If the first episode of season 4 of Lifetime's "The Rap Game" is any indication, host and producer Jermaine Dupri has his work cut out for him.
Unlike previous seasons, none of the five rappers showed obvious star potential in the debut episode airing Friday at 10 p.m. That doesn't necessarily mean one or more won't blossom going forward, but it's clear even Dupri himself was disappointed.
"They have a looong way to go," he said. "This ain't a good start."
He brought in Bow Wow to listen in as well. The best he could say? "They all got a lot of work to do."
The five include two from Atlanta:
- Lil Bri, 15, Houston. She's the edgiest of the crew and got the best reaction of the day. Dupri liked the energy. "You killed that," said Da Brat.
- Jordan, 15, Tulsa. He has not performed before and it showed in his first stage effort. His lack of intensity muddled Dupri's ability to absorb his lyrics.
- Ricci Bitti, 13, Atlanta. She got critiqued (unfairly in her mind) and then came off negative. Her anger turned the So So Def staff off. "The took it the wrong way," she said.
- Street Bud, 12, Atlanta. He has a lot of potential with positive energy, cuteness and likability.
- Rap-Unzel, 15, Richmond. She has an interesting background with her bullying regarding her skinny figure. "Your performance is still stiff," Dupri said.
Atlanta's Ricci Bitti got hit the harshest. In an early listen, Jny Flower, Dupri's assistant, felt like the 13 year old missed the assignment by not providing who she was in the lyrics. She didn't agree and her later performance came off like a diss.
"It felt real disrespectful, a pretty girl turned ugly," Da Brat said. "That could get you booed."
I spoke with Ricci Bitti on the phone. The Kell High School student said perhaps the way the lyrics were written buried the message about who she was. Her sister, 27-year-old Miranda Brooke, was in the business as well in the past and managed by her father Darren as well. "I look up to her," she said. "She inspired me to start rapping."
Ricci, whose real name is Lyric, said she hadn't performed as much as Lil Bri or Street Bud. "I wanted to learn how to work the stage and interact with the audience."
And her quick takes on the others:
Lil Bri "was like a sister to me. We had no beef. She has a whole different rapping style. She can go hard."
Rap-Unzel: "We went back and forth quite a bit on the show but at the end of the day, we have a bond."
Street Bud: "He's crazy. I was closest to him probably because we were the youngest. I saw him as competition. He's also from Atlanta. He's doing a turned-up rap style, too."
Jordan: "He's so clever with everything he says. He's so lyrical. That's not my forte."
By the way, I participated in a mock press conference with the contestants with other journalists this past spring while they were shooting the show. We'll see if I make the cut or not.
"The Rap Game," 10 p.m. Fridays, Lifetime