Essays

A Late Summer Salvage: The Get Down

So, there are two things you must understand about me if you are to understand this newfound interest of mine.

  1. I do not binge-watch.

Believe it or not, bingewatching is hard for me. SO so so hard for me. The only reason I tend to partake in this activity is to avoid spoilers. Otherwise, I creep slowly at my pace, starting and stopping various movies and series as I please. I’m only three episodes into House of Cards season three and two episodes into Narcos. It’s not that I’m not interested but… it’s more like a filler activity and more often than not, I truly can’t be bothered.

  1. I am majorly, tremendously and excruciatingly homesick.

I may reside in the suburbs of Atlanta but if you ask me, I LIVE in the Bronx. It’s where I’m from, where my hopes and dreams are, where my family settled into when they emigrated from Jamaica. It’s home, at least for me. I planned on going back immediately after graduation, to experience it before the inevitable gentrification really took root, to live just ONE more carefree summer before the beginning of the rest of my life began.

I really did dream of the hot summer days, chasing down Mr. Softee, the screech of the subway, jamming in Webster Hall to the song of the summer (which features Bronx based rappers!), all of it. People may talk cash shit about it but do not get it twisted. The Bronx is where it is AT. And it makes me sad to think I could not experience it due to circumstances outside my control (namely a boss that thought she could control me to the end and a fight I fought until the very last breath). It makes me sad and it makes me sick. As in sick to my stomach, as in I have had to sit down to avoid vomiting.

Which is how I happened upon onto this show. THE GET DOWN.

It takes place in a late 1970s Bronx with (FINALLY!) black and brown characters as the framework. The Bronx, rife with crime facilitated by the greed of the landowners also blossomed creatively with graffiti on each and every subway and hip hop steadily taking over the underground scene. The show captures a summer of the Burning Bronx time period with its characters coming of age in the gritty New York City streets. And I was riveted.

Each episode, titled with some sort of sage phrase, took the audience through the journey of Zeke, Shaolin Fantastic, the Kipling siblings and Mylene as they grow each and every day on the hot summer streets of the Bronx. Zeke is a shy poet learning to grow into himself as he tries to profess his love for the ambitious Mylene. He and the Kipling brothers team up with Shaolin Fantastic, a street kid with bad connections but an artful soul he just wants to express. I loved it. For me, it was so similar to the way a real NYC kid would grow up, sort of independent, rebellious and with an entire squad of loyal ass friends. From Zeke standing up for himself to the FINE ass Shaolin to 1520 Sedgwick where my family moved years before my birth, I saw lives like mine with stories that needed to be told in a place I knew to be full of stories so many had deemed not worth one at all. It felt real to me, fantastical and bizarre at times, but real enough. I have most definitely known a Zeke, Yolanda, Boo and a Regina. I have seen frustrated Ms. Greens and plenty of playboy criminals like Cadillac. It seemed like for the entirety of the series, The Bronx really came alive on screen and I relished the experience. I felt like I was actually experiencing the Bronx for those few episodes. It felt… true, in a way.

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Don’t get me wrong, there are definite criticisms I have of it. Like how maybe three of the characters sound like me or my friends back home at all. Or how this media isn’t even controlled by black or brown people (minus Nas, the executive producer). But overall, I’m pleased with it. I’m well aware that critics don’t quite like it but I truly feel it has less to do with the plot of the show and more to do with the subject. As in, TRUE hip hop at the core serves black and Latino people who created it. It leaves no space for the voyeuristic white boy who simply cannot relate and comments only on a technical standpoint because he cannot feel the music. They don’t understand so they condemn. It’s a black thing, a brown thing they don’t feel included in except as the villains so they condemn, not stopping to consider the point of view of that the story is not written for them, except possibly as the role they do so well: voyeur. At least, that’s how I see it.

The Get Down is a story that needs to be told. Not to legitimize hip hop’s origins or the people of color that created it but to show the blossoming of the concrete rose and the ingenuity, the struggle of the artform so many have called their love. And for me, the little Bronx girl trapped far far far away, it felt like being home. Almost.

Photos via Vogue and Variety

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