“Everybody say hoooo!” commands one of the members of the Fantastic Freaks. All the fly guys and girls packed into New York’s East River Amphitheater for the “Rap Convention” cheerfully oblige, kicking off the most famous party scene in hip-hop’s most famous film: Wild Style.
Wild Style, released in 1982, turned twenty this year. The brainchild of director Charlie Ahearn, along with Fred “Fab 5 Freddy” Brathwaite and famed graffiti writer George “Lee” Quinones, Wild Style has a relatively simple plot: young Latino graffiti writer Zoro, played by Lee, bucks the encroaching graffiti union system while being pursued for a story on graffiti by a tenacious white female reporter. Other prominent characters in the story include Zoro’s girlfriend, a fellow graffiti writer named Rose (played by Sandra “Pink” Fabara), and his homeboy Phade (played by Fab 5 Freddy), who is a gregarious promoter. But when coupled with Wild Style‘s cultural appeal via shots of bombed New York City subway trains, jam ’til your leg jerks party scenes, and a cappella street raps, the plot’s simplicity becomes unimportant.
Wild Style was the first film to combine the formerly separate elements of what is now known as hip-hop into one cohesive culture. Fab 5 Freddy is credited with contributing this unified vision of hip-hop to the film, an aspect of the work that made it legendary almost upon release. The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame named Wild Style one of the ten best rock movies of all time.
The list of commanding performances in Wild Style seems endless. There are clips of the Cold Crush Brothers, The Fantastic Freaks (a.k.a. The Fantastic Five), and Busy Bee abusing the mic at a South Bronx club called the Dixie, while b-boys in their prime from the Rock Steady Crew scuff the linoleum. The celebrated “Basketball Throwdown” scene between Fantastic and Cold Crush is priceless–and so are the rapping “cheerleaders”.
However, it is the film’s final scene, the outdoor “Rap Convention” scene, that is Wild Style‘s best moment. All the other performances, uneasily seamed between dialogue scenes like heavy cuts on an old record, seem to foreshadow this huge event. The mother of all hip-hop party scenes, the concert features performances by those previously seen in the film plus a few pleasant surprises. Right before the beginning of the scene, a clip of Grand Master Flash cutting it up on a kitchen table as Fab 5 Freddy looks on sets the mood. As the scene begins, Fab 5 introduces the Fantastic Freaks, who get the party going with their braggodocious rhymes. Immediately afterward, Busy Bee tends to house warming duties before the white gangster suited, fake gun toting Double Trouble wrecks the stage, followed by Rammellzee and Shock Dell with Grand Mixer D. St. on the ones and twos. Gracing the stage during this final performance–Rammell/Shock/D. St.–are b-boy legends from the Rock Steady Crew, including Crazy Legs, Mr. Freeze, and Frosty Freeze, as well as dancers from Electric Force and Pop-O-Matic, sealing the film’s part documentary, part “fresh fest” feeling.
The film’s soundtrack remains as timeless and visionary as the year it was made. Named one of the top ten movie soundtracks of all time by Vibe magazine, the soundtrack captured many of the aforementioned performances, and is a great lesson in rap rudiments for any beginning spitter. Grand Wizzard Theodore helped shape the soundtrack and contributed the simply titled “Subway Theme”. The driving anthem pulses throughout the film and is heard on the intro of Nas’s
Illmatic–in my opinion one of the best uses of a movie sample ever.
Wild Style is a celluloid time capsule of hip-hop perfection in the hearts of the film’s devotees around the world, and today it’s creators and stars are still active in the scene. Pink owns a small mural company in New York with her artist husband Smith, while Lee continues to exhibit and is happily married with children. Grand Master Caz, Whipper Whip, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Busy Bee and Grand Master Flash still perform regularly, and Fab 5 Freddy makes occasional appearances and writes for magazines like Vibe. Charlie Ahearn has made several critically acclaimed films since Wild Style, and continues to work on new scripts. On November 1st, Charlie will release Yes Yes Yall, a history book of hip-hop’s first decade with interviews, photos, and flyers of, according to Charlie, “everyone who was anyone when hip-hop first started.”
On October 22nd the iconoclastic film itself was reborn with the release of the Wild Style DVD. In addition to the resounding clarity afforded by the digital format, the DVD features train footage that didn’t make the original cut, a rare video for Grandmaster Caz’s “South Bronx Subway Rap”, the film’s theatrical trailer, outtakes, a photo gallery with never before seen shots of cast members before and during the movie’s filming, and commentary from Fab 5 Freddy and Charlie Ahearn. Twenty years later, Wild Style remains the quintessential hip-hip film. It is the movie that raised a generation of heads, and the recent release of the DVD is a testament to the film’s still incredible popularity. In the words of director Charlie Ahearn, “Wild Style is not an historic thing. The kind of hip-hop the movie represents still alive, and is something we can still all share today.”