Jeanie Finlay made the film Sound It Out about the hard life of an independent Teesside record shop called Sound It Out. It was shown in Edinburgh last year and at time of the presentation, she mentioned at the Q&A her next film was about two Scottish guys who had pretended to be American rappers and had become famous on the back on this deception.
At the time, I remembered having read the story in, I think, The Sunday Times a few years previously, then forgot all about it.
How completely I’d forgotten all this was clear when the director of The Great Hip Hop Hoax was introduced to the audience before the second showing of her film on Thursday as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival. It was the self-same Jeanie Finlay. I don’t know what perfume she wears, but she smells lovely.
It’s a good movie about the career of Californian hip hop due Silibil ‘n’ Brains, who were in fact two rappers from the east of Scotland. Suprised that they were getting nowhere as “Scottish rappers,” a spontaneous decision was made that they would pretend, twenty-four hours a day, to be Americans. Pretty soon into this scam,(although at this stage it was more a game than a scam) they attracted huge interest from, and a bidding war between, record labels for their music. It was the same music as it had been, except that the raps were now delivered in American accents. Columbia fell for it, impresario and manager Jonathan Shalit fell for it and Billy and Gavin (as they were in reality) attracted advances beyond their dreams.
The problem now was that they had to maintain the personas; what if the mask slipped? Would they have to give all the money back? Eventually the story reaches a natural end; tired of waiting for the constantly postponed release of the debut single which was going to make them rich, Silibil returns to his wife in Scotland leaving Brains in London to continue partying. Nobody is interested in a solo act and Silibil ‘n’ Brains are forgotten about.
There’s a suspiciously large amount of video film available of the fledgling Silibil ‘n’ Brains in the movie, which does make me wonder how innocent the scam was; clearly someone thought the sub-Beasties behaviour of pseudo-Calli-scallies in the big city was worth filming way back in the day.
The other strange thing is that although the much-vaunted impersonation of Californian rappers clearly worked and fooled lots of people, the American accents aren’t actually that convincing to my ears. Which I guess proves how closely most employees of big record labels listen to anything…
Necessarily, a lot of the story is illustrated by animations, which are by the excellent Ainslie Henderson. I remember him from Edinburgh band Suburbia years and years ago, since then he’s been on a TV talent show (I think he might even have won it) and been to art school.
At the end of the film the pair were still estranged, Gavin having felt betrayed by his former partner. However(awww,) both “the boys” were at the movie and invited the audience to a gig they were doing after the film at The Traverse to promote their new album.
Fragrant Jeanie Finlay’s next project is a film about Orion, the Sun records supported Elvis impersonator from the late seventies.