I tend to fall on the nurture side of the debate. Generally speaking, we’re all a product of our environment and upbringing. But then you’re reminded once in a while that brilliance can find its spark anywhere and in anyone; not merely in rich, privileged communities.
Director Chris Easterly’s documentary Method To The Madness is the story of one unlikely spark in Chris Ballinger, aka HybridTheRapper. This young man from Frankfort, Kentucky raised by a single mother, for all intent and purpose should not be a brilliant musician, but he is. The biggest obstacle in his career is the fact that he’s from Frankfort, Kentucky—a city not known for its hugely successful music industry.
Method To The Madness opens with the goods, Chris Ballinger stands in the middle of an empty road freestyling. His impromptu poem is deep in meaning, and he possesses a charismatic confidence in his demeanor. From here Easterly tells Ballinger’s story intercut with his live and recorded performances.
“…Ballinger is not just good. He’s damn good. “
From the outset, it becomes clear that Chris Ballinger is an artist and one in the most extreme sense. He is obsessed with music and with verse, and music is the reason he was put on this earth. It all started in his teens when he was turned on to rap and hip hop. He began copying from the best and quickly moved to writing his own lyrics. As a teen, he discovered his musical talent by teaching himself the piano and other instruments. His moniker, HybridTheRapper, refers to people being an amalgam of two sides both good and bad, but specifically that his interests come all forms of music including rap, rock, country, spoken word, and so on.
There are two parts to this documentary. The first is the music. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest rap/hip-hop fan. Even for me, it’s not hard to see the Chris Ballinger is not just good. He’s damn good. Every track played shows thought and talent, which is also backed up by the myriad of talking head interviews reinforcing the fact that Ballinger is the brilliant artist he’s portrayed to be.
The second part is his journey to become an artist. Starting as a teen rapping with his schoolmates, then to the formation of his first band, second band, and so on and so on. Then moving from one collaborator to the next until finally a real producer willing to take a chance on him, only to watch the wheels come off. In a way Ballinger is like Van Gogh, he is so deep into his art that no one knows exactly what to do with him. He can’t stay in a band because he’s artistically progressing faster for them. Then in a form of artistic insanity, his sound hits too broad a spectrum of styles, that record companies don’t know how to promote him.
“Why isn’t Chris Ballinger bigger than he is?”
By the end of the doc, I walked away with two feelings. First, Chris Ballinger is crazy talented, and it’s a shame he’s not made it in the music business. Two, his story ends on this downbeat of overlooked potential, when you want it to be a Cinderella story of sorts. It’s basically a tale of a guy who should have been a star and through no fault of his own, isn’t one. Like The Voice, a naturally talented artist whom we’ll never hear from again. Which is a shame.
When it’s all said and done, watch Method To The Madness for some exceptionally good music. The interviews are interesting, but pretty much rehash the same message, “Why isn’t Chris Ballinger bigger than he is?” I get the sense that when it comes down to it, is a 90-minute demo reel for Ballinger. Possibly the doc is his last shot at stardom…a most deserved last shot.
Method to the Madness (2018) Directed by Chris Easterly. Featuring Chris Ballinger
7 out of 10 stars