In April 2018, cult internet musician Rapman released the first part of his three-piece web phenomenon: Shiro’s Story. The trilogy of short films saw Raps (as he is commonly known) acting as an omniscient Greek-chorus-type figure, interweaving narrative rap monologues with scenes deftly acted out by unknown actors; think Goodfellas meets Slick Rick’s “Who Rotten ‘Em”, but with an unmistakable London locality attached. The trilogy went viral for its unique, medium-defying method of storytelling, garnering millions of views and even reaching the attention of a certain Mr. Jay-Z, who was apparently scrambling for a fourth instalment after devouring the first three in one sitting.
“I literally lost all my words bruv,” Raps recounts, the still-awestruck grin stretching across his lips, remembering the first midnight FaceTime call with Jay. The midnight FaceTime call that led to him getting signed to Roc Nation. “Jay goes: ‘Yo man, we need to talk business.’ We needed to talk business! This is the rapper I’ve idolised since I was a teenager. It’s just crazy.”
Gaining Raps access to the esteemed Roc Nation Brunch wasn’t the only opportunity that stemmed from the success of Shiro’s Story. His latest project, Blue Story, is a feature-length film of the same ilk, backed by Paramount and standing at over an hour long. Based on his own life, the film sees the effect that postcode wars can have on young lives, and — like Shiro’s Story — is essentially cast full of unknown actors, something important to Raps when considering the legitimacy of the story. “I always wanted it to be an unknown cast… to break people out,” he explains, citing Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career-making turn in Boyz N The Hood as an example. “This is going to be a part of their legacy.”
Blue Story, like its online predecessor, will make use of Raps as a narrator, something he feels is unique to his brand of moviemaking. “We call them ‘ghost cameos’,” he explains, “I think it’s a genre now, like a USP for me. I think anyone that moves forward doing this will get bare compared to myself, to Shiro’s Story, and now to this.” He isn’t wrong. Raps’ method of storytelling is not only distinctive, but massively lends itself to portraying his story in a universally digestible way. “I wanted to show it from a real experience,” he muses. “Postcode gang war, revenge, rivalry… it’s so relatable everywhere in the whole world. So I want everyone to watch it and get the message.” An extension of this dedication to authenticity is the unblinking manner in which the film portrays violence – a topic the polarising nature of which Raps is all too aware of. “Right now, we get the articles saying ‘Teenager Knifed, 30 Years in Prison’,” he exclaims after some thought. “And rightfully so, but we never see what got him to pick up a knife and actually want to stab someone and kill them. Why? What would drive them to that? There’s never justification in this story, but we just want see how they got to that point, and show you things like no other film that I’ve seen from the UK.”
Rapman is simultaneously optimistic and mysterious when I ask him what the future holds, though he does let on that he is using the success of another young director, Ryan Coogler, as a blueprint. “He did his first film, Fruitvale Station, which is a story that’s close to his heart, and then he obviously went on to Creed, and then to Black Panther, and I wanted to do a similar route.” Exactly what this route will entail will have to remain a mystery for now, but with Raps’ artistic diligence, creative eye, and multi- faceted experience, the heights of his idols aren’t out of reach.
Blue Story is out on 22 November 2019.