Plot points may be revealed below.
We meet T.O.: Upper-middle class, black, and a hip-hop devotee despite his suburban upbringing. He’s landed in the city to start college—and to immerse himself in hip-hop culture, to find the real thing.
He comes to the vacant storefront transformed into a hip-hop paradise, rappers, DJ’s, “all manner of fractured English, hybridized Spanish, coalescing into the boom bap bursting out of the speakers.”
And as if that weren’t enough, he meets Prima, a young woman whose rapping stops his heart.
Wooing her isn’t easy, so he spins some lies: he’s a journalist starting a magazine, and wants to feature her as his cover story. (There’s no real magazine; but T.O. does secretly document Prima’s story for his journalism class.) She takes the bait; and to T.O.’s dismay, introduces her boyfriend, a moderately famous rapper named Lord Style.
Suddenly, the beat stops. The DJ gravely announces that Tupac Shakur, the revered rapper, has been shot. Lord Style is livid. He loses control, and though Prima is devastated too, she’s put off by her boyfriend’s outrage.
In the coming days, T.O.’s journalism professor will tear his work apart, time and again. He’s distracted, awash in hip-hop and unrequited love. He must find a focused perspective.
So T.O. continues his pursuit of authenticity, hoping to find anything that feels true. He goes to a swanky party, where Lord Style breaks some heartening news: he and Prima broke up; and T.O. manages to steal her number! Enthralled, he calls, and she invites him out to her (admittedly troubled) neighborhood. Despite some class tension, Prima warms up to him, and he asks her on a date.
Months pass, their romance blossoms. But when T.O. offers an expensive Christmas present, things get weird: does he sees her as some kind of charity case? And when Prima finds out he’s been writing about her behind her back—not for a magazine, but for a grade in class—she slaps him. It’s over.
T.O.’s schoolwork suffers. He’s distraught. Winter’s tough, but a huge rap tournament comes just in time to lift his spirits. It’s a great competition, the best of the best. Things really heat up, but in the climactic moment, the DJ stops for an announcement, just as before: Notorious B.I.G.—another revered rapper—was murdered.
Sobered, T.O. looks back on his year. With newfound wisdom, he squeaks out an A-minus in class. When asked what defines hip-hop journalism, he reflects: “Rhythm, heart, and voice. And truth.”
Sometime later, T.O. finds Prima at an open mic. He offers a heartfelt apology for his dishonesty, and they confess that they’ve missed each other. They kiss; and finally, something feels real.