The names Ozone and Turbo aren’t used to describe the newest technology surrounding supped-up Honda Civics and Acura Integras, they’re the names of two breakers who showcased the art of break dancing in the cult classic Breakin’. The 1984 marvel blends the raw energy surrounding early hip-hop culture and the ambitions of a newly-formed generation trying to gain acceptance by the rest of the world.
Ozone (Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones) and Turbo (Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers) are “street dancers” who happen to meet Kelly (Lucinda Dickey) at a local street dancing spot. Both are immediately smitten with her. They begin spending more time with Kelly, teaching her street dances and how to battle at local clubs after they both get dissed by rival breakers Electro Rock. As Kelly spends time with the duo, she strays away from her traditional dance classes and learns that street dancing is not the best way to get a job.
Despite the downfalls of street dancing and her new friends, Kelly still introduces Ozone and Turbo to her manager, James (Christopher McDonald). Eventually, after built-up frustration and angst, the aptly-named TKO Crew gets an audition but gets turned down. They end up performing anyway, and the judges love it so much that they put the street dancers in a show named “Street People.”
Breakin’ is more than just an ode to the culture’s pioneers; it’s a time capsule containing the substances that made up the golden age of hip hop. Void of the debris that lays around the junkyards known as rap, Breakin’ is a hip-hop transport reconnecting the old with the new.
As with all new movements, certain aspects must be practiced at their highest level possible. During the early era of hip-hop culture, graffiti was becoming a presence that impacted even non-practitioners of the genre.
Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant’s historic 1983 PBS documentary, Style Wars, does an excellent job of not only presenting graffiti to the masses but also showing how the art form crossed race, age and boundary lines. The documentary also highlights Crazy Legs, from Rock Steady Crew, who explains the origins of the B-Boy movement and displays some of the breakdancing moves that garnered him hip-hop fame.
But aside from the fun aspects of hip-hop culture, the film shows its serious side, revealing the effect graffiti had on the New York City landscape of the 1980s and Mayor Ed Koch subsequently cracking down on graffiti “stained” trains.
The newly released DVD edition of Style Wars also gives an update on Min One, the tough little curly-haired white kid who tries to get the rest of the writers to retaliate against Captain for “going over their burners,” or painting over their grafitti. This hip-hop documentary set the standard for future ventures just like it, bringing hip-hop culture to the masses.
In 1982, hip hop was more about B-boys and bucket hats than bling bling and throwback jerseys. And in this golden age of urban music, art and style were captured as they exploded onto the national scene in the legendary film Wild Style.
Starring legendary hip-hop pioneers Fab Five Freddy, Lee Quinones and Grand Master Flash, Wild Style has become a visual time capsule of one of the most influential periods in New York culture history.
Graffiti legend Quinones stars as train-sprayer Raymond, whose local hood pal Phade (Fab Five Freddy) helps him woo reporter Virginia (Patti Astor) in order to garner Ray some fame and money.
Apparently, 1980s NYC streets were as short on acting as they were on last names. The fact that filmmaker Chuck Ahearn sacrificed thespians for cultural legends not only makes for some authentic reels of hip hop cultural pioneers in action, but also some horribly acted — and therefore, excruciatingly entertaining — scenes.
The acting doesn’t take away from the film’s simplistic genius and overwhelming realism, though. Wild Style still has the most classic scenes in hip-hop film history. The indispensable basketball court scene finds Cold Crush Crew and Fantastic Freaks rapping throughout a basketball game, one Fantastic Freak finishing with the line: “I’m so very glad/ You thought you said something/ That’s why we’re winning eighteen to nothing.”
One of the legendary aspects of the film is the house party scene: In a stuffy basement, sweat drips off MCs and DJs rocking the mic and the wheels of steel, respectively, while steam rises from the heads of poppers, lockers and breakdancers.
These parties include golden-era cultural figures such as Freddy, Busy-Bee and the Rock Steady Crew B-boys doing their thing on the dance floor and the mic.
And with one Fantastic Freak spitting lines like, “Well, the name’s Rubie Dee and I’m Puerto Rican/ But you might think I’m black from the way I’m speakin’,” it’s easy to see why Wild Style is such a classic.
Even during hip hop’s infancy, the business side of rap was beginning to surface. Krush Groove tried to capitalize on the new hip-hop culture phenomenon. Directed by Michael Shultz (who would later direct such hit-TV shows as Charmed, Felicity and Everwood), the movie is based on the life of Def Jam founder Russell Simmons. Blaire Underwood (of L.A. Law fame) is the young record producer/manager Russell Walker. He has all the hottest acts — Run-DMC, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kurtis Blow — on Krush Groove Records.
When Run-DMC has a hit but Walker doesn’t have the money to press records, they borrow money from a drug dealer/loan shark. Also in the storyline is competition between Russell and Run for former Prince drummer Sheila E. In the end, the group (Run DMC) gets its record deal and Russell gets the girl.
Krush Groove has a simple plot with great early rap music, most notably the Fat Boys rendition of their song “All You Can Eat” as the squad muches its way out of a pizzeria.
And though Krush Groove doesn’t belong in the pantheon of hip-hop classics such as Wild Style and Style Wars, it’s a fun rap/musical movie that helped launch the careers of LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. It’s also the first movie to feature rappers-turned-actors, a common practice in today’s Hollywood.
Hip-hop culture began, and continues, to thrive on one simple character: the guy behind the guy, the DJ. Scratch pays homage to some of the greatest innovators to ever burn the wheels of steel, taking viewers on a journey into an intricate part of hip hop only hinted at in seminal flicks like Wild Style and Beat Street.
This documentary does an interesting job of pinpointing the birth of DJing, with multiple DJs accrediting Grand Mixer DST’s work on Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” — contrasting popular opinion pointing to Grand Master Flash and DJ Cool Herc as the true fathers of tables — as the true beginnings of turntablism. Innovative turntable masters Mix Master Mike, Qbert and Afrika Bamabaata’s Jazzy Jay are just some of the characters used to bring this prize-winning documentary to life.
There is no shortage of essential scenes in Scratch, including definitive examinations of hip-hop culture, hype DJ battles and interesting ventures into the world of the modern “turntablist.” They ain’t just DJs no more, sucker.
One awe-inspiring scene takes place in Mix Master Mike’s apartment as the Beastie Boys’ DJ anxiously spins a copy of Robert Johnson’s Delta Blues, while staring with childlike wonder into the camera. He then proceeds to fade the beat to Dead Prez’s “Hip Hop” into the blues riff as he scratches and cuts this hybrid into a masterwork. Oh, and then he divulges that this art form may result in extra-terrestrial contact.
Infused with anecdotes like DJ Shadow finding mummified bats while digging for vinyl and competitions showcasing DJ Mysterio dancing and spinning in circles while scratching on two turntables bouncing on hydrolics, Scratch is an unparalleled documentation of hip hop’s enduring nucleus — the mix magician.