Primetime television is peppered with music competition shows. Drop the Mic, a rap battle rivalry program slated to debut October 26 on TBS, hopes to differentiate itself with a strong comedic element — courtesy of executive producer James Corden, on whose Late Late Show bit the new series is based — and a credible hardcore rhymer, Method Man.
The prolific Wu-Tang Clan MC. a.k.a. Cliff Smith, will serve as judge (along with model Hailey Baldwin) each week, as four notables from the worlds of entertainment, music, sports and/or pop culture face off and a winner ultimately is determined by a studio audience.
It’s the latest screen play for the rapper. Method Man, who had roles in HBO’s The Wire and Oz, and appeared in 2015 film Trainwreck, said at the Television Critics Assn. he believes “it’s all entertainment. I can do this role and still do me. Snoop Dogg does anything, everything. You can’t even identify Snoop as a rapper any more.” (Among other roles, Snoop stars alongside Martha Stewart in VH1’s Potluck Dinner.)
In fact, Method Man said he got his early inspiration from the small screen — The Electric Company and Sesame Street, to be specific. “I didn’t get into Grandmaster Flash or those dudes until later on,” he noted. “And my first hip-hop song I learned every word to was Run-D.M.C. I could’ve gone in any direction, but I chose to hang around guys who liked to rap and smoke marijuana.”
Real-life rap battles can elevate to an aggressive place. That’s not the intention with Drop the Mic. “I don’t think it is a mean-spirited thing,” Corden said at TCA. “If you watch a roast on television it’s really just a monolog of disses and someone sits there and takes it. The beauty of this is the attitude of the two hosts is one of absolute joy and fun. If you come at it with joy and fun, and someone has an opportunity to respond, it’s never felt mean-spirited in the episodes we’ve shot.”
Carpool Karaoke: The Series, created from another of Corden’s popular late-night staples, premieres on CBS next Tuesday, Aug. 8. Corden said Drop the Mic was a similar primetime pitch. “When we’ve got the numbers, when you go on YouTube [and] go, ‘Look, people really like this. This is how many views it’s had. This is how many people have written about it.’ It’s easier for the network to understand it than if we were to just go in pitch a [new concept] show.”
The concept for Drop the Mic sparked in May 2016 as a fun-jab faceoff between Corden and Anne Hathaway on his show that garnered 6 million YouTube views in 18 hours. David Schwimmer, who was slated to be a guest a few days later, phoned to say he wanted to try his hand at a rap battle. “We never normally do the same bit twice in the same week,” Corden said. “He sent in a load of lyrics about me and I said, ‘Right. It’s on…’ we knew there was a series in it.”
While the show creators acknowledged rapping in front of Method Man could give some guests stage fright, the rapper said he’s primarily there to encourage. The producers “suggested, ‘Why don’t you just drop by each guest room and give them a little heads-up you’ll be there,’ ” he said. “That’s the best thing I could’ve done. By the time they get on stage they know I have their back.”