In an industry were Milli Vanilli is considered the pinnacle of fraudulence, the “hoax” in The Great Hip Hop Hoax may seem rather tame in comparison. This does not make the plight of the rap group Silibi N’ Brains any less compelling though. If anything, the film is a scathing commentary on the music industry and its consumers. Jeanie Finlay’s film is a cautionary tale on the dangers of sacrificing one’s principles in order to obtain their ideal goal.
Similar to the film Felix Austria!, which is also screening at Hot Docs, The Great Hip Hop Hoax is a film about reinventing one’s self to achieve a dream. However, this film highlights the dangers that come when one’s true identity is lost in the process. Hailing from Scotland, Billy “Silibil” Boyd and Gavin ”Brains McLoud” Bain met when they were teenagers and quickly bonded over their love for all things hip hop. With a knack for writing catchy and thought provoking rap songs, the pair, along with friend Oskar “Bravo” Kirkwood, formed the group B Productions. Dismissed by industry A and R representatives as “the rapping Proclaimers”, Boyd and Bain decide to get revenge by reinventing themselves as a Californian rap duo Silibil N’ Brains. To their surprise, doors in the London music scene quickly open as everyone seems eager to discover the next Eminem or Beastie Boys.
Seeing this as their opportunity to truly display their rapping skills, Bain and Boyd decide to embody their Silibil N’ Brains personas all the time. This not only means speaking with an American accent to their loved ones, but also creating an air tight story on how two Californian young men ended up in London. Believing that they only needed to keep up the ruse until they landed a recording contract, Billy Boyd and Gavin Bain soon realize that the closer Silibil N’ Brains get to becoming massive stars, the deeper their lies must go. This not only begins to strain their friendship, but also has damaging psychological ramifications as well.
Like any good tale about public deceit, the fascinating thing about The Great Hip Hop Hoax is not the lie, but how long they managed to go without anyone uncovering it. Featuring interviews with Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd, as well as music industry insiders and re-enactments animated by award-winning Jon Burgerman, Jeanie Finlay pieces together how the lie took on a life of its own. Their plan started sincerely with the duo merely wanting to prove that hip hop was a universal art form that even had a place in Scotland. However, the image over content nature of the music industry led them down a path beyond their wildest dreams.
Finlay never makes excuses for the actions of the two men, but clearly displays how the desire to follow your dreams can be just as damaging as any addiction. Lost in the constant roll playing is the fact that the duo are incredibly talented artists. They were even ahead of their time when it came to the ways they marketed themselves. If the constant fear of their hoax being uncovered did not erode away at them, there is no telling the heights they may have reached.
The Great Hip Hop Hoax is a tale of a reinvention unlike anything the music world has seen in years. Jeanie Finlay provides an energetic and engaging look at two artists who duped an industry, but lost sight of themselves in the process. It is a film that questions if morality is worth sacrificing in the name of success.