Beat Street, an oral history of the 1984 hip-hop film

Wondering Sound presents a fantastic oral history of the classic hip-hop movie Beat Street that was based on an article written for the Village Voice.

Jon Chardiet: (Producer Harry Belafonte) told me when we were filming that hip-hop was an urban art form that hadn’t been co-opted by white people. And before it got co-opted by the world and would appear on McDonald’s commercials, he wanted to show it in all of its purity. He felt the movement, the hip-hop movement, was about all of this angst after the ’70s, when you could murder somebody on the street and get away with it. Mr. Belafonte said right at the beginning that this [film] was going to be a positive force for change. [He said] they’re not fighting up in Harlem and the Bronx anymore with guns and knives. They’re having rap battles and dance battles and graffiti battles. They would go into an abandoned house, and they’d run electricity through the lamppost. The movie is a culmination of his vision. People seem to forget that Harry Belafonte — whether you agree with his politics or not — is a major figure in our culture in terms of putting his money where his mouth is consistently for black culture.

‘Beat Street’: The Making of a Hip-Hop Classic (Thanks, Gil!)

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  1. I'm glad I first saw Beat Street as a ten-year-old, because that's about the mental level it was made for–it had cool shit in it, but it's all simplified. Holman said it right, it ended up being an exploitation flick instead, when it could have easily been something greater. But, for better or worse it's out there and the good parts are good. I remember they were broadcasting it a lot on my local channels last winter, and if I landed on it, I definitely stayed on it.

    As mentioned in the interview, my adult eyes cannot get over how wack all the graf is–or rather the Hollywood art department's simulation of graf. They had a talent-pool of writers right there in the city who defined the medium, whom they easily could have drawn upon, but they had to hire union or whatever they thought was the reason, and it's so obviously garbage. none of the letters make sense. to think what they could have had if they'd hired the real kings. Luckily, there was Style Wars, and luckily i also saw that at age ten, so thank goodness for that.

  2. mmmPi says:

    Not sure, I was a film student and went to clubs so somewhere I heard they needed extras. I was excited to see Afrika Bambaataa though.

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