“The Get Down”, directed by Baz Luhrmann, produced by legends like Nas, Grandmaster Flash and based on the rise of hip-hop and disco culture in the Bronx in the late 70’s.
Sounds like a great recipe right? I thought so too, as an avid hip-hop head, mc and bboy I’ve been aware of this project for nigh on 2 years I think, I saw the casting call for crying out loud. So I have spent the past few days watching and re-watching this series thinking deeply on how to take it.
Let’s get the things it does right out the way first, also disclaimer please remember I am a 24-year-old from the UK, my understanding of the 1970’s Bronx is kind of second hand…Firstly the aesthetic of the show is pretty bang on.
It’s easy to look at archive footage of the Bronx from that era and see it as a burnt out, concrete wasteland that wouldn’t be misplaced in Mad Max or Fist of The Northstar but you have to remember what came out of there. So the balance of gritty, depressing and dying with vibrant, defiant and colourful is to be commended.
Next the soundtrack, now I can get nitty-gritty and pick out songs played that were not out at the time of this ’77 time setting but come on, that might be a little pedantic and egotistical of me. What is pulled off very well is the sense of authenticity bought by the general vibe of what they play us.
From burgeoning disco and funk records, the fascination with certain hard to find records, the competition between hip-hop and disco almost, the completely different approaches to the methods of playing these two genres; perfectly displayed when Shaolin Fantastic discovers a break in Mylene’s single, “Set Me Free” the music on point, so well done.
Expanding upon that is the nature of the DJ’s displayed within this series. Now this is where I’d say the show shines most, it serves as a great gateway to discovering more about the art of dj-ing and how much of an influence it plays on the role of a DJ now, it’s roots and some of the pioneers. It highlights, in particular Grandmaster Flash, while Kool Herc gets what effectively amounts to a semi-applaudable cameo and Afrika Bambaataa is given a name mention. Google those names, I shall say no more just do it. While you’re on Google too you should take down a note of the graffiti writers referenced in Ezekiel’s final speech and check them out too…
Subway Art, Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper, 1984
Finally it encompasses and embraces many glossed over aspects of the New York party scene by highlighting the disco heavy nightclubs alongside the underground house parties where hip-hop was first-born and the difference between them depending on where in the Bronx you were at the time and finally the underground gay scene which served to break many a disco hit and the dance styles and sub-cultures of Waacking, Vogue and Punking respectively. This many layered scene is dealt out in impeccable measure without any of them inappropriately overriding the others.
Here’s where my issues lie.
Yes, this is also where I get kind of picky, deal with it. I’m pretty confused as to why Nas seems to be the voice of the main character Ezekiel grown up as an mc…the point seems to be that he came out the Bronx as it’s voice, it’s avatar but yet Nas is a Queens native and his flow and voice are synonymous with that fact. I love Nas as an mc, and the rhymes he wrote for this project are great as ever but why not have a Bronx born mc take up that mantle?
While on the subject of speech, the slang seems off. It’s too modern in alot of cases, at the very least 90’s and I’ve seen several Bronx born pioneers take issue with that too, but hey how are the rest of us to know. My biggest issue is this however, and I probably should have seen it coming with Baz Luhrmann as director but it’s too pretty, it’s too High School Musical in the ghetto for me.
Now I acknowledge the political messages gently woven in that still ring true today and are core to hip-hop culture, I appreciate the vast role music itself plays in this show but that doesn’t mean it should play like a Broadway show.
Now granted alot of time was probably spent chasing the licensing for the music and alot of money spent on obtaining that but the writing needn’t have suffered for me. Not saying it was abysmal but it was barely passable when I’m looking at some of the more premier moments of dialogue and that itself means realistically sub-par.
All in all this isn’t bad. The cast do their thing and it’s great to see some young fresh faces who show alot of potential here with Jaden Smith finally for alot of people showing some decent acting chops (not for me, I think he’s pretty good but for the rest of you…) Justice Smith, Herizen F. Guardiola and a new favourite of mine from “Dope”, Shameik Moore. At just six episodes long it’s a pretty easy binge compared to many other shows.
Another slight issue I feel obliged to raise is the colour issue in casting, many pioneers have raised the point many Puerto Rican roles have not been played by Puerto Ricans and while this doesn’t necessarilly detract from the quality of the show it might play on some people’s minds especially in the wake of media representation particularly in America being widely spoken about.
There are flaws, not gaping holes but enough to prove worrisome; which leads to my final point. Speaking very specifically to the hip-hop community, this is not something that should be torn down. We have a self-destructive nature where we tend to smoke everything that pops up if it’s not perfect, we can’t even support things in the underground and our own community wholeheartedly.
If we insist on tearing this project and show down though instead of raising our issues calmly and rationally to help Hollywood better portray our story and our elder’s stories to the masses we won’t have a story to tell soon enough.
I will be watching the remaining 6 episodes when they premiere in 2017, and I hope that the show continues to evolve and rise past the issues it currently has into a second season and the only thing I ask is this…can I get a bboy main character as well? Thank you!!