DAR TV: Netflix's The Get Down

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-I was curious. Nas was supposed to be a vital piece of a new show coming to Netflix. I had no idea what to expect and not much knowledge of what the show would be like, considering I didn't follow it closely enough ahead of time. I sat down one night and opened up Netflix. I saw The Get Down was available to watch and decided to check it out. I mean, it's the origin story of hip hop in many ways, complete with the legendary characters and architects of the renaissance. However, I didn't know what to really expect. What I got was a bit of a hip hop drama musical, complete with over exaggerations and a bit odd pacing in a good amount of the episodes. Despite the mishaps on the surface, I couldn't stop watching. I wanted to witness what happened next in most of the characters' journeys. Was I truly invested in the characters like that? Not really, it's the scenarios and the surrounding cast that made me want to watch each scene. It was a production of epic proportions and with a rumored budget of 120 million, and minimal big time stars, I see why the show had so much emphasis on the pagentry of it all. I'll keep my feelings on all the characters and episodes specifically for the outro, but the show was a mix of ridiculous, hilarity (unintentionally), and good ol' nostalgia. Today, we gather to discuss this show, the first part of it (six episodes) and what we would like to see in Part 2 as well. Let's get into it.

I wasnt sure I'd check out The Get Down, but as soon as I read that Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, and DJ Kool Herc were hands on with Nas executive producing it, I was sold. This series had me hooked from the start with the way they jumped into everyone's stories. You got a sense of their personalities and passions right away. There are so many captivating characters which leaves no room for dull moments. My attention was always on the screen.

The visuals were nicely done. I like the way they mixed in actual B-roll footage from that time of buildings in ruin, graffiti marked trains, fire trucks, the twin towers, gangs, and more just to let us know this was real. It was educational for me because I never knew about landlords paying gangs to burn buildings down to collect the insurance money, the 70's blackouts, oil crisis or 1520 Sedgwick Ave being the "birthplace" of hiphop.

I'm glad they included latinos as main characters and in almost every backdrop, they show that Puerto Ricans were pivotal to hip hop's origins. The Nas interludes were dope. He was a great choice for the storytelling as "Books". It just took me a minute to get used to him rapping as a Bronx character, being that we've known that voice as the Queens MC. My favorite parts are the moments where Flash is dropping knowledge about break beats and the conversations between Shaolin and Ezekiel. Seems like there was always growth from those interactions.

Now, folks may find the kung-fu bits a little corny, but I felt like they naturally flowed. I mean what's the 70's without kung-fu or comics? That superhero aspect meshed right into hip hop.

With Baz Luhrmann's track record like Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby, to name a few,  I'm glad he didn't make this overly dramatic and musical. I think he did a good job giving us a nice balance of poetry, disco, rapping and DJing while also giving us enough comedy, drama and action. This series managed to show how there could be so much struggle and strife around you, but you're still able to find hope and turn that into fun, which is essentially hip hop. I can't wait to see what Part 2 has to offer.

For someone (like me) who was alive and grew up listening to Eazy E, Eric B & Rakim, EPMD and LL, I’ve always had a profound appreciation for hip hop culture and the quality and standard of rap music of that era. Over the years it has seen, what I personally believe, is a steady decline. Rap fans care less about lyrical depth, less about flow and delivery and more about trap beats and bangers, at least from my perspective. I find it almost impossible to share any kind of appreciation with generations growing up on the “Drakes” and “Futures” and all the “Lil” rappers. As much as they can hear about how influential the pioneers like Rakim, KRS-One, Sugar Hill Gang, Afrika Bambataa, Eric B, Grandmaster Flash, Chuck D and the entire Public Enemy crew etc. are in the culture, how revolutionary the content of their lyrics and how integral their scratch heavy beats were in shaping hip hop now, words are hardly enough.

Rap music is a vital foundation of hip hop culture and IMO, to truly appreciate the culture, it’s critical to know and understand the roots which many people overlook. Then the greatest thing happened, on August 12, 2016. Netflix premiers an original series called “The Get Down”. I hadn’t even heard of it until True and about 10 other people hit me up and told me I should check it out. I'm so glad I did. Let me explain what makes this so incredible to me and of course, some parts that I feel truly stuck out.

“The Get Down” was created by Baz Luhrmann & Stephen Guirgis, and it takes us way back. Set in the late ’70’s at the time when The Bronx was being overtaken by arson, while Harlem was being consumed by heroin and cocaine and when drug dealers were establishing organization in their criminal activities, we go through the birth and emergence of hip hop/rap in New York. Each episode is cleverly titled to highlight the theme and organizes the pace at which the entire story plays out. What stood out to me from the very first minute was the narrative being done through a rap performed by Nas (in present day) and transitioning the picture to old (and real) media footage of the Bronx in 1977. Having Nas narrate this through a rap is absolutely brilliant, as it’s what he’s known for so this makes perfect sense.

The character development is very well done. Each is introduced in a way to match their contribution to the story. Our first introduction to Ezekiel is with him writing rhymes, which we would learn and indicate that he’s the “wordsmith”. There's Shaolin Fantastic, who is an “urban legend” in the graffiti circle and an aspiring DJ, which is known very early on. Grandmaster Flash is spoken about early as well as the other crews and DJ’s that were pioneers in the genre, so to anyone familiar with hip hop history, they would appreciate that detail. The focus and emphasis on the art of DJing, writing, rhyming and the process is phenomenal. It’s depicted as something that takes a whole lot of time, patience, understanding and heart. From the dialogue and clothing to the scenery, the first episode lays the foundation for where the story will go, brick by brick with impressive accuracy and each episode that follows introduces, highlights and develops a bit more. The best thing about this is, the creators/writers have done their research, they have paid attention to details of everything including those involving the acceptance of homosexuals in that era, politics as well as the diplomacy within the music industry and have the patience to let it play out at a pace that feels neither rushed nor lagged.

For those who don’t care for the history of hip hop aspect, that’s perfectly fine because they’ve kept you in mind as well. This show comes part and parceled with crime bosses, drug dealing, petty crimes, murders, a love story and one of friendship and loyalty. Again, the execution of this is remarkable. They’ve managed to have layers upon layers that I’m sure will come to fruition in future episodes (I'm convinced and hoping Shaolin Fantastic is about to become the RZA soon enough and we’ll have our introduction in some way to the Wu and if you’ve read “The Tao", then maybe you’d agree).

As much as I love each and every episode so far, there are a couple parts that really resonate, the first being the early taught lesson of loyalty. The kids are young and don’t seem to know what it means to be “loyal in the streets”, they don’t understand that flaking out or dishonesty have severe repercussions. Although I’ve never experienced the streets first hand, I think they depicted it in a believable way. They get beat, they have issues within their friendships and of course they learn pretty quick that loyalty, especially with your crew, is integral. Another part that I thought was great was the entirety of the fifth and sixth episodes, with the story development around Mayor Ed Koch and the exploitation of minorities to help his campaign, was very well done. The two episodes also stay true to his stance on graffiti (which serves as one of four elements of hip hop culture which was just being born at the time), and the show maintains the accuracy.

The part in the same episode which helped create those “layers” I talked about, was the speech Ezekiel gives at the mayors rally. I love that part, and I really thought he would get up there and say some chump, ass-kissing speech, but the way he integrated the graffiti tags into his speech was dope. It was clever and the way the people listening react was perfect in displaying how valuable and relatable it was.

One thing I personally didn’t like though is Jaden Smith. I’m sure many people feel the same way, but I find he doesn’t fit the part and there’s something untrustworthy about him (which they may develop in future episodes). His role as Rumi kills me a little each time I hear it referenced. Rumi is my favorite poet, his work is beyond exceptional and infused with mysticism and depth. It’s a heavy name to give to someone who can never act to that degree and do it justice. I also find his lines and dialogue a bit forced, he tries very hard to sound intellectual, it's almost robotic, but I’ll attribute that to his age and give him a pass. I simply don’t find his involvement in the group needed or necessary, he’s more of an annoyance than anything but we’ll see where that goes.

Overall, I think conceptually “The Get Down” is an important series. It has renewed an appreciation for the roots of hip hop that we so easily forget. The highlighting of the pioneers in the genre we all love is needed more than anything and especially the amount of attention it puts on quality is incredible. It distinguishes every component and pillar of hip hop and shows exactly how each one played an integral part in shaping rap music and its evolution. What “The Get Down” does best though, is it holds the culture to the highest standard and demands respect for the creativity and artistic component. After seeing part one in its entirety, I think Luhrmann and Guirgis have created something that will help current and future generations in appreciating the craft. This is truly an exceptional series.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-I'm not as favorable on the show as the others, but I enjoyed it. I love the involvement of Nas, but am on the fence about Ezekiel. He's a bit of a punk, and lacks even the self awareness that most people need to possess. He makes weird decisions and his reliance on Shaolin Fantastic over his own girl at times is something that rubs me the wrong way. However, these are minor gripes and despite some characters not working for me, overall I enjoyed the show. I was not a fan of Rumi however, and I thought the gay angle was very unnecessary. While everyone has a right to be what they want, I just didn't see a place for it in this series. It didn't add to the story. Outside of that, The Get Down is a fun watch, and mindless entertainment if you will. It fits perfectly into your binge watching sessions. Give it a spin.



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