“This ain’t The Voice, motherfuckers,” guest judge Snoop Dogg proclaims early in the run of Netflix’s new rap-competition show, Rhythm + Flow. It’s almost what linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin called a performative utterance—a sentence that enacts its own reality simply by being stated, like a wedding vow. What sets Rhythm + Flow apart from two decades of American musical TV contests is not only that it’s about hip-hop—tried before, but never with mass success—but that its berth on a streaming service lets it toss away the “family friendly” tone of broadcast TV sing-offs. (The first four episodes premiered last week, three more were released today, and the last three are set for next Wednesday; reviewers could preview all but the final two.)

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