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28 August 2016

a sunday kind of love #2: the get down edition

Has anyone else been watching The Get Down? Netflix's newest series (with a $120 million budget) is a mythological, fantastical look into the birth of hip hop, and inside the Bronx in the era of disco. It's directed by Baz Luhrrman (which is immediately obvious through it's frantic pace and grandiose use of colour) with a little help from Grandmaster Flash, Nas, among others to keep it somewhat historically accurate. I'm on episode three at present and loving it! It's already got me thinking about New York, the city in the 1970s, and about hip hop as an artform, and the other books and films that encompass this.

Here, then, are my five recommendations for The Get Down fans:

01) Just Kids - Patti Smith

I wrote about this previously in this post about a crisis of creativity I was having. Just Kids is Patti Smith's first autobiography -- a beautiful, poetic journey through her young adult life in  1970's NYC. Mostly famished, at times homeless, and in a perpetual fever of love, Patti and her boomerang-beau Robert Mapplethorpe are (quite literally) fuelled by their art. At the Hotel Chelsea, it even pays their rent. Their faith in their talent and in their work never falters, and inevitably they both live compelling creative lives alongside some of the most amazing cultural chiefs of their generation. They're both so fucking cool and completely unabashedly live out their dreams. 

02) Hip Hop Family Tree

This series of graphic novels by Ed Piskor sprawls the early history of hip hop. Was the cartoonish The Get Down inspired by them, I wonder? My flatmate got me the first installment 'Vol. 1: 1970s-1981' for Christmas. It's beautifully illustrated, and a must-read for anyone into the musical genre.

03) Time is Illmatic
Nas was a "huge creative force." and a major inspiration for The Get Down, with the show essentially acting as a re-telling of his rise to fame through its fictional protagonist, Ezekiel. Time is Illmatic is a documentary chronicling the making of Nas' seminal album, 1994's Illmatic. In the film, the rapper returns to Queensbridge, the neighbourhood in which he was born and raised, to explain some of his most famous lyrics, and also to illuminate the decimation of his 'hood by racial policing and the War on Drugs. It's a sobering insight into '90s hip hop, and the startling poverty that propelled many of its breakout stars.

04) City on Fire
Garth Risk Hallberg's mammoth first novel begins in 1976 in New York City, and ends with the great 25-hour blackout of 1977, a disaster which sent the Tristate area into a tailspin. We meet a selection of somewhat reprehensible characters, and follow their interlocking stories. It's a great, sweeping look into what life was like in the 1970s, especially within the NYC aristocratic and punk worlds.

05) Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing 
Another mosaic of protagonists, 1989's Do the Right Thing tells the story of a singular scorching day in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Race and racism are defining factors of the concluding confrontation which burns through the community. It's cinematically stylised in distinct Spike Lee fashion, and an amazing, important look into both the 'Fight the Power' movement of gangster rap, and race relations in the 'crack age' of New York City.


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