A New Breed of Rappers

American Rapstar is an absorbing documentary about influential and often troubled young rappers emerging from SoundCloud over the past decade. Turning the music industry on its head, their lo-fi aesthetic and gritty rap music bypassed the traditional gatekeepers through widely available streaming platforms. Gifted massive followings and huge record label deals in their teenage years, the genre is riddled with drug addictions.

Lil Peep, Bhad Bhabie, Lil Pump, Lil Xan, Smokepurpp – if those names mean anything to you, American Rapstar is absolutely for you. Even if those names don’t ring a bell, the documentary neatly balances their music with a deeply honest approach exploring their lives off the stage. Those rappers and more are highlighted, covering their rapid ascent and the downside of stardom at such young ages. A music scene practically built on opioid abuse, some of the documentary’s most powerful moments are the tragic death of Lil Peep at 21 of an overdose and Florida rapper XXXTentacion’s shocking murder.

American Rapstar is an absorbing documentary about influential and often troubled young rappers emerging from SoundCloud over the past decade

Director Justin Staples crafts his documentary around candid interview footage and snippets of music performances, often taken backstage as the rappers perform around the country. New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica and others like Ernest Baker  provide a broader perspective on the burgeoning rap phenomenon coming from SoundCloud. Producing a less polished, grittier sound fused with a punk ethos, rap music has changed a great deal since the days of Jay-Z and the Notorious B.I.G. back in the 1990s.

Some of the most lucid and insightful thoughts from inside the scene come from Danielle Bregoli, better known today as Bhad Bhabie. Cashing in on viral fame from a memorable Dr. Phil appearance, she became the youngest female rapper to ever appear on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her debut single in 2017. Sixteen million followers on InstaGram later, she’s made over fifty million dollars through OnlyFans. Hooked on prescription pills, the rapper candidly discusses the pitfalls of stardom and her own rehab.

As a music lover, American Rapstar is right in my wheelhouse as a smart documentary about today’s music scene. Covering the evolution of rap away from major label control, the emergence of highly democractic platforms like SoundCloud have produced a new wave of young rappers unshackled by convention. Adopting a grimey aesthetic encouraging facial tattoos and pill popping, the disruptive culture is almost alien to older listeners.

Pitch-perfect in pacing with a welcome mix of rap tunes and intimate interviews from the scene’s biggest stars, American Rapstar is the definitive documentary on the subject.


The main feature runs 81 minutes on a BD-25, encoded in transparent AVC. A variety of aspect ratios are employed for the 1080p video, preserving each source’s native composition. Some footage is in 1.78:1, while 2.35:1 is also used.

The slick direction and editing take raw performances and interview snippets into a cohesive package which looks rather good for a documentary. This is a professional, quality-shot production with proper lighting. A few of the concert shots and archival television footage offer slightly diminished video quality.

Crisp with digitally clean clarity, American Rapstar looks fantastic in HD.


A stout 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack backs the documentary. It’s an eclectic mix of interview footage, live rap performances and popular hits from various SoundCloud rappers. Everything from Lil Peep’s 2015 hit “Star Shopping” to Bhad Bhabie’s “Hi Bich”. If you’re a fan of this scene, the catchy songs and gritty production are crisply delivered.

The sound design offers nice low end and a little atmosphere for live performances. Dialogue is surprisingly clean and well-recorded, even in less than optimal environments like backstage at a concert.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font outside the widescreen presentation.


Vinegar Syndrome’s partner label Utopia packages American Rapstar in an attractive set by the standards of most music documentaries. The big bonus feature is a fairly engaging commentary by the director, offering his personal insight into the current rap scene. It would have been interesting to see the unedited footage of rappers but that isn’t included.

Some press material indicates original pressings include a slipcover, though my review copy arrived naked. The region A-locked disc comes in a clear case with an American Rapstar postcard inside featuring alternate movie poster artwork.

Audio Commentary with Director Justin Staple

American Rapstar Theatrical Trailer (01:48 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit DoBlu’s about us page.

American Rapstar
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A fascinating and often affecting dive into the world of rappers emerging from places like SoundCloud as the music industry embraces them for money and relevance

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 34 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots ripped directly from the Blu-ray:

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