Five Reasons To Watch The Get Down
Messrs Mamoudou Athie and Shaolin Moore in The Get Down, 2016. Photograph by Mr David Lee/Netflix
From the OG team to the brand-new beats, here’s why Mr Baz Luhrmann’s new Netflix series is set to be a hit.
New York City, 1977: a putrefying, crime-ridden metropolis, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and power blackouts; also the setting for director Mr Baz Luhrmann’s first foray into television. The Get Down, the first six episodes of which stream on Netflix from Friday 12 August, celebrates the other side of the urban decay – the cutting-edge creativity that flourished in the Bronx, and the birth of hip-hop. We were lucky enough to see a sneak preview of the series. Here’s why Baz’s beats will hook you in.
Some serious hip-hop heavyweights are on board
Grandmaster Flash, one of the genre’s pioneers, is portrayed on screen with enigmatic panache by a tracksuit-clad Mr Mamoudou Athie, but the real-life DJing legend is also a producer on the show. “When I got the call, he said his name was Baz Luhrmann and he had done a couple of films,” says Grandmaster Flash. “He said he wasn't concerned with my record career and me becoming a star. He wanted to do the organic years. So we met.” Recording artist Nas has written the raps, while Mr Kurtis Blow, DJ Kool Herc and Rahiem have all lent authenticity with their involvement, along with writer Mr Nelson George, a noted hip-hop expert.
Mr Jaden Smith in the new Netflix series, 2016. Photograph courtesy of Netflix
It was a real labour of love
Reputedly costing $120 million to create – making it one of the most expensive shows ever – so plagued by setbacks and staffing issues was the production that it became dubbed “The Shut Down”. The result is a sometimes messy, schizophrenic mix of musical theatre (shades of West Side Story, Fame and even Glee abound) and kung-fu-influenced live-action, shot through with original stock images of 1970s NYC. But it’s a flamboyant, fantastical love-letter to the Bronx and its creative kids. “In this borough, where there was so little and apparently the city had forgotten them, these young people were inventing with whatever they had,” says Mr Luhrmann. “‘What can I do with records?’ [they might wonder] or ‘Can I take a spray can and put my name up there? Because when I see my name up there, I am someone.’”
“The get down” is a neat metaphor for life
The show’s title comes from the term for the dazzling section of a song that stands out from the more mediocre music (the “wack”) around it. The skillful DJ’s trick – which the on-screen Grandmaster Flash teaches his young protégés – is to isolate and constantly repeat this golden nugget of a section, spinning the aural pleasure out for as long as possible.
A still from the show, 2016. Photograph by Mr Myles Aronowitz/Netflix
Diversity isn’t even a discussion
In an era of heated debate about diversity in Hollywood, The Get Down boasts a cast of almost entirely black and Latino talent. Mr Shameik Moore plays Shaolin Fantastic, a street-smart “lady-killing romantic” in red Pumas, who rapidly forms a bromance with sensitive mixed-race “wordsmith” Ezekiel “Books” Figuero (Mr Justice Smith). Books is besotted with Mylene Cruz (Ms Herizen Guardiola), a Puerto Rican teen with disco dreams, who also catches the eye of Cadillac, a white-suited playboy and club owner played with scene-stealing aplomb by Mr Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Mr Jaden Smith also stars as graffiti artist Marcus “Dizzee” Kipling.
You’ll learn about the history of hip-hip
Grandmaster Flash uses the analogy of a cake – hip-hop being the billion-dollar baked product today: “I can tell you about the recipe: the flour, the milk, the eggs, the vanilla, and the secret ingredients, because I am one of the bakers.” But as the fashions and the unparalleled soundtrack proves, disco was still king in 1977. “Hip-hop wasn’t this isolated thing,” says Mr George. “It was in dialogue with the other musical genres that were happening and in dialogue with the challenges in the city.”