Film Review: ‘The Great Hip Hop Hoax’


In the mid-noughties, hip-hop outfit Silibil n’ Brains arrived in London from California with the dream of conquering the British music industry. At their first gig, their energy and humour got them spotted by a label and they had soon signed to a highly influential manager. Recording space was promptly arranged and hype had begun to build around these irrepressible Americans that would soon be topping charts worldwide. The snag was, as Jeanie Finlay explores in her absorbing documentary The Great Hip Hop Hoax (2013), that the rhyme-spitting duo was actually a couple of ballsy laddies from Angus, Scotland.

Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd quickly became friends after meeting in their small Scottish town of Arbroath, and bonding over a mutual love of hip-hop. Before long, they were taking to the stage together, but found their wider appeal muted by origins deemed ill-fitting and parochial for the genre. So, the duo brazenly descended upon London armed with baggy jeans, faux American accents, and sharp lyrics to find the previously bolted door swinging invitingly open; and through it they leapt. Finlay’s film picks up the story several years later with Boyd and Bain older – and possibly wiser – recounting the origins of their madcap musical escapade, talking the audience through the highs and lows of their quasi-celebrity years.

Silibil n’ Brains never actually got to release their first record, it was still in production when the label was bought out, but that only serves makes their tale all the more bizarre. Alongside the boys themselves giving admirably candid interviews, the same are provided by those that knew them – or their alter egos – during their short-lived existence. Combined with these are animated sections that manage to express the total absurdity of some of the situations they found themselves in. There is also a wealth of archive footage as almost everything they did in London was caught on camera.

Finlay’s film makes for enjoyable and thought-provoking viewing. As the story wears on, and they succumb to the excesses of the celebrity lifestyle they’ve long craved, their friendship wears thin. It’s an experience that they’ve possibly learnt from, and possibly not given that their first actual single is now available on iTunes. Either way, The Great Hip Hop Hoax is a strange and enthralling story, about the absurd lengths gone to in the name of fame, that Jeanie Finlay has presented with compassion and insight.

Ben Nicholson