For me the world is divided between before I discovered hip-hop and after it.
One day my mom gave me a vinyl record that said Sugar Hill on it. The next thing I knew, the whole world lit up with new vibrant colors and the music and style were everywhere.
Dozens of shows have tried to capture the essence of the art form. Some, like “Krush Groove,” “8 Mile,” and “Straight Outta Compton,” have gotten it right.
Most, unfortunately, just have not been that good. This is where the new Netflix original series “The Get Down” nails it.
“The Get Down” is a mixture of imaginative storytelling and historically pronounced themes. Set in the nostalgia of the Bronx, the show takes place during a time when disco was the commercial sound and hip-hop was being born.
The story is based as much around the scenery as it is the main characters. The two main characters, Ezekiel “Books” Figuero and Mylene Cruz, adequately display the youthful spirit of a young couple learning about the world around them, the players involved, and the music that drives their passions.
- Myles Aronowitz/Netflix
There are heavy nods and nuances inside “The Get Down” that could best be described as “hip-hop Easter eggs.” The Easter eggs are all over the place. Clearly Mylene is inspired by famed disco singer Donna Summer. Les Inferno is like the Studio 54 of the Bronx, just like the very real Disco Fever. The name of the series is literally the birth of sampling.
The Easter eggs are probably in the dozens when all is said and done. The only one missing is Crazy Legs from the Rock Steady Crew.
It’s a story many of us know, much like a myth, that hip-hop was invented to curb the violence in the streets. Never has any major series or movie attempted to actually show, not only how this was being done, but by Kool Herc himself – brilliant. Likewise, the scene in which Shaolin Fantastic stands on the roof of a likely condemned building, looking out at the Bronx from an aerial view and defining the territories by DJ, brings back a special feeling.
Most of the movies, series, and shows that involve hip-hop come from a perspective outside of the culture, or they’re made by someone with an extremely narrow scope on what part of the culture is being displayed. That’s wack.
“The Get Down” is a fun ride with its fair share of topical interactions that make it just complex enough to be interesting and entertaining and not so complex that you can’t share it with your close friends. It’s smart but not convoluted, funny but not corny, youthful but there’s an old soul in there.
It also helps enjoyment of the show that hip-hop is the backdrop of the series, and not the series itself. That’s what makes “The Get Down” an instant classic.
Jimmy Smits, Jaden Smith, and Giancarlo Esposito are clearly the most recognizable faces on the screen, but they are side characters, part of the swirld around the core of the main characters’ storyline.
At points, I thought Books somewhat represented the eloquent aggression of hip-hop while Mylene represented the feminine wiles of disco.
So much of the series’ authenticity is thanks to the scholars and historians that the show’s producers utilized.
For example, the real-life Grandmaster Flash, a pioneer of hip-hop DJing, was employed to train the young actor who played him on the show. I wonder if someone from the Koch family assisted in making sure Mayor Koch was played correctly, because Frank Wood did an excellent job.
Netflix was right to greenlight this project with this crew, however expensive. “The Get Down” artistically rides the line between original storytelling and raw, lifelike historical narrative, and that’s refreshing to see. Like it or not, hip-hop is a culturally dominating global force. Yet still it’s Made in America, right there in the Bronx. “The Get Down” gets that just right.