The first thing that sprung to mind when I heard about The Great Hip Hop Hoax was Joaquin Phoenix’s recent foray into the music scene. I assumed that, like I’m Still Here, this was pure fiction. The premise is fairly similar, people lying to pretend to be rappers. Having done some research (and realising the fact that my not having heard of a hip hop artist means considerably little), it turns out that the only thing the pair in this documentary were lying about is where they came from.
About a decade ago, Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd (no, not the one who played Pippin in Lord of the Rings) were a couple of unknown Scottish rappers struggling to book any gigs in London. Downhearted after a disastrous trip to the capital, as a joke, they called one venue pretending to be from Huntington Beach, California. Instantly, they got interest. Performing as Silibil N’ Brains, the pair signed a £75,000 record deal with Sony only to have the whole thing fall apart before the release of their first album. These adventures were originally documented in a book, California Schemin’. Written in 2010 by Bain, The Great Hip Hop Hoax covers much of the same ground.
Aided greatly by the fact that the pair recorded many of their parties and early performances, the film charts the rise and fall of the duo, featuring the obligatory talking head sections from those in the business. Jeanie Finlay’s documentary not only shows the highs of the music business, but also the stress of keeping up the charade and what happened when it all went wrong. What started off as a bit of a joke to get noticed turned into personas that needed to be maintained every day to everybody Bain and Boyd met. Ultimately, it was this pressure rather than being recognised from someone back in Dundee that led to the end.
The Great Hip Hop Hoax has been doing the rounds at the festivals over the summer, coming out triumphant at the Doxa Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver and garnering attention and positive reviews from its showings in Edinburgh and Sheffield. The film is set for not only a theatrical release, but will also be coming out in Video on Demand, with the DVD following a few weeks later on 23rd September.
Every time I have researched the film more, the story seems increasingly genuine. For all of this, though, there’s an increasingly small and awfully cynical part of me that just does not believe that this is true. There’s only one song of theirs on Amazon, but that’s easily explained by the fact that they never released their album, California Schemin’ is on there and YouTube features videos from years ago. If the film is a hoax, it’s a hell of a lot more convincing than Joaquin Phoenix’s attempt.
The Great Hip Hop Hoax is released theatrically on 6th September and comes to Cinema City with a director’s Q & A session on 21st September.