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The Get Down: Back to the Roots

On August 12th, Netflix released the first six episodes of its new original series, The Get Down. The Get Down is the coming of age story of a group of Black and Latinx teenagers set in the South Bronx during the late 1970s. With flashy colors, a roaring soundtrack, and impressive cast to match, The Get Down was seen as an investment by Netflix, boasting $7.5 million spent per episode. But with Baz Luhrmann, a white, Australian director/executive producer, spearheading this project, the show ran the risk of Columbusing one of the most organic, inspired periods of music in history. Instead, The Get Down successfully explores the origins of hip hop using black and brown faces as they would have existed during this time. The Get Down’s three main characters, Zeke, Mylene, and Shaolin Fantastic prove to be characters worth investing in.

Ezekiel, or Zeke as everyone calls him, is the first character for audiences to latch on to. As a skinny, half Puerto Rican, half Black kid in the South Bronx, he plays the piano in church for the love of his life, Mylene, and keeps his head down. In the first episode, it is revealed that Zeke has an affinity for writing, so much so that he wins an essay contest. He rebukes this recognition however, namely due to the connotations of being smart. Unfortunately, he is consumed by the idea that if you’re not in the streets, you’re not “real” as his teacher later relents. It is not until he meets Shaolin Fantastic, a myth among men as far as Zeke and his peers are concerned, that he begins to hone his craft, using his words for other than wooing Mylene.

Mylene is a church girl born and raised who dreams of being the next Donna Summers. This passion and gift for singing is quelled by her religious fanatic of a father. She continues to pursue her dream however, thus exposing herself to a seedy underground. Though she is far from her religious roots in most scenes, she remains true to her goal of becoming a star. In the meantime, she grapples with her feelings for Zeke, pushing him away yet keeping him always within reach. Mylene is ahead of her time yet grounded deeply in teenage idealism. She seeks to get out of the urban decay that is the Bronx yet wishes to keep her friends and family close to her in doing so.

Last but never the least, Shaolin Fantastic rounds out the ridiculously captivating threesome. As complex as he is talented, Shaolin is a legend among men; before being thoroughly introduced, we see Shaolin discussed in hushed tones of awe and reverie. Shaolin is the most ‘street’ of the three having grown up as an orphan. Taken in by Fat Annie, a powerful mob matriarch, Shaolin hones his street smarts through hustling and running errands for his boss. His passion, however, lies in DJing. Under the tutelage of Grandmaster Flash (whose character was created by associate producer, DJ Grandmaster Flash), Shaolin learns the ins and outs of the turntables. He, Zeke, and the rest of The Get Down Brothers (as their crew would be called) start down a path to be “bigger than the world” as Zeke mentions in the first episode.

The Get Down not only acts as a coming of age story but it gives a glimpses into the Renaissance of the 20th century. Hip hop is everywhere in 2016 yet few have taken the time to really delve into its origin before the 1980s when the culture truly took off. In The Get Down, viewers get to watch characters like Zeke and Shaolin lay the foundation for the likes of Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Jay Z, and Nas (who acts as voice of older Zeke and an executive producer). The Get Down melds together the chaos of New York, the burning of the Bronx, the rawness of rap, the queerness of disco, and the ingenuity found in the lowest of lows. As the title of the first episode reveals, “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure”. The Get Down is definitely a treasure for anyone that cares to watch, be it a casual Drake fan to a hardcore hip hop head. The Get Down takes young and old alike down memory lane to a time when creativity and chaos collided to create hip hop.

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