Grand­mas­ter Flash pro­duces hip-hop TV

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

A monk views po­lit­i­cal car­toons by over 100 Myan­mar car­toon­ists dur­ing a three-day ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cus­ing on a mes­sage of peace in Yan­gon’s Ma­ha­ban­doola Park on Au­gust 12. Not shown? The Poke­mon Go-ers be­hind him. HIP-HOP to­day per­me­ates global sounds and fash­ions but the art form was born far from the spot­light in the tu­mult of the 1970s Bronx, then a no-go zone for many out­siders.

The Get Down, a new tele­vi­sion se­ries by Aus­tralian direc­tor Baz Luhrmann, aims to fill a void in his­tor­i­cal mem­ory as he recre­ates the sense of cul­tural won­der – and the danger that was never far away – when youths in the poor­est New York City bor­ough cre­ated the for­mula for hip-hop.

The se­ries, whose first six episodes came out world­wide Fri­day on Net­flix, cap­tures The Bronx in the fre­netic stylis­tic eye of Luhrmann, with a light­ning­paced plot set to a hard-charg­ing sound­track in­ter­spersed with dra­matic slow-mo­tion ef­fects.

Luhrmann – whose films in­clude mod­ern takes on The Great Gatsby and Romeo + Juliet, both star­ring Leonardo DiCaprio, and Moulin Rouge! – said he was pulled to The Bronx af­ter hear­ing hip-hop in a Paris cafe and won­der­ing where the spark orig­i­nated.

“At a time when there was so lit­tle, how did a bunch of young kids who just wanted to do some­thing go on and change the world?” Luhrmann told AFP at the premiere of The Get Down on Au­gust 11, point­edly held in The Bronx.

“The sim­ple­ness of that is such an ex­tra­or­di­nary story,” he said. “The ’80s have been told but no one told where it came from.”

To piece to­gether the story, Luhrmann en­listed hip-hop pi­o­neer Grand­mas­ter Flash, who said the direc­tor con­sulted him ex­haus­tively on de­tails, down to mas­ter­ing dance moves of the time.

Flash, the first hip-hop artist to en­ter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said that too many peo­ple be­lieved hip-hop be­gan in the 1980s when rap­pers first won main­stream US au­di­ences.

“This era now be­comes a topic of con­ver­sa­tion. When we was kids, we didn’t record it, we didn’t film it, we didn’t do any­thing, so there was noth­ing for you guys to ref­er­ence to,” Flash said.

“Af­ter watch­ing The Get Down, some view­ers may say ‘I want hip-hop the way I’ve been do­ing it,’ or some may say, ‘Wait a minute, I just learned some­thing.’”

Grand­mas­ter Flash ap­pears in the se­ries, played by a younger ac­tor, show­ing the dis­cov­ery of “the get down”, the drum-break that would ex­cite the crowds on his tracks such as “Apache”.

Per­form­ing long be­fore on­line mu­sic, Grand­mas­ter Flash’s sole tools were two turnta­bles, on which he would play du­pli­cate records, and a sim­ple mixer.

Yet The Get Down is no biopic. The cen­tral char­ac­ter is The Bronx it­self, plagued by vi­o­lence and ar­son but also bound by a vi­brant neigh­bor­hood life.

The se­ries opens in 1977, a ter­ri­ble year for New York City which had just es­caped fil­ing for bankruptcy and was hit in July by a black­out that trig­gered wide­spread loot­ing – in­clud­ing, for as­pir­ing hip-hop artists, of equip­ment.

The Get Down traces the fic­tional Ezekiel Figuero, a book­ish teenager with a love of po­etry but lit­tle fam­ily di­rec­tion, as he pur­sues My­lene Cruz, an as­pir­ing singer des­per­ate to es­cape her over­bear­ing preacher fa­ther.

Adding a mys­ti­cal di­men­sion to hip-hop’s cre­ation story, an­other key char­ac­ter is Shaolin Fan­tas­tic, an elu­sive neigh­bor­hood mar­tial arts mas­ter and artist who sprints through The Bronx on mis­sions for Grand­mas­ter Flash.

The Get Down comes six months af­ter an­other show on 1970s mu­sic cul­ture in New York, Vinyl, pre­miered on HBO.

The epi­cen­ter of Vinyl was Man­hat­tan, with the se­ries fo­cused heav­ily on the sex and drugs life­style in the rock in­dus­try. De­spite count­ing Mick Jag­ger and Martin Scors­ese among ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers, Vinyl flopped and HBO scrapped plans for a sec­ond sea­son.

Vinyl pre­sented a seedy glam­our and roped in celebrity ap­pear­ances, with Jag­ger’s son James in a role. The Get Down re­lies on lit­tle-known ac­tors and in­ten­tion­ally stops the story be­fore Grand­mas­ter Flash wins fame.

Mamoudou Athie, a re­cent grad­u­ate of Yale Drama School who plays Flash, shad­owed the hip-hop pi­o­neer to learn how to spin. He be­lieved The Get Down could help el­e­vate at­ten­tion to the genre’s ori­gins to the level of pop.

“I find it ab­surd that it’s not as widely recog­nised,” he said of hip-hop his­tory. “I think that’s go­ing to change soon.”

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