Of all the genres of music out there it’s probably fair to say that Hip-Hop is equally the most revered and least relevant to a white, middle class, English man such as myself. My youth was not defined by murderous gang hostilities, cocaine, bloc parties, graffiti and overtly corrupt politics, as is the core subject matter of this drama. I’ve never tried to look fly and its unlikely my then sanitised pop interests would be considered dope. In fact my youth was pretty wack, not that I’d have used, or even know what that word meant. And here in lies, at least for someone like myself, the fascination for Hip-Hop.

The World of Hip-Hop is often depicted as this gritty, underground urban movement, which was as much about the party as it was The Message and community. It was cool, fashionable and rebellious – something most aspiring teenagers can relate to. Yet the danger is to look upon Hip-Hop, with all its mesmerising turntablist vinyl glory, and inadvertently trivialise its true identity. And it was with this conflicting personal position, coupled with having started to read, but failed to finish ‘Cant Stop, Won’t Stop – A History Of The Hip-Hop Generation’ that I approached ‘The Get Down’ with considerable anticipation. Move over suburban, BMX riding, Star Wars quoting kids…

The-Get-Down

Opening with a fictional 1996 stadium sized Hip-Hop performance or prologue, an artist by the name of ‘Mr Books’ immediately invites us to consider a darker time in New York’s history, siting the year 1977, gang violence, the Bronx and corrupt politics. All of which auditory commentary and accompanying historical footage of a crumbling war torn city, leave us in no doubt that the foundation for this drama is oppression, struggle and most likely the rise from it…enter Apartment 16G and Ezekiel.

So with the scene set you’d think the ‘The Get Down’ would be a gritty character driven drama recounting the emergence of Hip-Hop, its main protagonists and how the music was directly affected by, or affected its immediate surroundings. Yet despite numerous graffiti, gang, drug and political references it all feels a little light. As you would expect it has the sheen and spectacle of a Baz Luhrmann production, the music is rousing, the pace hectic, the locations suitably nostalgic and glossy, but when a bit of Martin Scorsese ‘Gangs Of New York’ grit is required we are sadly left lacking, with gang shootings and other nefarious activities having about as much shock/impact value as a Bugsy Malone splurge gun. As a consequence ‘The Get Down’ very quickly begins to teeter on the precipice of style over substance…

Thankfully and perhaps fittingly Grandmaster Flash’s entrance is the first episodes saviour as he stylishly sets the needle back in the groove with a depiction of one of his historically revered underground parties. We are treated to high octane Turntablism, MC’ing and Dance Offs, all of which, for a DJ like myself, were enthralling and inspiring to watch. In what is breathless penultimate scene ‘The Get Down’ finally finds it feet, leaving us hopeful, like its main protagonists that – ‘Where There Is Ruin, There Is Hope For Treasure’…   

Overall ‘The Get Down’ is an enjoyable if somewhat haphazard ride through 1977 New York. It looks and sounds great, particularly when the beat is dropped and the DJs get to spin. Yet despite its polish you can’t help but feel that an opportunity is potentially being missed. Despite historical nods such as referencing  Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Bambaataa and the like, you rarely get the feeling your learning much about the origins of Hip-Hop or the true struggle of New York’s 1970’s inhabitants. In an ideal world we would like to have seen a little more realism, depth and character development – in the vain of ‘The Wire’. And a little less ‘Moulin Rouge’ spectacle. Having said all that we’ll watch the second episode, if only for the DJ segments.

The Get Down