Just a couple of weeks after the 43rd birthday of hip hop, The Get Down portrays the inception of hip hop and its surrounding climate brilliantly.
Netflix Original series and movies have been killing it this summer. “Stranger Things,” which I am admittedly too chicken to watch, has taken over every conversation I’ve had about new series. I, however, have been anxiously awaiting the premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s take on the birth of hip hop, The Get Down.
I’m a sucker for a good period piece, especially if it’s about the 60s or 70s, and especially especially if it’s about music. Because I am a self-proclaimed connoisseur, I know that they can either be fantastic or horrible. There is no in-between. When I read the premise of The Get Down, skepticism overtook me. I just remembered all-too-well the travesty that was Vinyl and was reluctant to give another one a chance.
Well, I sure am glad I did.
The Get Down is a mixture of hip hop history, black lives matter, racial relations, social commentary, drug lord conquest, drug use, music label politics, actual politics, religious criticism, Jim Kelly cinematography, feel-good love story (but not really), graffiti, and Jaden Smith…all set in late 1970s Bronx.
It’s a little hard to explain, but here are the top 5 reasons you should be watching The Get Down:
- Storylines upon storylines
If you’re easily bored, this is the show for you. I counted nine storylines, and I’m sure I’m missing something. This is the show for the people who love rom-coms, the people who love action, the people who love suspense, the people who love scandal, and the people who love history. If you can’t find a storyline that interests you, you aren’t paying attention.
- Daveed Digs as “’Adult’ Books”
The main character, Ezekiel Figueroa AKA “Books,” is a clear wordsmith very early on in the series, and before each episode begins, we get a brief recap of what happened in the episode before it in the form of a rap by the adult version of the character. Daveed Digs, “The Fastest Rapper on Broadway.” Digs originated the role of Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in the 2015 musical Hamilton, for which he won a Tony, a Grammy, and a Lucille Lortel Award. Digs is also the vocalist in the hip hop group, clipping, which makes his role as a rapper very easy to believe.
- Gal Pal Camaraderie
I dig the choice for female lead, Herizen F. Guardiola (Runaway Island) as Mylene, but what was more striking to me was the compatibility between her and her two friends, Yolanda (Stefanée Martin) and Regina (Shyrley Rodriguez). There was the typical good girl/bad girl/moderate girl gal-panionship that occurs in real life, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re all gorgeous and can sing.
- Unintentional Male Lead Swaggery
That’s the only way to describe it. Shameik Moore (Dope) is already one of my favorite actors, and his Bruce Leroy wannabe character “Shaolin” is a constant reminder of the time period in which the series takes place, because what little boy in 1977 didn’t want to be a kung fu master? Mamoudou Athie plays Grandmaster Flash whose persona plays into Shaolin’s, teaching him the ways of the “purple crayon” (you gotta watch to find out) and calling Shaolin “grasshopper.” Justice Smith, “Ezekiel” AKA “Zeke” AKA “Books” is unintentionally sexy as a sensitive, troubled genius whose woke-ness is on 100. His raspy voice that cracks on occasion really makes his role as a wordsmith and emcee much more interesting. Then there’s Jaden Smith, the poster boy for carefree black boys, who plays graffiti artist and free spirit “Dizzee.” He is everything you would want him to be throughout the series, and that’s all I can divulge without ruining it for you. *wink*
- Hip Hop History and Social Commentary Lite
The mixture of reality and fiction makes the social commentary and actual history of hip hop palatable. You’re not inundated with information you care nothing about, because you’re not really sure if it happened unless you’re already knowledgeable of actual events, and it takes a while for it to click that you have been taught a lesson. For example, Books’s poem about his mother and father and Dizzee’s description about the alien he paints in his graffiti are symbolic of racial relations both then and now. The writers made those themes flow so seamlessly that if you’re not careful, you might miss them.
Baz Luhrmann is best known for executing his extraordinary vision for films, no matter the length he must go to get them “right.” His director credits include some of the most visually stimulating films of the last 20 years including Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013). It’s no different with The Get Down, (which reportedly cost $120 million to produce – wildly over budget and unusual for a Netflix Original).
Hopefully for you, you’ll get into this series as much as I am. And hopefully for me, part two of the series will be as good as the first.