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Thursday 19 July 2018

Grandpas

HOW HIP HOP CHANGED THE WORLD (Channel 4) CHILEAN MINERS: 17 DAYS BURIED ALIVE (BBC 2)

A hip hop mish-mash

Actor Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) is wearing a flat-cap at a jaunty angle and is gesticulating wildly on an inner-city roof. Why is he on a roof? Perhaps a bully locked him up there. Perhaps roofs are emblematic of gritty urban sprawl. Who knows?

And what's he talking about? Surprisingly, not the fact he's stuck up on a roof, but about the musical genre/street style known as hip hop. While, this week, rap-culture has been lambasted as a sort of edgy riot fuel for urban malcontents, in reality, as Idris knows, it's been appropriated by pop culture and business to the point of uncoolness.

"Join me after the ads, many of which will be inspired by hip hop even if they're selling nappies, dog food or whatever," he says in a blase fashion, seemingly inured to both hip hop's appropriation by the advertising community and his new life living on a roof.

How Hip Hop Changed the World is pitched as the story of how this outsider culture infiltrated everything. Featuring a litany of hip-hop luminaries (such as Snoop Dogg, Rakim and will.i.am), cultural commentators (such as Cedar Lewisohn) and pioneers (Russell Simmons and Cutmaster Swift), it should be wonderful. The problem is they've rolled all this material into a two-hour nostalgia-clip show format which counts down from 100 to one.

This confuses everything. It mixes up cause-and-effect so that breakdancing grandpas, Weetabix ads and Wham Rap precede the story of how a subgenre pioneered by Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Cool Herc escaped the rotting New York projects of the 1970s. It jumps unevenly from tongue-in-cheek analysis of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice to sombre reflections on the deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. The fascinating rise of UK hip hop and grime is counterpointed by a bit about Princes Harry and William liking rap.

To hold all this together, Idris and co adopt a tone which simultaneously flatters us that we know it all, while over-explaining like we know nothing. Unsure if their audience are clueless middle-aged middle-Englanders, shrewd urban street types, or Dashiki-wearing sociology students, their default position is to treat us like precocious teenagers and sound like they're making a Blue Peter special. This is particularly annoying because there really is a great programme behind it all. As it stands, however, it could have been called: How Nostalgic Clip Shows Ruined an Interesting Hip Hop Documentary, with a possible spin-off: Help! I'm on a Roof for Some Reason!

Chilean Miners: 17 Days Buried Alive was a much more straightforward programme in which several victims of the Chilean mining disaster recalled their first 17 days trapped underground before contact was made with the outside world.

Apart from some simple re-enactments and minimal narration, it was seven men talking frankly about a time in their lives when a few cans of tuna were rationed between 33 men, they sweltered in 40 degree heat, and assumed, as one miner put it, that they were "already dead."

As they told their stories, the horrible reality unfolds. A man admits stealing and drinking the group's supply of saline solution. Another talks about hallucinating a vision of his son. Some talk frankly about how, as their comrades weakened, their thoughts turned towards cannibalism. They all recall the sickening moment a searching drill proceeded to miss their cavern and went right by them.

Furthermore, whether it's a difference in culture, a great translator or simply a legacy of their unimaginable experience, they all seem to express themselves with a clarity, directness and poetry unusual on contemporary television. "We weren't alone," says former street-trader Samuel Avalos. "The devil was with us ... He is patient. He can wait. He's in no rush. He knows the flesh is there."

How Hip Hop Changed the World HHIII

Chilean Miners: 17 Days Buried Alive HHHHI

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