Back in August of 2016, Baz Luhrmann’s first foray into television premiered to Netflix in the form of “The Get Down” — a musical and theatrical journey into the story behind the legends of hip-hop music. While the program explores some historical aspects of those block parties and DJs who reigned supreme in 1970s South Bronx, Luhrmann’s story takes its liberties. And why shouldn’t it? The lore behind the musical movement’s inception is an enthralling one.
Amid a city in ruins, “The Get Down” presents a story about love, perseverance and self-discovery. As the story follows Ezekiel “Books” Figuero’s (Justice Smith) burgeoning friendship with inspiring DJ Shaolin Fantastic — and budding romance with aspiring singer Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola) — the audience gets enough of a backstory behind the superhero-style legend of the pioneering party-throwers who accidentally helped create the cultural phenomenon known as hip-hop music.
The six-episode series left us clamoring for more — seriously, Zeke really honed his rap skills in that final battle — and while we (not so) patiently wait for the fictional versions of Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie) and the Furious Five to return to the small screen, Netflix has premiered a new documentary series that has helped to make that wait a little more palpable.
“Hip-Hop Evolution” hit the streaming service on Dec. 2, 2016, and quickly pushed its way onto our radar. The four-part series takes the viewer back to the days before the term “hip-hop” was even coined. Walking fans — and non-fans alike — through the music’s exciting history, the program follows Shadrach Kabango as he retraces hip-hop’s steps from its underground party scene to global powerhouse.
If you’re anything like us, watching the real Grandmaster Flash take us through his process in mixing records — giving even more relevant meaning to the purple crayon/carousel technique featured in “The Get Down” — was a very cool experience.
Now, were Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc (Eric D. Hill Jr.) and Afrika Bambaata rival gang leaders on the level of samurai mysticism that the Baz Luhrmann series painted them to be? Not exactly, but they were leaders in each of their communities and well-known for throwing the best block parties, where the DJ — not the rapper — was the real star of the show.
Let’s not forget the depiction of dangerous New York gang, the Savage Warlords. While the show made them feel a bit too theatrical, the subject matter is based on a factual time in New York. And sure, “The Get Down” takes place during a time period where the gangs that actually existed — the Savage Skulls, Ghetto Brothers, Black Assassins, Grim Reapers and Royal Javelins — were flooding the streets with crime and murder, reality found the gangs in question living by a newfound truce.
“Hip-Hop Evolution” digs into the past to show us this, while also giving viewers a better understanding of hip-hop pioneer Africa Bambaata’s life before music. To put it simply: “Hip-Hop Evolution” offers historical credence to Baz Luhrmann’s mystical take on ’70s New York.
Season 2 of “The Get Down” is supposed to follow Shaolin Fantastic, Zeke and the rest of the gang into the next decade… And we know the ’80s weren’t particularly kind to music or the inner city, much less the people in either. Episodes two and three of “Hip-Hop Evolution” cover that intense, chaotic time in a way that will get your blood pumping. Plus, we never get tired of hearing the likes of Russell Simmons, L.L. Cool J and Darryl McDaniels talk about the ’80s hay day of Def Jam Records. Heck… Before you know it, you may just find yourself rocking shell-toed Adidas without the laces.
“Hip-Hop Evolution” & “The Get Down” Season 1 are currently available for streaming on Netflix; “The Get Down” Season 2 arrives in 2017.