or at least, that's the story.

This is amazing stuff. With animated sequences that contribute to the surreal air of this true story of a lie. There are the first steps towards success, "drowning Eminems in a sea of Ushers", the dejection of a 13 hour bus ride after being laughed at by the industry. Desire, despair, deciding to deceive, it's madness, nonsense, but it all makes sense.

Effectively undercover in a subculture obsessed with authenticity, the pair were "genuinely fake". Interviews with Billy Boyd, aka Silly Billy, aka Silibil, and Gavin Bain, Brains McLoud of the clan McLoud are the core of the film, but there's interviews with friends, family, record industry insiders, James Bourne from popular beat combo Busted. There's archive footage, much of it created by SnB themselves - all those tour diaries, viral nonsenses, they were there, doing it a decade ago, and it was made up. As they carried on, each statement serving to "add arms and legs to this big body of a story" they developed techniques, but the stress of it, the depth of it - they were obliterating the self to achieve, in a tremendous parable about the price of fame.

Technically proficient, Making of Longbird's Will Anderson contributes the animated sequences. The guys themselves (all both of the two of them) spit rhymes, skits, crimes were clearly feared but to lie they just adhered and when their single should've premiered - well it was already weird. The buildup, the breakdown, burning bridges and the takedown. It's a fascinating story, but importantly it's well told, well sold.

At one point, through a taxi window, there's a sign in pink neon that says "make up for your alter ego". It's another neat component / of a tale with some atonement / of a lie that got fame goin', went / see it without postponement.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2013
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The true story of a lie.
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Director: Jeanie Finlay

Starring: Gavin Bain, Billy Boyd

Year: 2013

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: United Kingdom

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