An unlikely hit at this summer’s box office, the film Yesterday tells the story of an aspiring singer-songwriter named Jack, who, due to an unlikely series of events, finds himself living in a world where he is the only person who remembers The Beatles. In a move some might charitably call “opportunistic,” Jack—portrayed by British actor, Himesh Patel—begins to exploit this discovery for personal gain, passing The Beatles’ songs off as his creations until he eventually grows famous enough to be invited on tour by Ed Sheeran.
It’s the type of movie critics describe as “charming” and “low-stakes” even though the various plot points seem to have been brainstormed on cocaine and storyboarded on used fast food napkins.
Watching the film’s trailer for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice that Jack happens to be portrayed by a man of South Asian descent, not unlike myself. Noting the similarities between Patel and me, I began to project my own experiences onto his character, imagining myself embodying the role of Jack instead.
The most significant complication with this fantasy is that I’m too casual of a Beatles fan to fulfill the movie’s central premise. Iconic though the band is, I grew up listening to hip-hop instead, so the only catalogs I can recall this effortlessly belong to rappers.
With that said, the following are the slate of pitches I devised for what Yesterday might look like if the film’s writers were to swap out The Beatles’ catalog for one belonging to a famous rapper. If the movie is improved in no other way by my casting, I hope, at the very least, the licensing checks are a bit more reasonable.
One morning, after an earthshaking event that’s never explained, I wake up in an altered version of reality where no one remembers JAY-Z. I discover this seismic shift after I sell a used HDMI cable on Craigslist for six dollars, triumphantly declare “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” and witness a sea of blank faces around me. After trying and failing to explain the reference, several people compliment me on the inspired comma placement of my clever turn-of-phrase, and I sense an opportunity.
Knowing that JAY-Z didn’t grab the attention of the mainstream until the 1998 single “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” I begin performing this song at local open mics, hoping to build a buzz. Lacking the natural charisma and stage presence of JAY-Z, no one can get past the fact that I’m rapping over a sample from the movie Annie, and the performance is ultimately deemed uncomfortable for all. After I get off stage, an acquaintance in the crowd grabs my attention and says, “Hey man, what was all that stuff about having a ‘hard knock life?’ Isn’t your dad a pharmacist?”
Knowing no one will believe the dope boy tales embedded in my music, I will decide to keep my identity enshrouded in mystery, releasing several Pusha-T songs online to promising acclaim. After a few months, I realize this strategy is short-sighted. In advance of my first concert, I begin working with a team who coaches me on how to appear more menacing, so I can better sell Pusha’s lyrics on stage. It’s like that movie The King’s Speech, except it’s just an image consultant teaching me how to say “ballers: I put numbers on the boards,” with a convincing expression on my face.
Because of the long-running meme about Migos being better than The Beatles, Universal Pictures pressures me to workshop a version of Yesterday oriented around the trio.
In this version of the film, I try to find two people who will form a Migos cover band with me, but all my attempts are unsuccessful. First, my friends insist they’ll only join the group if they have the approval of their lyrics, and then I get pranked by two school-aged children who answer a personal advertisement I place online. “You Lou Pearlman ass motherfucker,” they text me after I finally realize I’m being pranked and attempt to scold them.
Disheartened, I will decide to give up on the group concept and make a run at it solo. I record all the Migos songs I can remember, digitally pitching my voice to a different tone for each member of the group, ad-libs and all. The reception to my music is lukewarm. Some people compliment me on the inventive way I pepper my music with triplet flows, but most people are unable to embrace what they perceive to be the strange artistic choice to embody split personalities in every one of my songs.
Ultimately, the only fans who support me are those who support other high-concept rappers, like Hopsin and Joyner Lucas. I decide that having this fanbase is worse than dying in obscurity, so I quit the industry.
I make the mistake of affecting Pimp C’s thick Southern drawl, and I’m swiftly “canceled” for essentially performing audio blackface. The backlash is like the one Iggy Azalea faced, but much more concerted. The remainder of the film is about my struggle to find gainful employment in a world where every Google search result for my name suggests I’m the first East-Indian member of the KKK.
After failing to elicit any buzz, I conclude that Kanye’s lyrics are not altogether that impressive without his accompanying production. I quickly learn that, if not for the gorgeous Syleena Johnson sample, “All Falls Down” sounds like lousy slam poetry.
Problematically, because I have no natural knack for music production, I’m never successfully able to recreate Kanye’s beats, regardless of how much I study the craft. The movie is about me slowly coming to terms with this realization, reckoning with my limitations, and watching my creative dreams die, as many 20-somethings are forced to do.
It’s a coming-of-age “dramedy” featuring zero laughs and a meandering narrative that nonetheless receives a score of 68% on Rotten Tomatoes.