Rap music, disco, race, gangs, young love, and really short shorts are all featured in Netflix’s new series The Get Down.
The show tells the eccentric tale of the birth of hip-hop in the South Bronx in the late ‘70s. The concept was created by Baz Luhrmann, who has won multiple awards for his work on Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby.
Ezekiel “Zeke” Figueroa, played by Justice Smith, is the nerdy main character and the voice of the show. He’s a relatable kid who encompasses enough teen angst to evenly distribute to the rest of the young adults on the planet. He’s misunderstood and is trying to find himself. The usual.
What makes the show worth watching is its dissection of the idea that you have to be tough, masculine, or “hard” in order to be a rapper. The Get Down dismantles that stereotype by delving into the role of sexuality within the hip hop community.
In the series, the most popular DJs in the Bronx, for the most part, happen to be gay. For tracks to be played they must go through these DJs first, putting them in a particularly powerful position. This is an interesting turn, especially considering that, in a 2005 interview, rapper Kanye West said that in the mainstream, “the exact opposite of the word hip-hop is ‘gay.’”
In one particular scene, Dizzee, played by Jaden Smith, a member of Zeke’s hip hop crew and one of his best friends, goes to a gay club and notices how freeing it is to be in touch with yourself and sexuality. He gains an entirely new perspective. The inclusion of this storyline tells the audience that queer hip hop is real and shouldn’t be hidden or taboo.
The Get Down further subverts stereotypes by explicitly portraying hip hop culture as geek culture.
Zeke writes poetry and music alongside his crew of nerds, who all have outrageous roleplay personas like “Shaolin Fantastic.” Together, they cosplay and stage “battles” to determine who can compose the most notable beat poetry with the coolest superhero theme song playing in the background.
Most other depictions of hip hop culture have made it seem like an exclusive “cool kids” club. Before this series, I had never seen a portrayal of the people who created hip hop where they love comic books, draw cartoon characters on their school binders, make dorky costumes, bedazzle their jackets, and wear really short shorts. In The Get Down, Zeke and his friends are allowed to be colorful and free in spirit. This is so affirming and validating for all the POC geeks who grew up thinking that being geeky was a “white thing.”
The Get Down’s unconventional approach breaks down boundaries in hip-hop culture. It proves that you don’t need street cred or manufactured masculinity to show you’re the best; your music will speak for you.