Written by: Cesar Perez, CC2K Staff Writer
In Bodied, director Joseph Khan explores a culture not often shown in cinema: the vicious, rowdy, and unfiltered world of battle rap. 8 Mile star Eminem is credited as a producer here, and having a legend like him on board undoubtedly adds an extra layer of authenticity. The film takes a deep dive into the culture as well as the politics of this competitive world. Bodied is raw and Khan doesn’t hold anything back.
Caucasian college student Adam Merkin (Calum Worthy) views battle rappers as the great poets of his generation. Holding great admiration for the art form, he decides to write his thesis on the subject. While attending an event, Adam meets Behn Grymm (Jackie Long) who agrees to help Adam with his research and help him discover and hone his own skills. Bodied has lot going for it with the entirely original script and overall wittiness. What audiences are going to find the most captivating though, are the completely off-the-wall battle rap scenes. 8 Mile showed a glimpse of this culture and brought it to the mainstream, but in total, there are only roughly fifteen minutes of actual competition is shown in that film. Bodied has a multitude of them, carrying the film in an energetic and hilarious way. Khan also takes a look into the imaginative minds of these competitors and their creative process. All of this makes Bodied the quintessential battle rap film.
Nowadays in society, we are quick to express outrage over something we find distasteful. Khan shows us a place that does not strive to be so polite. These exhilarating and outrageous freestyles are highly entertaining and will shock many that aren’t expecting to hear such aggressive lyrics which are often murderous, sexist, and racist. The motto of the battle rap arena is “anything goes.” Rappers spit vocal darts attacking their opponents’ race, gender, and anything else that they can turn into a creative punch line against them. In a battle, the tougher the skin the better. A culturally insensitive remark on this fighting ground would be mocking an Asian person’s heritage and unintentionally guessing their nationality correctly. In Adam’s first battle with Prospek, played by Korean-American rapper Dumbfoundead, he learns that nothing is sacred. Adam initially hesitates to attack Prospek’s heritage but after a few failed lines he bails on his conscience. Adam goes on to win the battle, in large part to his flurry of raps mocking Prospek’s ethnic background.
The harsh battle rap world has a way of forcing you to become someone you’re not, or it might bring out the person that had been inside of you all along. Bodied speaks to the characters that we play in the different settings we operate in throughout society. When we first meet Adam it’s evident that he is a timid suburban college kid that seemingly wouldn’t hurt a fly. By the end of Bodied, Adam is insulting the medical issues of an opponent’s family in a battle — a level you would have never believed Adam would stoop to when we first meet his character. Behn Grymm, whose namesake comes from the Fantastic Four character of the same name, is seen as an intimidating, tough-as-nails individual. Hidden from everyone in the battle rap scene is that Behn works in video games and is a family man, an image that would surely be damaging to his reputation. Bodied asks us to think about the lengths that we are willing to go to fit in and how we identity with different groups of people.
On top of this, Khan addresses many societal issues in Bodied, but the balancing act of ideas and themes works to his disadvantage at times. On occasion, Bodied feels cluttered and unfocused. The film brings up a lot of interesting topics for discussion but doesn’t fully expand or resolve them. In Adam’s thesis paper he states how he will discuss the use of the “N” word in the battle rap setting. In one scene Adam bounces a few ideas off of Bhen but that is all the attention the film gives to this subject. What could have been an open-minded discussion on the use of bigoted remarks that are freely used by all ethnic groups with no judgment is just simply glossed over. Behn’s wife questions Adam’s legitimacy and place in battle rap when she claims that Adam is appropriating the culture. This has always been a hot-button issue in the rap community with the success of some of the biggest Caucasian rappers in the history of rap music being only attributed to the artist’s ethnicity. Many fans and critics fail to provide any merit to their lyrical prowess or song making ability, claiming that major record labels were putting more marketing dollars into the music of Caucasian rappers because they were seen as more profitable. All of these topics could have been fleshed out on in Bodied but unfortunately, they are not. The last act of Bodied is a little too chaotic in terms of plot and overall it leaves a little to be desired, particularly with the conclusion to Adam’s story. In this sense, Bodied comes up just short of truly being something special.
Regardless of the disappointing ending to Bodied, it is still thoroughly entertaining and it will be one of the most electrifying visits to the cinema you will have this year. You won’t regret it and by the end you’ll have the sudden urge to start kickin’ a few raps of your own.