A thesis on the poetic function of the ‘n-word’ in battle rap is the catalyst for Bodied, a satirical drama-comedy into the world of battle rap. The film is produced by the former battle rapper Eminem’s Shady Films and distributed by YouTube
Red Premium. The film is directed by the famed music video director Joseph Kahn, who also serves as one of the film’s writers, along with the former battle rapper Alex “Kid Twist” Larsen. The film is loosely based on Larsen’s life and stars Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, Rory Uphold, battle rappers Dumbfoundead and Dizaster, and plenty of cameos from real-life battle rappers that are too many to name.
Adam Merkin (Worthy) is a progressive college student who starts the film on the outside looking in, by researching battle rap and conducting an interview with star battle rapper Behn Grymm (Long) for his thesis. Merkin watches a few battles on the card but the card is cut short due to Megaton (Dizaster) punching his opponent. After the melee, Adam and his progressive girlfriend Maya (Uphold), who is clueless when it comes to battle rap culture, gets challenged to a battle by a white emcee named Billy Pistolz (Charron).
From the jump the movie does a good job of setting its tone with the aforementioned characters. Even as a satire the film is relatable because battle rap fans most likely have seen or met these character tropes in real life. Pistolz is your stereotypical white rapper, he’s dressed like Jamie Kennedy in Malibu’s Most Wanted. Maya is the typical progressive woman who tries too hard and comes off as insufferable. Megaton’s aggression is on par with Dizaster in real life. The film’s credits state that he wrote all of his own battle lines, which is why they sound like him. Worthy’s performance as Adam is quirky and awkward, which mimics Kid Twist’s real-life presence back when he used to battle.
The technical aspects of the movie are some of the best of the year. Kahn’s visual direction makes this film fun to watch because everything is shot slick and in a creative way that comes from his background in music video direction. From close-ups on characters facing transitions and different angles, Kahn’s visual direction gives the film a true art experience. The actors who are battling do their best to make their battles feel authentic. The battle rappers who are acting get to showcase some of their personalities that aren’t normally seen in their battles. 40 Magz (Hollow da Don) and Bluntz (Loaded Lux) are a hilarious comedy duo that I wouldn’t mind seeing in a spin-off film. The writing is strong throughout most of the film. Some of the foreshadowing is subtle, and there are a few meta references inside the movie. During Adam’s first battle with Prospek (Dumbfoundead), Prospek says Adam looks like he should do a Disney Channel promo, which is a reference to an actual promo done by Calum Worthy. Adam and Maya are walking on campus and they mention communism after passing a black homeless man on a bench, and later in the film when they’re a white male on the bench, two other girls make comments about communism but with a completely different perspective.
Bodied expands on more than just the world of battle rap because of statements the film makes about norms, race and the context in which we view our Freedom of Speech, are thought-provoking to say the least. The movie further explores societal norms in the film’s third act during a battle between the black female battler Devine Wright (Shoniqua Shandai) and a Korean-American male battler, Prospek. Instead of dissing each other, Prospek and Wright diss themselves with a killer verse from each. Prospek drops bars about Asians that are reminiscent of Dumbfoundead’s actual classic battle with Tantrum. Wright even mentions how her gap is wider than the income between whites and blacks. The whole reason for the self-dissing was to let everyone else know that the cliches their opponents spit would never be as good as the ones they used on themselves.
During the second act the film focuses on Behn Grymm, and that’s when it focuses on race the most. When he’s not battling, Behn Grymm is supporting his wife and his daughter, who has Cystic Fibrosis, as a game developer. He tells Adam as a black man he has to know how to code-switch to make it through life. Grymm even tells Adam that he keeps his private life separate from his battle career and doesn’t use any personals in his battle. Once Grymm and Adam arrive at Grymm’s house, Grymm tells Adam to call him by his real name Osiris or Oz for short, because his wife doesn’t like it when people call him by his battle alias. This is interesting because it shows the duality that Behn Grymm has to exist as a person and that doesn’t even include his code-switching when he’s not around his wife or battling. This transitions to one of the movie’s standout scenes between Adam and Grymm’s wife Jas (Candice Renee) at the dinner table. Jas bodies Adam when she has to explain why she supports her husband in his endeavors even though battle rap has negative connotations to it. Renee’s delivery in this scene is captivating, and you can feel her soul in every line of dialogue as she has to blacksplain everything to Adam.
The film examines the way we view the context of Freedom of Speech using battle rap in an intriguing way. After getting caught up in the culture of battle rap, Adam loses everything, he’s homeless and his ex-girlfriend puts him on blast by replaying all the offensives punches (lines) from his battle with Prospek in front of the rest of their class. Adam’s lines were filled with misogyny, racism and homophobic comments that no one blinks an eye at in battle rap culture, but to people who aren’t hip it’s not a good look. This causes the whole campus to hate him and Adam even asks “how can you judge a person based on one clip from YouTube,” which is something as a society we do all the time. The campus demonstrates a peaceful protest, even saying ‘they won’t tolerate hate even if it rhymes,’ which seems like something that would happen in real life.
Lastly, Bodied is a fun, smart and stylish film with a few criticisms. The film plays its hand in its second act and you can see where the third act is going. The battle event in the third act is entertaining, but the crowd noise and reactions during the battle between Grymm and Adam felt off. Unlike the other battles in the film this one didn’t feel as natural or more Hollywood-esque. This isn’t a big complaint because all the bars were dope and the 2-on-2 battle between Adam & Behn Grymm versus 40 Magz & Bluntz was a welcoming surprise. At points throughout the movie some of the acting was spotty, but most of the performances were great at best and serviceable at worst. Again, the filmmaking helps maneuver around the criticism because it gets so many things right. Even small things, like how the score is used to add to the story of the film. The song “You Don’t Know Me” by TI, plays at the beginning of the film and again at the end of the second act, and it fits perfectly because Adam doesn’t know who he is anymore. Overall, through all three acts, for battleheads this film is a 2-1, but for the average fan this might be a 3-0…body.
[a si a si]
[All Mames Wey]
Bodied is currently available on YouTube Premium.