Sometimes lately it might seem like US Olympic dominance is getting a little overplayed, and you need something to break up the monotony of national triumph–and break it down.
For anyone–absolutely anyone–who turns on the radio today, it’s clear that hip-hop and rap and R&B is everywhere. Some, and the number has grown to astronomical numbers compared to what some might have expected, have made their millions and billions based on their poetry-to-a-beat, and their influence has become a part of American culture so much so that it’s easy to forget that there was a precise beginning to it all.
The Get Down, a Netflix Original Series directed by Baz Luhrmann, tries to do exactly that. The series debuted to the streaming service last night, containing (as many Netflix shows do) half of thirteen episodes to consume in (maybe more than) one sitting. The show opens up the history of hip-hop’s beginnings in the Bronx in 1977, right in the thick of a record hot summer in New York and government-allowed gun-slinging, bloodshed, and arson. In the midst of that, a group of kids that call themselves “the Fantastic Four Plus One” attempt to carve out a good place in a cocaine-dusted, violent mess by mastering mixing records on turn-tables and putting poetry to the beat (aka, early rap).
Based strongly on the reality of what actually conceived hip-hop, including real people as characters and actual film shots from 1977,The Get Down is Netflix’s–and Baz Luhrmann’s–first step into music and strife as one. As popular as hip-hop and all of its children are in today’s world, one would think that a portrayal of its wee years (especially one that “dazzled” the real Grandmaster Flash, reports Vogue) would grab nationwide support and good reviews all-around for such a show.
Well, the response is mixed. Much like rap’s beginnings, there are some those who praise it and some who prioritize its faults. Much of the praise was thrown towards the actors who bring this dying cityscape to life. Said a review by Deadline, “the strong performances of Justice Smith as parentless teen street poet Ezekiel “Books” Figueroa and Dope alum Shameik Moore as his DJ mentor and partner in the groove Shaolin Fantastic establish a deep beat here…Herizen F. Guardiola as aspiring disco queen and Books’ soul mate Mylene Cruz and Jaden Smith as graffiti artist Dizzie add the heart.”
From there, critics went back and forth like Zeke and his MC opponent at a rap battle. While USA Today called the series “passionate,” The Guardian had a much tougher scope, calling the series confused. The review stated, “[The Get Down is] trying to tell the untold story of hip-hop and equating it to American history, racial tensions and urban blight, but its constant shifts in tone and pace seem like too many samples jammed together without making a coherent song.”
Some reviewers were just not sure what to think of the show, and asked of viewers to put on tinted glasses while watching instead. The review by Vulture made a list of what to pretend to do–“pretend that part of its hip-hop history aren’t hilariously off-beat (like smooth rhymes early-on whereas most where little more than “say hey, say ho,” and so on.
Therefore it seems that The Get Down‘s merit as a good show or its possible existence to be a flunker is completely up to the audience that receives it and their own personal taste. What could more accurately mirror hip-hop’s beginnings more?
The first six episodes, including the ninety-minute pilot, of The Get Down are now available to stream on Netflix.