By Rachael Hip-Flores
New York Underground Kingz is a slow-burn of a show. At almost 20 minutes per episode, the series takes its time building atmosphere and setting up the conflicts of its main characters. Although there’s plenty of sex and violence to go around (ps – totally NSFW), NYUK is first and foremost a character study. Its two protagonists, Osiris (Rubin Hernandez) and King David (Ben B.J. White), struggle to balance burgeoning rap careers (they are the Underground [Rap] Kings of the title) with the harsh realities of the gang-centered lives they lead.
The show is admirable in its ambitions. It drops you down in the middle of a very real and recognizable (though often underrepresented) New York City – one where apartments are cramped and even glamorous nights out have to be negotiated and paid for. The limited production value and leisurely pacing go a long way toward creating this air of authenticity. Watching it, you feel very much like a fly on the wall, eavesdropping on particular moments in these characters’ lives. That said, these elements often work against the show as much as they give it its flavor. The audio is often muddled or uneven (so if you’re not glued to the screen, you might miss important lines), and scenes generally take longer than they should, padding out the run time rather than building plot or character.
The content itself is compelling, though. The characters’ struggles – public, private, and artistic – are immediate and relatable, and you can feel the stakes propelling each journey. Moreover, the larger message of the show – touched on frequently and brought home by a final title card at the end of each episode – the need for the African-American community to band together, the insidious destruction of Black-on-Black crime, adds weight and urgency to the series. Set these concerns among escalating rap wars, drug-addicted enforcers, the pressures of materialism, and the legacy of families broken by violence, and you get a show with no shortage of things to say.
New York Underground Kingz has a lot going for it, and I hope the success and view count it’s enjoying now leads to more resources to help bring its stories to life.