Hip Hop: The Songs that Shook America; The Chasers’ Road Trip; Inside Culture with Mary Beard; previews




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AGE should not matter, but when it comes to some cultural criticism there is such a thing as appearing over the hill.

I still recall with a slight shudder of embarrassment a review of hip hop artist Childish Gambino/Donald Glover’s video, This is America, by a middle-aged critic who really should have known better.

The piece was perfectly informative and well written, and it would have introduced a lot of people to something that might not have been on their radar.

But it was like Mary Beard reviewing the latest Little Mix album, or Tom Devine deconstructing the Christmas Irn Bru advert. Some things are best left to the young.

As someone whose knowledge of pop music stopped on April 8, 1974, I duly approached Hip Hop: Songs that Shook America (BBC4, Friday, 10pm and 10.40pm) with some hesitation. Then I noticed one of the producers was Alex Gibney, the Oscar-winning documentary maker of Taxi to the Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Gibney doesn’t make dull films, so in I jumped in, sheepskin-slippered feet first.

The series title is as good as its word. Each of the six episodes takes one song, traces its origins, assesses who and what makes it great, and why it matters. The first episode looks at Kanye West’s Jesus Walks.

It was fellow hip hop artist Rhymefest who discovered the song’s beat pattern, the catchy hook on which everything else hangs.

He was 22 at the time, working as a janitor, and his marriage was in trouble. “I was hurting,” he says. A friend recommended a track by The Arc (Adult Rehabilitation Centre) Choir. Though gospel was not his thing, he gave it a try and was moved to tears.

“It sounded like pain,” he says. “It sounded like resurrection and redemption, it sounded like change was happening. It was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard.”

Also interviewed is Curtis Lundy, who works with the Arc Choir and arranged the song. The most spine tingling moment in the film comes when Lundy and the singers take the track apart and put it together again, so that we can better appreciate how it works.

Rhymefest gave the track to West to work his magic. West, who started out as a producer, was told by just about everyone not to mix rap and religion. Too controversial, they said, radio would not touch it, particularly if there was swearing in the lyrics.

But West went ahead and mixed them anyway, and the result made awards-winning, mega-selling, rap history, paving the way for other artists who wanted to talk about faith, including Childish Gambino.

As a biography of West the 40-minute programme only scratches the surface of the rapper’s life and is mostly concerned with his early years. Still, fascinating stuff. The second episode, which follows immediately, is on Kendrick Lamar’s Alright.

Between Bradley Walsh and his son in Breaking Dad and now The Chasers’ Road Trip (STV, Thursday 9pm), half of ITV’s on-screen talent, when not making their regular programmes, seem to be travelling the world. For the second in a three part series on intelligence, Shaun Wallace, Anne Hegerty and Mark Labbett, are confined to the UK.

Their subject is that wrinkled chestnut, intelligence: nature or nurture? To answer it, the adults take child geniuses on at quizzing, Scrabble, chess, and a memory test.

The best bit – apart from their reaction when told they will be staying on a campsite for a night – is when the trio take IQ tests, Mark and Shaun for the first time. Most people get between 85 and 115. Anything above 130 and you receive an invitation to join Mensa. Who gets the invite and who doesn’t? You might be surprised.

Narrated by Rob Brydon in that likeably sly fox way of his, The Chasers’ Road Trip is at its most watchable when the three start to talk about themselves. “My father’s IQ was 161 and he was an idiot,” says Anne. Unable to hold down a job or relationship he had “no life coping skills at all”.

As other types of intelligence are explored, including new kid on the block, “EQ”, or emotional intelligence, there are more revelations. You may not learn anything new about nature v nurture in this series, but you will certainly watch The Chase each teatime with a new perspective.

Speaking of Mary Beard, as we were earlier (do keep up at the back), the professor of classics is in fact the host of the arts show Inside Culture with Mary Beard (BBC2, Thursday, 7pm).

Among her guests this week are the musician Dame Evelyn Glennie and Douglas Stuart, author of Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain, and the subject is language. Still no sign of that Little Mix discussion, though. That’s a relief.


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