How far would you go to make your dreams come true? In the new BBC-produced documentary, “The Great Hip Hop Hoax,” two, white rappers from Scotland decide that lying to everyone they meet, pretending to be someone they’re not, and generally cheating the system is the length that they would go to secure a record deal and make those aforementioned dreams come to fruition.
I know what you’re thinking. Lying, cheating, scamming. What makes these
two gentlemen any different from every other rapper that’s ever gripped a microphone? I mean, the fact is that most rappers love to yell out, “I’m keeping it real,” more often than Geppetto did after Pinocchio woke up.
So, what makes this story so unique?
The plain truth is this: best mates Billy Boyd (aka – Silibil) and Gavin Bain (aka – Brains McCloud) pulled off one of the greatest acting jobs this side of Tinsel Town. In fact, these guys never broke character ONCE during a whole two-year stint, while they were living in London, spending tens of thousands of Sony UK’s advance money on booze and partying, and genuinely getting trashed on a daily basis. They pulled the wool over so many people’s eyes that they deserved every ounce of fame they received (as well as every ounce they RECEIVE, after word-of-mouth hits after this doc is released) and then some.
The life story of Boyd and Bain (also known by their group name Silibil N’ Brains) is ridiculous, hard to fathom and far-fetched. Nevertheless, the fact is that this tale is 100 percent true. Their friendship is described as a “love at first sight” relationship, after the two young lads met in a small town in Scotland by the name of Dundee, while both of them were attending classes at nearby Dundee College. Bain described Boyd as the “epitome of cool,” as he was standing outside a set of campus doors with some headphones on, while Boyd said Bain made an entrance into a classroom that was “just like something out of the movies.” They hit it off famously right away, as Bain sported a Tupac shirt and Boyd exuded stratospheric confidence that could “get the girls with just a look.” Needless to say, the boys had a common interest – they both liked hip hop music and they both LOVED to rhyme.
The rest of their story plays out like a mixture of a rags-to-riches story, a fish-
out-of-water tale and a dream-come-true, all rolled into one fantastic journey. After Bain and Boyd joined forces with their buddy, another local white dude that loved to rhyme named (Oskar “Bravo” Kirkwood) , they decided to start recording their freestyle sessions, while Bain took to the production side of things. The trio called themselves B Productions and like every other musician that ever decided to form a band and give their dreams of stardom a real shot, they foolishly thought that all they needed was talent and perseverance and they would achieve their endgame – a record deal.
A heartbreaking trip to London nipped that dream in the bud. After auditioning in front of three industry representatives who laughed, snickered and referred to the three of them as “the rapping Proclaimers.” Remember The Proclaimers? Those Scottish, pop/folk, one-hit wonders who sang that song (in full Scottish brogue), “…and I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more…” Whether you do or whether you don’t, it really doesn’t matter. That’s what those record execs thought Boyd, Kirkwood and Bain sounded like. The three of them were told that the combination of Scottish accents and hip hop would never sell units and off they went, on a 13-hour bus trip back to gray, dreary, cultureless Dundee.
Instead of throwing in the proverbial towel, the three (especially Bain, who was referred to as the “driving force” and “the creative mastermind” behind the music) worked harder than ever – rerecording old songs and writing and recording new tunes. Despite their never say die attitude, they still found the same thing to be true – no matter how talented, humorous or original their music was (which it most definitely was – and still is, by the way) – rappers with Scottish accents had about as big of a future in hip hop music as senior citizens or mimes forming rap groups did. In other words, no one was interested in their music.
That was until Boyd (aka- Silibil) decided he would talk in an American accent to the next London-area concert promoter he called… just for a laugh.
It turned out that the majority of venues WERE however looking for American hip hop groups. “Sure, send us your demos,” was the response they received – no questions asked. Over and over again, every time that “Silly Bill” would talk in an American accent he would get a positive response. Now, it certainly didn’t seem fair to either of them, but nevertheless, they seemed to have found a winning formula. It was at this point that “the great hip hop hoax” was born.
And the rest is history…
Now, I don’t want to give too much away, because it really is an epic tale. In
fact, it’s so good, like I said before, it almost seems phony, but seriously… it isn’t. The story is the honest-to-goodness truth. Well, at least the TELLING of the tale is. The material within the narrative is as phony as it gets. Without giving too much away, Boyd and Bain (Kirkwood found he couldn’t bring himself to be part of the charade) pretended to be two skater kids from Huntington Beach, California, who came over to London to study. They claimed they were kicked out of school and that’s when they decided to get serious about their music. That was their prefabricated back story.
In reality, Boyd and Bain rhymed and talked in thick American accents for the better part of the next two years. According to Bain, they did EVERYTHING in their accents – never breaking character. And I do mean EVERYTHING. These two blokes are seriously two of the greatest method actors of our time. So much so, they give Kirk Lazarus from “Tropic Thunder“ a run for his Oscars.
At first they started off by fooling everybody at a “Pop Showcase” audition. They even fooled an A&R from Island Records by the name of Chris Rock, who pointed them in the direction of one of the biggest managers in Europe, Jonathan Shalit, who immediately took them on as clients and gave them a 70,000 pound advance… on the spot. See, you can’t make this stuff up. After a short courtship, the two gents were signed to Sony UK and living out their dreams. In total, they’d only been in London about a month and they literally made their dreams come true… but they had to lie to do it. The whole process was surreal, but their story is intoxicating – sometimes literally.
The lengths that these two dudes took their roles to was absolutely amazing. They did extensive research on the area where they said they were from – to the point that they memorized roads and landmarks around the San Jacinto, California area. Boyd dyed his hair and grew it out into a shag-style hairdo. Bain went from a shy young man to a full-blown showoff. They wore baggy skater clothes and forced themselves to learn how to skate. They developed
“Jackass” style personas, where they would go out in public and act a fool every single night. Their image was like a cross between punk rock and X-games and their music was like Beastie Boys-meets-Eminem. I mean, these kids had skills… and they were marketable. “A marketers wet dream,” was what their co-manager called them. And never ONCE, did they go back into their Scottish accents – not even around each other.
Bain even went so far as perfecting his accent by watching tapes of David Schwimmer, Michael J. Fox and Jim Carrey, while Boyd watched tapes of Chris Rock and Chris Tucker. These boys were genius personified… and it was working. They were gaining fans, fame and fortune faster than “their emotions could catch up.”
However, like all good things, this too came to an end and it all came crashing down around them. Like I said, I refuse to tell you too much, because the fun of watching fireworks get shot into the sky is watching them come back down again and explode. That’s when the real entertainment begins, but I will say this – there is no shortage of pyrotechnical displays during this tale.
Director Jeannie Finlay (“Sound it Out,” “Goth Cruise,” “Teenland”) does a masterful job at telling the story in a fairly linear form, so it makes sense. That being said, she teases the audience just enough in the opening act, so that we know that this tale does not have the happiest of endings for these guys, but we want to watch anyway. It’s like a big ole’ Scottish train wreck. Also, because Bain and Boyd were ahead of their time, they taped EVERYTHING they did – at ALL times. Most of their rocket ride to stardom occurred between 2003 and 2005, so it was well before the camera phone/ You Tube/ Twitter days that we have come to loathe, but they still managed to record skits and candid moments, while slathering it all over their website for all to see. This was WAY before it was cool to open your lives up to the world. Therefore, there’s no shortage of personally-charged moments, in which we get to know and love and eventually root for these two guys on their wonderful trip.
Finlay really shines, during the film’s third act, when she shows what the two boys are doing in the present day. These segments are heartwarming and self-satisfying and genuinely shine the spotlight on such concepts as the spirit
of progression and the tortuous bitch that failure can be – albeit without selling the story’s soul. It is truly a fantastic epic and a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Finlay even manages to throw in some charmingly-sloppy animation to fill in the parts that the boys’ camera didn’t capture, which is not too much by the way.
“The Great Hip Hop Hoax” takes the viewer back to a time when it was alright for them to dream… and okay to bend the truth. It’s not every day that a film can feature two of the most manipulative con artists that have ever lived and still manage to turn them into modern-day Robin Hoods.
Right now as we speak, Andy Kaufman is up in heaven, with his feet outstretched on a coffee table, watching this film with a big grin on his face. While down here on Earth, Billy Boyd and Gavin Bain have that same sheepish grin plastered on their mugs, as they laugh… all the way BACK to the bank.
QUICK SIDE NOTE: Make sure you stay tuned at the to watch the credits. Boyd and Bain show up in little bubbles, on both sides of the screen, as they spit rhymes – not as phony, California teens – but as they are now… Scottish brogue and all. It’s quite an exhilarating and eye-opening way to end the film.