Monday, September 04, 2006

Wild Style

Wild Style
Directed by Charlie Ahearn

I'll admit it - it's a little weird that I'm so into rap these days. I'm neither African-american nor hip-hop. I don't aspire to become a b-boy, I'm not adopting hip-hop slang into my vocabulary, except for purposes of irony, and I am distinctly aware that I am an outsider to the culture. However, watching the 1982 film Wild Style, which documents the early days of hip-hop, I understood why I have such a fascination with the music and the culture. I grew up listening to punk rock, and was very inspired by the way that the punk scene tried to create an alternative culture that gave ordinary people an opportunity to make music, art, and actively contribute to creating culture rather than just be a passive consumer. I was essentially an outsider to punk culture as well, even if I did relate to it a lot more than I do to hip-hop. Part of what I loved about punk was the thrill of discovering new bands, of trying to find out more information about this underground scene, buying records based on what was painted on people's leather jackets, or by the name, or because you heard them mentioned in a magazine.

Hip-hop offers many of the same challenges and rewards, and Wild Style is evidence of this. Although technically a drama about a graffiti artist's trials and tribulation in the South Bronx, Wild Style works best as a documentary of the nascent hip-hop scene, and the devastated community that it came from. The film is full of real-life figures of the early rap, graffiti, and breakdancing scene. People like "Lee" Quinones, Zephyr, the Cold Crush Crew, Fab Five Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, and some of the early breakdancing crews. The best moments of the film come from seeing the live freestyling at the Dixie Club. Rap was originally a live art form, and watching Busy Bee battle other MC's shows just how good early rap could be, and how poorly it translated to record. There is something very exciting about watching the DJ's and MC's creating the culture that is now a multi-national, multi-million dollar animal. It gave me the same sense of exhilaration that I get watching clips of the Ramones when they first started.

The acting is terrible, the plot is nearly non-existent, and the quality is not so hot. Still, Wild Style is a classic. Besides documenting the scene, it also contains a lot of clips that have been sampled by rappers throughout the years. The intro to Nas' Illmatic, the "Shut the fuck up, Chico Man" clip from the Beastie Boys "Professor Booty", the "Hey sucka nigga, whoever you are" from Tribe Called Quest's "Sucka Nigga". It was exciting realizing where these quotes had come from, and the impact this film had on so many rappers.

We live in a world where culture is mass-produced ,where rebellion is sold to the masses, where punk rock and gangsta rap have become tools of the very machine they were meant to criticize. Wild Style is proof that the world belongs to us, and that ordinary people have the power to create something innovative, moving, and revolutionary.

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