- Mon, 2010-11-08 16:13
There is only one ‘must-see’ film about the earliest days of hip hop, and that’s Wild Style. Released in 1983, it’s a fictional film set in the South Bronx and its central characters’ lives are played out against the backdrop of hip hop’s four cardinal points: rapping, DJing, graffiti and b-boying. It captures the essence of the movement as it was at its very beginning, and as such it’s an indispensable and vital piece of hip hop history.
80 Blocks From Tiffanys, made four years earlier in 1979, is not a film about hip hop, and at first glance it seems to have nothing to do with it. A documentary made by Gary Weis, it focuses on two of the South Bronx’s local gangs; the Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads. It investigates their day-to-day lives and their place in a community suffering from social decay born of governmental neglect. There is no mention made of hip hop culture, largely because it didn’t yet exist in any tangible sense.
However, when watching 80 Blocks the spectre of Wild Style is never far off. The same trains covered in graffiti tags rattle along their raised tracks through the same decrepit and crumbling tower blocks. The documentary even ends with a block party just like the ones that the hip hop scene would come to revolve around. The subject matter of the two films may differ vastly, but it soon becomes apparent that they are far more closely related than one might assume. If Wild Style shows hip hop’s first green shoots emerging from the earth, then 80 Blocks shows the earth from which it was emerging.
For the early days of hip hop to be fully understood, the content of the movement cannot be isolated from its context. 80 Blocks From Tiffanys, now released on DVD for the first time, offers a unique insight into one aspect of that context, and by extension an insight into the movement itself. As such it is a small, peripheral, but equally indispensable and vital piece of hip hop history.