On Friday, Netflix dropped the first half of their latest original series, “The Get Down,” Baz Luhrmann’s creation about the inception of hip-hop in the South Bronx in the summer of 1977. The story centers around a young fellow named Ezekial “Zeke/Books” Figuero and Mylene Cruz, two kids trying to find their way: Zeke in life and Mylene as a singer trying to break out from under her mysterious past meets reformed Christian preacher father. The South Bronx is their playground. Shenanigans ensue.
And this shit is awesome. The reviews are mixed though. Some folks love it. Other folks think its a glorious mess. Me? I’m in the love it camp. Let me keep it funky: this show is doing THE most. I legit really had no clue what it was even about beforehand (aside from hip-hop) and the first episode didn’t really help. The first episode, which clocks in at a little over an hour and a half, is like a Spike Lee movie where he literally throws everything he’s ever wanted to do in a movie…into a movie, reminiscent of She Hate Me, Red Hook Summer, everything he does now, etc. It has spaghetti western meets kung-fu meets poverty documentary written all over it. It is sensory overload, but it calms down into episode’s two through six. It’s got flashback narration through verse courtesy of Nas, who is also an executive producer. Not for nothing, Nas’ song, “Get Down”, the first track from God’s Son, is easily one of my favorite Nas songs of all time. As a hip-hop record, it is flawless. It is perfect. Everybody…get down.
Back to the lecture at hand: “The Get Down” is ridiculous, ostentatious, doing too much, awesome, musical, entertaining, real, trippy, WTF? It is all that and more, and you should be watching it. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. The actors playing Zeke and Mylene, Justice Smith and Herizen Guardiola, respectively, carry the fuck out of this show. The first episode kind of meanders about as you’re trying to figure out what you’re watching, why you’re watching, what Baz Luhrmann was smoking while editing, what you need to be smoking to properly keep up with the shit you’re seeing on-screen, and how they intend to make any money back on this considering how much it cost per episode. And then it happens: Zeke recites a poem for his teacher that his pride and fear of being laughed at prevented him from reciting in front of the class. He BODIES it. Like, that shit made the whole episode (and my interest in it) turn the corner. It was so real and so well delivered that I immediately felt all the feelings. They’ve got great chemistry as teenagers in love…well Zeke’s in love and Mylene eventually accepts that she loves him too.
2. Zeke is the CORNIEST cool kid of all time. His crew of friends, which includes Jaden Smith playing an awkwardly goofy, graffiti artist who says shit that Jaden Smith undoubtedly says in real life, is a fun group of kids who probably resemble most “crews.” They’ve got nothing better to do this summer than whatever it is they end up doing this summer, which for them ends up including brawls, parties, “get downs”, a DJ battle, helping Zeke woo Mylene, and becoming rappers because why not? But Zeke is that super smart kid who is also unambitious until he finds his calling and then choices start to manifest as he’s faced with not only opportunities, but possibilities.
3. The show is truly one big ass piece of art in and of itself. The Bronx is the background, but Baz and the other directors (Ed Bianchi, Andrew Bernstein, and Michael Dinner) made a visually stunning work, recreating the South Bronx in the 1970s in impressive fashion which they spend a lot of time focusing on. Now that might turn some folks off, but to me it entertained me. There are a lot of cuts from the show to actual footage from the 1970’s that gets a bit confusing at times. But it like almost every other show shot in NYC, the city is as much a character as those who were cast.
4. Shameik Moore, best known (if at all) from his role in the movie Dope, is writer Shao 007 aka DJ Shaolin Fantastic, a nice kid trying to figure out how to become a great DJ while hustling until he can. Or more like aspirant DJ who is being mentored by Grandmaster Flash who is referred to as Grandmaster as if he’s the Zen DJ Godfather. He keeps calling Sha “grasshopper” as he makes him figure out the keys to becoming a DJ in what can only be described as what happens when your Carmen San Diego floppy disk got fused with Buddhist monk teachings. Listen, if Grandmaster Flash was really this insufferable as a person, I’d have just quit trying to be a DJ and sold insurance. DJ Kool Herc is also in the show (of course he is…historically at 1520 Sedgewick) as a god-like entity as well. Point is, I laughed at these negroes so much. But I also enjoyed the shit out of their presence as much as I hated their shenanigans because I appreciate how they focused on the DJ being the central figure of the movement early on paying deference to all of the DJ crews popping up early on and the hierarchy within. Also, what happens when you bootleg a DJ.
5. There’s a musical scene (it is pretty much a pseudo-musical after all) where a song is created on the spot by a musical producer that is epic. And the song baaaaaaaaaaaangs. Not in the “Empire” “what the hell is this” type of way but in the, wow, this is really awesome type of way that is inspirational. I enjoyed it. You will too.
6. Jimmy Smits is Francisco Cruz, an ambitious Bronx city councilman who has his hands in some shit in order to make the South Bronx better. He’s your typical kinda-corrupt politician who ain’t really that bad but is willing to do what he can to make his community better so he can get the love he wants from the people. He’s in with EVERYBODY and respected by all. He’s also the guy you don’t piss off. He’s Mylene’s uncle and clearly there’s some family shit going on between he, his brother (Mylene’s father), his brother’s wife, that is just WAITING to blow. He’s the Uncle that can tell you to do better while it’s probably best not to follow his lead because it looks like it might include jail in the future.
7. There’s a DJ battle scene that had me so hype I literally stood up the entire time while holding my youngest son trying to get him to feel what was happening. Honeybadger don’t care, honeybadger don’t give a shit. However, I was hype. As ridiculous as it plays out, and like much of what you’ll see is ridiculous, the underdog, root for the 1977 version of yourself and your friends overwhelmed me as I felt like it could have been me and my crew.
8. Back to Zeke being corny. Listen, my boy’s pen game is vicous, but he’s also all heart when it comes to Mylene. He says some things to her that literally made me cringe. But I’m here for it because I’m sure I said some uber-cringeworthy things to some chicks at some point. My mind is just gracious enough to have removed them for me.
9. The music. It’s ultimately a show about the 1970s and the birth of hip-hop, which means that you get a lot of break beats, disco, singing, break-dancing, and young, urban culture. There is some great music throughout. Had me pulling out the phone to Shazam songs here and there, which also killed my phone. At this point my phone, an iPhone 5S (I know, I know), won’t hold a charge for shit. Granted, I’ve had it since 2012 but still. Thanks, Baz.
10. If you’re a hip-hop head, this shit is pure hype for you. All of us heads are obsessed with the culture and inspiration behind nearly all of our favorite songs, beats, etc. Another entry into the canon that looks at it, respectfully, and with as much focus on the art of it is alright with me. Sure it’s fictitious, but not unbelievable. Well, mostly not unbelievable. Some parts are patently the most insane shit you’ll see in a while. But as a hiphop head who can’t get enough of hip-hop documentaries and shows, I’m glad we got another one that’s super colorful, artsy, and musical. I’m down with “The Get Down.”