The Winning Story Behind the "FAIL" Original Web Series


Just ask them. The viewing options catering to today’s young, Hip-Hop demographic are slim to none. So, it was a welcome offer when Christopher Martin – a.k.a. “Play” of the classic ’80s rap duo, Kid ‘N Play – came along with a brand-new web series aimed directly at the under-served, urban teen and collegiate audience.

“FAIL” is epic in its comedy and fresh take on the topsy-turvy lives of today’s youth. Produced by actors and filmmakers, Vanessa Baden and James Bland, the show has comedy, drama, hi-jinks, and lessons all wrapped up in one. And, to keep the Hip-Hop edge intact, Play offers his regular advisement to the show.

Before this week’s episode of “FAIL” (airing each Thursday afternoon), sat down with its creators to get the skinny on a phat, new show: How did “FAIL” come about?

James Bland: It was October 2010, I had just left an assistant position at Sony Pictures, and Vanessa had recently quit a teaching job in Florida and relocated to L.A. to pick up her acting career. We were sitting around one night reminiscing about our college days, as we often did, and the conversations shifted to the current state of Hollywood. At the time there were absolutely no Black sitcoms on television, zero programming that specially catered to the urban 13-24 demographic, and nothing on television reminded us of shows we grew up watching.

We quickly came to the conclusion that there was a void in the market, and if we wanted to see if filled, we would have to create it ourselves. That night, we decided to create a college-themed comedy based on stories and people we had experience during our college days, and “FAIL” was born. The concept and even the tile for the show came instantly. It was an extremely organic process. When did Christopher “Play” Martin get involved?

James Bland: I first met Play in 2010 during a screening of my short film, Cocoa Love. He happened to be at the screening, saw the film, and gave me some good feedback on it. Fast forward nine month later, Vanessa and myself are on a summer college tour promoting “FAIL” across the state of Florida, and we run into Play at a Best Buy in Tallahassee. He remembered me from the screening and asked what I was doing in town.

Vanessa Baden: Yeah, Play coming on was the craziest story. We had shot the first fou- episodes and were doing our best to push them ourselves. We bought one way tickets to Florida to use all of our college resources and do a makeshift college tour to try and get the show out. We didn’t even know how we were getting back to L.A. We were sleeping on couches and performing spoken word in churches on Sunday to get gas money to the next city.

When we got to Tallahassee, all of our computers crashed THE SAME morning before a church performance. As soon as we were done, we went to Best Buy to try and troubleshoot, and Play was in line in front of us. James recognized him, and as we all were talking, we told him our story and handed him a flier. About two hours later, we get a call to meet him for lunch the next day. The rest is history. Now, what do each of you do with regard to the production of “FAIL”?

Vanessa Baden: We do everything! We write, direct, produce, wardrobe, graphic design…you name it! We do have two other producers, Adam and Ed, who carry a huge load, too, but all in all, our team is small, but super efficient because everyone who shot “FAIL” from the beginning is still with us now. James and I wear a lot of hats, but it’s definitely team effort.

Play is like the executive in charge of production. He sees the entire picture and offers insight, direction, and sometimes caution about how things are moving or progressing, and where we should consider adding, subtracting, or even pivoting. He is also something like a spiritual advisor for us. He’s been in the game for so long and knows what it’s like to be a young boss, and he really looks out for our well being and helps us navigate through our new roles in life. How are the characters considered Hip-Hop?

Vanessa Baden: From the moment we started “FAIL”, the goal was to make it synonymous with Hip-Hop. I’m a huge Hip-Hop head and have been my whole life. Every character represents a different genre of Hip-Hop purposely to create “someone for everyone” who watches “FAIL”. For instance, Jet is that new age, forward progressing sound like a Pharell or Kid Cudi, and his character embodies that. You don’t always get it…but if you get that you won’t always get it…then you get it.

James Bland: Well, there’s C.K. who’s an aspiring rapper. He’s not that great, but we all know MCs that can stand to put the mic down. Then there’s Billie Jean, who’s always quoting Hip-Hop lyrics in random conversation. It’s her way of connecting with her Black roots and fitting in with the rest of the crew. Hope is the social coordinator of the group. She gets the party started and could easily be one of those girls you find on a Hip-Hop music video set. Jones is from Decatur, Georgia. His whole swag embodies the whole Southern Hip-Hop vibe, and you may see some resemblance to Waka Flocka in his character. Jet and Alicia are always fresh, and are really the cool kids on the block. Play, does this in any way remind you of your acting work with House Party?

Play: Yes, definitely, but in a serial presentation. It especially reminds me of the scene in the first House Party where my character is telling Kid, Bilal (Martin Lawrence), Sidney, and Sharane (Tisha Cambell and AJ Johnson) in the lunch room about the party I’m going to throw before things get out of hand with Full Force. I sometimes think it would have been interesting to hang out with all of us in school, and see how we comedically interact with themselves and others with a good message in it, too. So, full disclosure: this is going to be played on What AllHipHop reader is this for? As you know, the readership is wide and varies considerably.

Vanessa Baden: I think it’s obvious that it plays to a younger demographic. High school. College age. But I think there is a little something in it for everyone. I think with Play on board and future cameos from Old School Hip-Hop stars, to the mixtape, everyone can enjoy something. Plus there is just the idea that sometimes people just like to have fun.

I hope “FAIL” to be for the Internet/TV as “Let Me Clear My Throat” is to a party. It’s just a lot of fun to get up, be silly, and have fun for a minute. I think we have lost that today. There is still a message and a meaning in “FAIL”, but it’s a lot of fun.

Play: It’s something for the older mature Hip-Hop heads to share with their younger sisters and brothers that hang out on AHH, too. Sometimes I believe our kids are forced to grow up too fast, with pressures they don’t need to obsess with yet. Their territory and concern should be school right now. I remember how much school played a major part in Hip-Hop culture in the early years of the music videos. The backdrop and grounds was school when the story lines and concepts included the school crush, lunch room antics, sweating to get a passing grade, etc. Those videos and images mixed in the music let us know the best place to make your mistakes are in school. Have you ever thought that the term “fail” has several different connotations (i.e. school failure and epic fail)?

Play: At first, I had my concerns especially from a marketing perspective, but more importantly, from the perspective of a educator like myself. This is something I did bring to the team as a concern in hopes that maybe it would be better to rethink the title. Then I realized how I was beginning to sound like my parents, coming up and introducing words to them I was using at the time like “that’s dope” or “that’s stupid,” etc.

Vanessa Baden: Absolutely, and that’s why we chose the name. For our generation, the term “fail” doesn’t immediately make us think of failure in the traditional sense. It makes us think of a situation or circumstance that does not go as planned and has almost comical results. For an older crowd, they think it delivers the idea that we are endorsing failure when it’s actually quite the opposite.

But that’s something that I have loved about this process. We speak the language of our audience, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to see people to respond to that. It’s very much like FUBU was – it was “For us, by us.” They were in the streets and knew what the streets wanted. We are our generation. We know what we want to see. Not because of polls and focus groups, but because WE ARE the group. “FAIL” is going to be a success for reasons like using the name “FAIL”. Will fans catch the reasons?

James Bland: The younger audience always catches the comedy meaning in the title “FAIL,” because of what the word has come to mean in Pop culture. It’s a part of their everyday language. How have the characters evolved since the show began “airing” on YouTube?

Vanessa Baden: The characters have evolved SOOO much. Mainly because every actor has been given some autonomy and ownership. As they have become more comfortable and began to develop who they want their characters to be, as we write story lines for the show and say “Hey…this is what is happening to CK this week…”, there is a much more “natural” response in performance, because the actor “knows” who CK is now – what he would and wouldn’t do or say. A lot of our scripting is to push the story forward, but I would say 40 percent of what you see in “FAIL” is improv this time. Everyone just became their characters. Is there a message?

James Bland: The message, in my opinion, is that the road to success is not straight or easy. There are speed bumps, roadblocks, and wrong turns along the way. We watch these characters make poor decisions, yield to peer pressure, and take their education for granted at times. However, we always see them acknowledge their mistakes and make an effort to do better and get on track. For many college students, this is their reality. College can become a big party, but it’s also a place for discovering yourself and learning lessons outside of the classroom. Lastly, these kids are Black and in college. That’s a message in itself.

Vanessa Baden: There are a ton of messages in “FAIL”. We understand the responsibility of catering to a younger audience, and that’s to educate through entertainment. We are by no means “A Different World”, and don’t want to be compared to that, but we do hold a responsibility to young people as young people to present some of their trials and issues. The message for “FAIL” is college, and growing up as a whole, can be difficult, but its do-able. From not having money to dealing with trying to figure out who you are going to be when your parents aren’t there to tell you otherwise, we present all of that in a comedic (and sometimes over the top) fashion. The purpose is simple: It’s funny when you’re watching it, because it seems so stupid….imagine how you would look if you did it. Speak on the mixtape…

Vanessa Baden: The mixtape is my baby. Arguably my favorite part of “FAIL”. We always knew we wanted a mixtape to supplement with all the music from the show, and we tried to get a lot of our friends in music to do it for us. Either they wouldn’t have the vision we had, or things would fall through and finally James was just like “Vanessa, just do it yourself. You know music just as well as they do, you know what you want to hear, you know our vision.” I honestly had NO idea what I was doing, but I just started calling the artists and management of artists that we not only liked, but that we also believed in but hadn’t had their shot yet.

TPain is one of my best friends, and he gave a lot of help and insight from giving us songs to making the theme song. I really consider the Nappy Boy camp my family, and I owe a lot of the success of this mixtape to them, as well as Lex Berrero of Dream Big Hustle Hard and Shawn Barron of Atlantic Records. We were all friends before, and they believed in our dream and really helped compile music.

The assembly of the mixtape and the original songs were WAY out of my league, and we were just blessed to have super drummer RJ Kelly and super producer Harmony “H-Money” Samuels step in to do that. All in all, I have just had a star-studded, dream team help with this thing, and I consider the mixtape one of the best parts of “FAIL”, and personally, one of my biggest accomplishments to date. Will any of the rappers appear on the show?

Vanessa Baden: Yes, yes, yes!!! A lot of the mixtape was done after the show was filmed, so there are a lot of what we call “Minor Fails” that will be coming out simultaneously with the show.

Play: Yes. I’m looking forward to the guest appearances to come by – friends I’ve worked with and have admired over the years. I really want to thank the contributions of those on the mixture, but as for the show itself, I’m really excited about presenting Hip-Hop icons and pioneers, too, in role model figures such as teachers, parents, and advisors. Introducing some of them in our second season will be a great boost kicking it off with the school’s President/Chancellor played by Chubb Rock. This production is going to be a great opportunity to see generations come together for a great times and messages. Any final words or comments?

Play: I’ve been more than fortunate to be part of a duo that contributed to a major change in Hip-Hop culture, and it’s entertainment that began with people who believed in us. I want to do the same with Vanessa, James, Jeryn, Tristin, Whitney, and Andrew. I really wanna thank AllHipHop for the opportunity to do something new in this venture. I’m excited to watch this group and others grow along with the AllHipHop audience.

“FAIL” airs weekly on Thursdays exclusively on