If “Rapture,” the latest Netflix documentary series, proves anything, it’s that no two people in the world of hip-hop are alike. As much as the industry around them may chase what works trying to replicate that success, or as much as a consolidated business makes individuality more and more difficult, the more distinct artists still make for the most compelling figures. Getting help from observant sets of eyes, “Rapture” is an attempt to show what a group of eight creators each bring to the world of music.
By natural personality or careful choices in the public eye, rappers like T.I., Logic, 2 Chainz, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, G-Eazy, and producers like Just Blaze have reached the point where they’ve each cultivated an image. As each episode of “Rapture” focuses on one of them and the people and places within their orbit, the challenge for the six different directors is to fashion an episode that captures each performers’ spirit without seeming like a personal commercial.
For the most part, these filmmakers take their cues from their subjects. There’s a reason that Sacha Jenkins’ episode following Nas feels the most free and laid-back. All of these installments find insight in each rappers’ stage and personal lives, but the episodes with industry vets feel distinct because their legacy has already been written. The artists on the verge of greatness, still with something to lose, feel a little more guarded and a little more conscious of what allowing a camera crew inside their process might do to what they’ve already achieved.
Yet, even amongst the brand cultivation on display at points, “Rapture” also draws some strength from the parts of these rappers’ career that are anything but glamorous. In the episode tracking the life of Rapsody, she waits backstage to greet a crowd and turns to see a fleet of Porta Potties. We see Nas in the process of looking for a New York apartment space, but it’s clear that this is more the obligatory part of life, rather than the meaningful elements of the creative process.
When that creative spark comes front and center, it’s not surprising that some of the best sequences in “Rapture” are ones that play out in a recording studio. Whether it’s Logic or Rapsody laying down some verses or Just Blaze working with Havoc to recreate the beat from Mobb Deep’s classic “Shook Ones (Part II),” it’s the series’ way of earning the moments when they look to these artists’ many successes.
Every episode has some version of these rappers’ origin story, whether it’s the way they were first discovered, the influences that drew them to this life, or the city that helped make them who they are. Within the whole show, “Rapture” charts a bigger rap ecosystem where just one comment or one name drop can fundamentally alter the trajectory of a career, a family, or even an entire neighborhood. Tied into the way this series shows these performers’ off-stage life as much as the performances themselves, it puts an emphasis on the trusted associates that have stayed with each of these artists from the beginning of their careers.
Each of these artists is performing to giant, adoring crowds, but some episodes do better than others in really getting across what that means for the individuals themselves. Sometimes it’s the very process of making this documentary that forces an artist to confront what it is that their success really means. Those guarded moments of spontaneous realization are what set some of these episodes apart from being just fuel for their own image.
The Logic episode is the best encapsulation of what “Rapture” is able to do when it balances all of these rival pressures and interests. An animated story details him meeting his wife and peeks in on various backstage interactions with fans that drive home what this music means to them. The segment, carefully crafted by future “Creed 2” director Steven Caple, Jr., also takes time to look at everyone from the choreographer to the sound check crew to the tour managers that help set one individual performer aside from a sea of potential stars.
Marcus A. Clarke takes three of these “Rapture” episodes, the most compelling of which is centered on T.I. An interesting case study of an artist at a career crossroads, it starts with the Atlanta rapper being very transparent about choosing which part of his career to bolster. As it follows his engagement with activism against police brutality, it highlights how some of the most meaningful music from these individuals intersects with movements greater than themselves.
The T.I. episode makes his offstage efforts the most prominent of the eight, but not all of these chapters are as successful at making life away from performing feel like stories that need to be told. Hobbled by a freak knee accident, an already mellow 2 Chainz doesn’t offer much to fill in the gaps outside his on-stage wheelchair shows. (Interviews with his Trap Choir group of backup singers toward the end of the episode hint that following them would be a far more satisfying way to spend an hour.)
Even when matching episodes to individual performers, the runtime of each episode puts a lot of these stories into the same patterns. They’re just different enough to be recognizable as the work of various directors, but not bold enough to keep a handful of these from feeling slightly repetitive. It’s what makes Gabriel Noble’s segment on Just Blaze a refreshing separate melody. Less of a look at a single creator as much as a prism for a generation worth of artists who benefited from his guidance and contributions, Just Blaze’s is also the deepest dive into the patience and obsessive research needed to find new sounds.
“Rapture” comes down to a look at not just the music, but what these individuals do with it. Putting an episode like the one with G-Eazy, with so much emphasis on maintaining a lifestyle, coming right after an episode with T.I. that is almost exclusively focused on engaging with forebears like Harry Belafonte, there’s almost a built-in criticism of each of these performers within the show itself.
All told, “Rapture” isn’t the comprehensive, watch-in-full project that its premise might suggest. These episodes still manage to find anchors in those massive crowds. For whatever may come before and after those shots of die-hard fans, these installments are ultimately closer to curiosities than necessary puzzle pieces to understanding these performers. They’re windows into fame, but whether they are genuine glimpses of the everyday life that comes with it is up for the viewer to decide.
“Rapture” is now available to stream on Netflix.