What happens when Nas, the guy that made Moulin Rouge, Jimmy Smits and a historical look at New York City get put into a blender? Answer: Netflix’s “The Get Down”, a beautiful surreal mess of a mismatch of hip hop, young love, incredible dancing, disco, Kung Fu, real estate ventures and excessive violence. And that was just the first episode of Baz Lurhmann’s epic tale centered in the Bronx in 1977. Using documentary style footage and grand CGI stages, “The Get Down” cements the tone of the whole program with establishing shots by drifting from the gritty reality of the time and the fantastical vision of the show. Not wanting to spoil the show, we’re going to dive into some of the elements of it that make it a must watch for hip hop lovers and the real life hip hop connections that exist in the mythology of the show.
Nas Doing Voice Over Work
I always like to get into a show I’m excited about by doing almost no research on the front end so that my opinion isn’t tainted in anyway. I had to break my rule a bit here because immediately after hearing Nas’ voice over some of the action in “The Get Down” I had to make sure that my ears weren’t failing me. It is in fact Nas and he predictably does an awesome job stressing his unique cadence over the visuals. He voices an older version of the main character Ezekiel (Justice Smith), an upcoming MC nicknamed “Books” by his crew for his way with words and his advanced intellect.So the casting of Nas as his older self is a perfect fit. It can be a bit unsettling to hear such a familiar voice when Nasir comes across the speakers butas a viewer you quickly adjust and enjoy.
Kung Fu and The Connection to The Wu Tang Clan
A huge part of not only the story in “The Get Down”, but also in the cinematography and scoring, are Kung Fu movies. The show takes place in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s with pubescent boys running around in a clique dubbed The Fantastic Four plus 1. Each of these boys has a specialty within the group and together they form like Voltron. The connection to the Wu Tang Clan is undeniable when describing the core of the show. Its hard to watch the show and not think of Razor Ron, Ason Unique and The Genius running around the streets of NYC, so excited to show off their wonderful eccentricities with the world. The way that the actors and creators of the “Get Down” are able to integrate the Bruce Lee influence of the time helps show how culturally relevant Kung Fu was at that time and also explains some of the Wu Tang’s Shaolin mysticism.
Origin Story of Grandmaster Flash
One of my favorite parts about “The Get Down” is its ability to weave together magical realism with real historical figures and events. One of the first episodes crescendos as the great power outage of NYC occurs in 1977. However, the best part is the spiritual deity that they turn Grandmaster Flash into. Older than the rest of the boys, Grandmaster Flash (played by the excellent Mamoudu Athie) is the creative entity that the whole group is striving for. In a time before computers made the DJ, Grandmaster shows the unique and almost magical skill level needed to be a great DJ. Record selection is critical, as are the turntables, the speakers and the wherewithal but, most importantly, Flash is able to show the boys exactly what they need to be great with just a purple crayon. (Not going to spoil it but the kids smoke a copious amount of marijuana and try to figure out why Grandmaster Flash gave them 24 hours to figure out the purpose of a purple crayon…I love this show.)
The Rise of Lyricism
In 1977 New York, disco music is not only heavily involved it feels like the only thing that is getting played anywhere. Prided upon its catchy upbeat songs and vapid words that pump through the stereos of the large line suit filled rooms, disco music is simply not very lyrical. Our protagonist Ezekiel is however, showing off his talent in the first episode of the series that is as heart wrenching as it is good. As Ezekiel is chased out of a disco club he happens upon a party later that night where the aforementioned Grandmaster Flash is spinning at, called upon to get on the mic we see the young man get after it and flow effortlessly in a sea of party goers. Ezekiel’s words are pointed beyond his years and the rest of his crew acknowledges his prodigious talent by constantly supporting his writing and reading. The show dangles the viewer back and forth between the world of disco and hip hop and makes you feel one thing for certain, thank god for Grandmaster Flash.