I’m all about the underdog—I always have been. I like to run away from cops, rebel against those who judge me, appreciate artwork peaced on brickwalls, find a reason to stay out late at night listening to sounds coming from speakers in old warehouses, and I am one-hundred percent down with music that revolutionizes convention. These are just a few reasons I watch the new series on Netflix, The Get Down.
The show is intertwined with many plots: the relationship between Ezekiel and Myleen, Shoulin Fantastic’s quest to become the greatest deejay in the world, and the battle between Disco and the rise of Hip Hop are just a few of the major themes braided into this multilayered series.
While the love story between Ezekiel and Myleen and the mission to be the best deejay are intriguing storylines that appeal to various audiences, I am not going to spend my time unpacking the plot here for you my dearest readers (like you haven’t had enough love stories and rise-to-the-top plots in your lifetime). Instead, I’d like to focus on how the transition from Disco to Hip Hop speaks to the larger conversations that are going on right now in our social and political climate.
Here’s the Gist on Disco:
When the show begins, Disco is a household name in terms of music choice, and all the major clubs and radio stations gladly accept the genre into their recording studios and deejay booths. The people who represent and support Disco are the mainstream; they are club owners, and managers who overpower the music industry. They blame the next generation’s music makers for ruining their records by “scratching and chopping up” the sounds with their unconventional ways of listening to a disco record. They find the behavior repulsive and will go to any lengths to stop them from damaging their Disco records.
Here’s the Gist on Hip Hop:
The show begins in 1977 when deejays in the underground club scenes in South Bronx started to cut up the sounds of Disco tracks causing rhythmic loops and repetitions in the music patterns. They “scratched” records by pulling back on the vinyl with their fingertips; the result was a new sound that caused a wave of revolutionary music. “Scratching” became instrumental in the way deejays played music—they were now putting on a performance. To “scratch” a record is an art that requires putting in many hours of practice to sharpen the craft, just like writing prose, poetry, painting, and songwriting. Deejays began to play two Disco records together simultaneously fusing them into creation. They also implemented crossfaders and many other instruments and techniques to chop up and mesh the Disco records. They added an emcee to their ensemble, which gave birth to the rap artists of today. The Hip Hop deejays were the masters of, what poet Terrance Hayes calls when referring to rhythm, “an arrangement of derangements.” Legendary deejays like Grandmaster Flash paved the way for disarranging arranged sounds on a record.
So why is this important?
What do all traditions have in common? They are all challenged and eventually shattered by forthcoming generations. For instance, look at how modernism gave rise to post-modernism. We all know things change. We all know that organizations and industries, like people, show the tendency to outgrow or grow out of their current dynamic. The Get Down carries a sense of urgency given our current living conditions here in the United States. Think of Disco as a conglomerate: the banks, the government, the institutions, just to name a few dominant forces that have successfully interpolated their institutional practices in the homes of the majority (I am not saying that I personally believe that Disco is a brute force, but merely showing how Disco is chosen as the symbol of dominance within the context of this show). Now, think of underground Hip Hop in the context of the late 1970’s as the result of the banks, the government, the economy, the social, and the political system. The generation that spawned and grew up to Hip Hop grew tired of Disco culture, so they made their own culture as a form of revolution. Therefore, people and their children affected by the Disco system became the underdogs who changed the way Disco is heard and made it their own; hence, the birth of Hip Hop.
This show is not just a history of how music transforms from one genre to another, but it is a call to how we can transform our living conditions from one system to another. Perhaps this may not happen in our life time, but I love shows that carry a powerful message because messages are where change begins.