I finished binging on Netflix’s South Bronx saga, The Get Down yesterday. A show I’ve been anticipating for a few months now. I feel compelled to give a quick review.
Let me preface this by saying I am a Bronx native. A South Bronx native. So, there are elements that I was looking for, namely authenticity, and proper representation of my borough. Also, the appropriate respect for the generation right before mine who created the beast from the South Bronx that we call hip hop.
I am Nas fan Numero Uno, so I immediately recognized his voice rhyming at the top of episode one. His voice lowered my resistance, so, I settled in for the ride. It takes a New Yorker, or a true die hard hip hop fan to know why it’s so significant that Nas of all people has penned a soundtrack for a show where the Bronx is the main character. There was a time when he may not have done that. If you don’t know why, I’ll leave it up to you to do your hip hop history homework.
The dialogue is cheesy at times. It’s as though the writer isn’t from the Bronx or maybe not from that era. It feels like an outsider looking into the Bronx. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s noticeable, but it doesn’t feel disrespectful. Just a little corny. There’s a lot of admiration for my borough and my beloved hip hop throughout the episodes. I mean, the writer(s) damn near deified Grandmaster Flash, which I’m sure he loved. And they picked the perfect person to play him. For a moment I wondered how they’d gotten him to look so young, before realizing, duh, that’s an actor.
It takes place right before disco was about to have a severe backlash, which was a pivotal time in America, and to the story, I expect, as we get later episodes (Netflix please make it quick because I can’t wait!). It’s right at the birth of hip hop, when Flash was creating the art of scratching and Kool Herc was throwing parties on Sedgwick Ave. At the coming together of graffiti culture, clothing, the DJ, the MC and the B Boy. It shows a moment where dance, and DJ battles replaced a lot of would-be street violence.
We also get to see how tenements which were purposely burnt down for insurance, dirty politics and greed caused all sorts of trouble in the Bronx. But that trouble led way to the biggest explosion in music history. The South Bronx’s pain has become the world’s salvation.
The scenery, colors, and direction give the show a fantasy, comic book feel, which I really enjoyed. The cast is awesome. I would have loved to have seen more dark skinned women, but the world we live in doesn’t so… Anyway, Jimmy Smits, Giancarlo Esposito, Eric Bogosian and Shameik Moore from Dope (If you haven’t seen it you’re missing out!), a flick that instantly made its way to my fav movies list last year. Mr. Moore plays Shaolin Fantastic. I’m not sure how old he was when Dope was filmed, but I knew that given a few years he was going to be fine, and yes, he proved me right. He’s twenty-one. The boy is ripe.
But I digress…
It took me a moment to believe I was actually seeing Jaden Smith. I just didn’t figure he’d be in this type of show, but he is perfect in his role as a psychedelic thinking kid from the Bronx.
A wonderful actor named Justice Smith plays the lead Ezekiel Figuro, aka ‘Books’. He becomes a man right before our eyes. Herizen F. Guardiola, rocks as the female lead. Stefanée Martin, plays her best friend and has a bomb afro. Actually, everyone that had afros in this flick had great ones.
I saw where one reviewer called it “West Side Story with rappers…” If that’s what you get out of this show, you’ve missed the point. There’s beauty in the grittiness of the South Bronx during the infancy of hip hop, and this show aims to show that. If anything, it’s a fantasization of the 2015 documentary Rubble Kings. Shaolin Fantastic puts me in the mind of Carlos “Karate Charlie” Suarez. By the way, I highly recommend Rubble Kings for anyone interested in learning more about the Bronx, and NYC in general in the 70s. It features former gang members, politicians, the originator of the term “hip hop” Afrika Bambaataa, the legendary and Kool Herc, and the late mayor Ed Koch. The latter two are both featured as characters in The Get Down.
This is just the first half of the first season. Episodes 5 and 6 are the most impressive of the show. That is when I got the warm feeling of hip hop in my bones. I’m looking forward to seeing the character’s growth and the progression of the storyline. I hope all of the newcomers grow, and have long careers because they are all so talented. It looks like people had fun making this series, and I wish it much success, and as I said before I can’t wait to see more. This show is important!
I give it five out of five stars.