Documentary maker Jeanie Finlay’s outrageous new feature, The Great Hip Hop Hoax, is touring the UK. She tells me about “the lies behind the lies behind the lies” behind Silibil ‘N Brains – the fakers who were keeping it real in the 2004 hip hop scene.
“The film is really about the biggest rap act to come out of California in 2004 in the wake of Eminem,” said Finlay. “They’re massive, they’re taking London by storm, but what no-one realises is that they’re actually a couple of chancers: one guy from Dundee and one guy from Arbroath. So the film is about the lie and the destruction and the toll it took on both of them. It’s also about what people are prepared to do to get what they want.”
Finlay’s film follows Silibil ‘N Brains, the Scottish hip hop duo who hit it big by donning fake American accents. The film explores the characters they created and the results of the lies they told to get ahead in the music industry.
“I read about the story in the paper after it’d all come out, and I knew immediately that I wanted to make this into a film,” said Finlay. “There were so many rich elements: the idea of storytelling and who is telling the truth, of denying your Scottishness – as a child of a Scottish parent that seemed very interesting to me – and just all about the corruption at the heart of the music industry. And the fact that this thing is so crazy, bonkers!”
The film incorporates their own video footage of the boys behaving badly, along with interviews from each the band members, Billy Boyd (Silibil) and Gavin Bain (Brains McLeod), and a few of the people closest to them.
So what was Finlay’s decision behind interviewing them separately? “It’s because they weren’t friends, they weren’t speaking at all,” she answered. “When I met them they hadn’t spoken for at least 5 years. So every element you see in the film is filmed completely separately. Billy is in Arbroath and Gavin’s living in London so geographically they’re far apart anyway.
“Of course it’s about the truth, and it’s a he said he said story. Who’s telling the truth? Billy calls it ‘the lies about the lies about the lies about the lies’. So I was looking for the truth in between the two of them.”
I asked if she had ever considered getting them back together.
“For a long time… I was going to film a reunion. Then I thought, ‘This is insane, why would I do that?’ I imagined the steps of putting them in a room and I just imagined they would sit there, fist pump, then look at me and go, ‘What do you want?’”
“I thought the reality of the situation doesn’t need me interfering. It needs me to reflect the reality, and the reality is that at the end of it all they were really far apart. So why not show that? That’s the truth.”
After completing the film at the end of 2012, the former bandmates did, indeed, reunite.
“I think it’s a bit of an easy reunion, but they’re making music together again,” said Finlay. “I should be a marriage broker or something!
“I think it’s good that they’re speaking, it seemed like a terrible divorce before. But is the world ready for another Silibil ‘N Brains album? I don’t know.”
The Great Hip Hop Hoax is released in UK cinemas and on VOD on 6th September. Learn more or request a screening at http://hiphophoax.com