Unlike Many Music Competitions, ‘Rhythm + Flow’ Contestants Aren’t Required to Sign Contracts

Adam Rose/Netflix

With a hip-hop theme and judges Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and T.I., Netflix’s “Rhythm + Flow” is hardly your ordinary music competition. Over 10 episodes staggered across three weeks, the judges scour the country for promising hip-hop artists who can also perform and produce their music. They take in auditions in four cities and gradually winnow down the top contenders — which in itself is not that different, but the staggered rollout and the fact that the show is on Netflix (not to mention it’s about rappers) makes nearly everything about it unconventional if not unusual in the world of music competitions.

But another aspect that sets “Rhythm + Flow” apart from many singing competitions is the fact that contestants are not bound by recording or publishing contracts connected to the show.

“We took our own unique approach, compared to what you see on linear [television],” Brandon Riegg, Netflix’s vice president of nonfiction series and comedy specials, tells Variety. “There is no label deal — Chance famously didn’t have a label, he launched things on his own. So when we spoke to [executive producer] John Legend and to Cardi and to Tip [T.I.], it was about staying authentic to hip-hop and what was best for the hip-hop community; it was less about tying them down to some sort of management or label deal.

“They are completely free to make their own decisions and strike their own deals,” he continues, “and we wanted to give them that freedom, depending on what they felt was best for them, as opposed to mandating who they had to end up with or where they had to go and sign. The show is an amazing platform to give these contestants an opportunity to promote themselves and to be seen by means that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”

Riegg says he feels that freedom is a big reason why the show’s contestants are so strong. “To be honest, I think we got the best contestants because we gave that freedom and flexibility and we said, ‘Look, we’ll help you as much as we can, but ultimately, for those sorts of big decisions, we’ll be there to support you and we won’t tell you what you have to do.’ Also, we live in an age where there’s the ability to promote yourself through so many channels from YouTube to social media, and it’s really about what’s going to help you get attention with what you’re doing.”

He’s hoping that the attention from the show will help the contestants to break out in more conventional ways as well. “One of the things that we haven’t publicized as much is that we know that Rap Caviar [Spotify’s most popular playlist] loved the finalists, so I think it won’t be surprising to see several of them, hopefully, getting showcased on that platform, which would be phenomenal for them. We’ve been there trying to help them as much as we can without overstepping what we should do.”

In fact, the winner will have the opportunity to open for an upcoming Spotify RapCaviar Live hip hop concert series. And while the biggest prize from “Rhythm + Flow” is perhaps the global exposure that comes from Netflix, the winner won’t be receiving a record deal, but they will receive $250,000 in cash.