The Get Down, a NetFlix original drama focused on New York City during the birth of Hip-Hop, joins other binge-worthy network offerings like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things in excellence.
by D R Harward, staff writer
The Get Down is a return to the early days of Hip-Hop, during the heyday of DJs; a time when rap was almost exclusively spit as a group and there weren’t any rappers without Dee Jays. At first glance, it is tale about youth who are coming-of-age and discovering the promise of a career in music and the potentially high cost of pursuing it.
At its core, The Get Down is a love story. A story about budding love between young star-crossed lovers as they stand together, and yet at the same time stand alone, upon the precipice of adulthood.
But much of what’s great about The Get Down has to do with the “where” and “when” of this faux doc-u-drama; it is focused on the lives of proto-rapper Eziekial Figuero aka Book (Justice Smith) and his school chum-turned-crush Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola) a young choir singer with star potential and aspirations to leave the ghetto behind at any cost.
At a different level the story devolves into two distinct intertwined tales; hers, with a strict and controlling former-convict-turned-reverend father and a doting uncle with shady connections—and his, with a well-meaning school teacher offering access to a top university as well as his friends with whom he stumbled into the inner sanctum of the new ‘wild style’ block party culture.
Set in the broiling summer of ’77 in the Bronx New York, the story is about the birth of Hip-Hop, as told–both actually and fictionally–by none other than Grandmaster Flash, of the group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, one of the artists who created rap and street-style DJ-ing,
In fact, it was a member of the Furious Five, MC Cowboy, who is often credited with coining the term “Hip-Hop.” Flash also serves as consultant and as an associate producer, duties that he shares with Kurtis Blow, another legendary figure from the early days of Hip Hop.
Baz Luhrmann (Moulon Rougue, The Great Gatsby remake) tells the story that he created with a unique palate in which fantasy and reality are blended together in, an almost, seamless fashion. For example, the three fictional “DJ-Kings” in the Get Down, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa are all so perfectly recreated by Luhrmann that there is a slight danger that events only taking place in the show will supplant reality.
Luhrmann and his wife, co-producer and designer, the Oscar-winning Catherine Martin, have created an immersive set that is rich in color and detail but not overpowering or distracting. Perhaps high production values are to be expected given the reportedly high cost of production–which according to Variety exceeded $120 million for the 12 episode series, making it “among the most expensive in history.”
Shameik Moore shines as Shaolin Fantastic, a nearly mythical graffiti artist who serves as the classic protagonist who innocently seeks to corrupt his just found ‘best’ friend, Book, a gifted poet with a shot at attending an ivy league school. However, Shaolin has other plans that involve his participation in criminal activities to finance his dream of becoming the next DJ king of the South Bronx.
The onscreen Grandmaster Flash is played by Mamoudou Athie, who portrays his character as the idol, role model and sensei to Shaolin; who together with his friends form the Furious Four plus One (which is a stab at the real Furious Five, who were part of the original Grandmaster Flash group). According to the real Flash, Athie looked so much like his younger self that when he first met him he asked “ “What’s your mom’s name?” [Laughs.] This dude looked just like me.”
Another Hip Hop heavyweight inextricably woven into this project is Naz, who is an executive producer, writes the original raps in the show and voices a character played by Daveed Diggs. Diggs portrays the grown-up Book who is in the midst of performing a concert in Madison Square Gardens with a different song serving as rap-style narration of each episode and like Athie, Diggs looks strikingly similar to Naz.
The shows creator, Luhrmann, reportedly spent more than 10 years working on this project, which was in production for almost three years.
In releasing The Get Down, Netflix broke from its tradition of release the entire season at once, here they released the first six episodes with the remaining six scheduled to drop next year.
Overall, The Get Down is an amazing production of a fascinating tale, featuring talented actors and a gifted production staff. Five out of Five stars, go see it!