Music

Viva 'Wild Style'

Wild Style confirms what we now know for a fact: hip-hop wanted to and succeeded in blowing up. No one in the cast/ crew/ generation could conceive what it meant to go pop.


Wild Style

25th Anniversary Edition

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2007-10-23
Amazon
iTunes

In an interview with Fab 5 Freddy on the new Wild Style: 25th Anniversary Edition DVD, one of many bonus features painstakingly collected by director Charlie Ahearn, the mouthpiece of old school hip-hop explains the story behind one of the film's many memorable moments. In his typically charismatic manner the former Yo! MTV Raps host dramatically relays the dissolution of Funky 4+1, a group remembered for its prominent inclusion of a female emcee and originally slated to be featured in the film, over a record contract dispute.

As the story goes, two remaining members, KK Rockwell and Lil' Rodney Cee, subsequently formed a new group, Double Trouble, and managed to retain screen time on the strength of a rap they personally delivered to Freddy:

Here's a little story that must be told

About two cool brothers that were put on hold

They tried to hold us back from fortune and fame

They destroyed the crew and killed the name

The rhymes, which Freddy describe as "moving" for the lucid depiction of an artist biting the proverbial dust, appear in the film as an impromptu "Stoop Rap", wherein the two emcees grind the axe in front of an anonymous residence. Ahearn films the scene with the unadorned look of a documentary, but with tight shots that enhance the tension. Fab 5 Freddy's insight paints the scene as a close replication of the two emcees' real-life angst over business shenanigans.

However, taking a cue from music theater, this well-choreographed sing-song verse (complete with a child who appears from nowhere to offer percussive accompaniment) flows seamlessly after a spoken rant. The fantastic aspect intentionally obscures the simple fact of the matter: these brothers are cheesed over having their paper fucked with.

Yet throughout Wild Style, Ahearn captures such overt interactions of art and commerce in the nascent hip-hop world with the wide-eyed wonder of the culture's youthful innocence. And appropriately this "little story" has become one of the most sampled, referenced and prescient in hip-hop history.

Revisiting Wild Style as a blueprint for hip-hop's current materialism can be a disconcerting, practically sacrilegious effort. The hip-hop community treats the film (alongside Henry Chalfant's bona fide graffiti documentary Style Wars) with a reverence comparable to what a religious community gives to a holy text. However, as is wont with such adulation, it becomes easy to take for granted.

Most agree that Wild Style's loose story of a graffiti artist's rise to fame parallels and dramatizes what already happened when uptown sights and sounds found acceptance (i.e., underwriting) in downtown and beyond. But the film goes for the heartstrings with its depiction of protagonist Zoro's (played by the well-cast elusive graffiti writer Lee Quinones, who hilariously recalls in a DVD extra his efforts to use make-up to mask his identity) awkward and reluctant feelings towards being "accepted".

His eventual escape back to his "roots", metaphorically depicted as the landmark concert in the Lower East Side Amphitheater, suggests that pure art can abstractly conquer all, whatever that "all" may be. But what is often forgotten in the haze of this celebratory climax is that Wild Style confirms what we now know for a fact: that hip-hop wanted to and succeeded in blowing up. This disconnect likely happens because no one in the Wild Style cast/ crew/ generation could actually conceive what it meant to go pop. In this sense, B.I.G.'s line, "You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far" sounds like a taunt.

The distance between Wild Style's vision of success and today's standards are phenomenal. As the cast and crew make clear in the DVD's bountiful extras, material rewards are overshadowed (admittedly not by choice) by respect and recognition. However, hip-hop in 2007 is impossible to discuss without considering global capitalism and capital worth. With millionaire moguls and internationally recognized celebrities staking out key positions in the face of the culture, hip-hop no longer preoccupies itself solely with its stature on the block.

As Greg Tate recently wrote, "if hiphop [Sic.] is now more defined by the corporate game than the street game, that lucrative little coup just might be the definitive hiphop act of 2007." ("In Praise of Assholes", Village Voice, 11 September 2007 So, what place is left for a little film that could like Wild Style?

The irony of such success is that the film and its generation must fight again to affirm everything it originally documented. In this sense, Wild Style seems more necessary now than ever -- even than when it debuted in 1983. Fortunately, the normally low-key Ahearn has been heavily active this year with meeting this challenge. In June 2007 he released Wild Style: The Sampler, a companion book of photos and essays to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the movie. In the fall he and Fab 5 Freddy attended the VH1 Hip Hop Honors to receive recognition on behalf of the film. And, of course, he has finally completed the restoration of his most recognized work.

Occasionally, his responses have been predictable. In the humorous short Bongo Barbershop included on the DVD, Grandmaster Caz spontaneously trades rhymes with an emcee from Tanzania while receiving a trim and a fade, but the original Bronx Bomber repeats the mantra about his borough's centrality in hip-hop history with the tired familiarity of a parent's lecture. That said, Ahearn's well-calculated publicity campaign has been the most effective approach -- not to mention, a much-needed update in mass marketing the old school message.

Thankfully, Ahearn brings Wild Style to the present with more first-hand accounts than proselytizing. The bulk of his efforts, especially the film, emphasize the artist's voice. Though the film is certainly an (amateur) exercise in acted performance, the DVD extras (commentary tracks, interviews with key cast and crew, entertaining shorts by Ahearn and clips from recent anniversary concerts) favor informal interviews or artistic expression.

Though many of Ahearn's peers join the long critical chorus of contemporary hip-hop, seldom does he interject or editorialize (except for the aforementioned shorts). This suggests an important resolution: documenting the past, instead of enforcing it. With such a lack of airs, the line between "This battle we lost, but the war we'll win" and "If they hate then let them hate and watch the money pile up" becomes clearer.

Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Music

Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.