In the premiere episode of “Growing Up Hip Hop,” a new reality series about the scions of several prominent hip-hop figures, Angela Simmons — a daughter of Rev Run of Run-DMC — is fretting about a coming fashion show she’s orchestrating. Then she gets interrupted.
“Your stress is so cute,” says Damon Dash, one of the founders, with Jay-Z, of Roc-A-Fella Records. Mr. Dash is legendarily loose-tongued and bullheaded — just because he’s filming a scene for a show about hip-hop progeny (including his son, Boogie) doesn’t mean he’ll adhere to the pat narrative. Instead, he holds court with a laugh and a sneer: “They don’t have to hustle. They don’t have to kill nobody.” The problems they’re facing, he succinctly notes, are “white people problems.”
This is one of hip-hop’s great achievements — that the offspring of some of its most revered figures wouldn’t have to endure the same hardships their parents did on the way to success. A silver spoon in your child’s mouth is one of fame’s many perks.
“ Growing Up Hip Hop ,” which has its premiere on WE tv Thursday night, would like to contend that the spoon is a liability as well, though it’s hard not to empathize with Mr. Dash. In addition to Ms. Simmons and Boogie Dash, this show features, among others, Romeo Miller, one of Master P’s sons and a former child star, and TJ Mizell, son of the late Jam Master Jay.
They are all children of privilege, but they also crave the spoils of celebrity. It’s the sort of family disease chronicled so artfully on “Empire,” the robust prime time soap opera set in a family dynasty record label. “Growing Up Hip Hop” nods to “Empire” in its title card, which includes a hip-hop-themed crest and is a clear byproduct of the success of “Empire.”
“Growing Up Hip Hop” is one of a plethora of newish post-“Empire” rap family reality shows — “Follow the Rules” on MTV, about Ja Rule’s family; “Master P’s Family Empire” on Reelz (which also features Mr. Miller); and “Snoop & Son: A Dad’s Dream,” on ESPN, about Snoop Dogg and his star football player son, Cordell Broadus. (There remains a faint stigma of thirst attached to reality television — you’re not likely to see the children of hip-hop’s true elite in front of cameras. Sean Combs’s children don’t appear on television, and neither do Will Smith’s children, Jaden and Willow, though that show certainly would be fascinating and bizarre.)
In truth, though, all of these shows are indebted to the pioneering “Run’s House,” which ran on MTV from 2005 to 2009. Rather than focus on the excess of celebrity life, the quietly influential “Run’s House” emphasized the mundane. The Simmons family was the Cleaver family — the children were young, the adventures simple. Rev Run was well past his rap career peak when the show aired, so the genre’s ostentatiousness was largely absent. Instead, he was a hapless father, and a happy one.