how the screen is tackling hip hop in 2015
If Empire is Dynasty 3.0, then does that make The Get Down Dallas 2015? With a flurry of films and TV shows about to hit screens, hip hop is once again being mined for celluloid gold...
2015 has already been a pretty great year for hip hop. We're not even halfway through and there's already been surprise releases from Drake and Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky's next record, A.L.L.A, is in the pipeline while Kanye is about to become the second hip hop headliner ever to take on Glastonbury. And hip hop, in all its forms, isn't just taking over the airwaves, it's also taking over your local cinema. And your Netflix, as rap and hip hop culture embark on some seriously steamy affairs with screens big and small. Not only is the genre sounding good, it's never looked better.
Take Dope, starring Forest Whitaker. A tongue-in-cheek coming-of-age dramedy about California rap nerd Malcolm [played by newcomer Shameik Moore], who aspires to go to Harvard, but after crossing paths with the wrong crew, ends up with a massive bag of coke to shift (by shotting it to 'white people at Coachella', obvs). His love interest is played by Zoe Kravitz, his bullying antagonist is A$AP Rocky. The casting alone (Chanel Iman and Tyga also star) is enough to have cemented the buzzy anticipation and loyal fan base that awaits it months before release. Factor in Pharrell's responsible for half the soundtrack, and Dope's cultural street cred is through the roof; early reviews are already calling it the Mean Girls of its time and it was a huge hit at this year's Sundance.
Shameik Moore (previous appearances include being backing dancer in Soulja Boy's Tell'em video, fyi) has also just been cast as a lead in Baz Luhrman's new Netflix drama, The Get Down. Set in New York in the late 70s, The Great Gatsby director's latest project follows a group of teenagers played by a crop of brand new talent. The backdrop is crime, poverty, and a burgeoning hip hop scene that changes its protagonists lives forever. Slated for release in 2016, The Get Down might just fill the inevitable binge void that's going to be left when the first season of Empire finishes later this year. If you've been living in a bin, Empire is TV history in the making.
It follows hip hop mogul and record label boss Lucius Lyon [Terrence Howard], and his warring sons who all dream of taking over the million dollar business. From Rita Ora to Naomi Campbell, the cameos read like the Met Ball guest list, with the addition of a few WTF appearances (Courtney Love, we're looking at you). In the US, it was watched by an average of 16.7 million viewers, and nearly a third more African-American adults saw the show's finale than watched the Super Bowl. Spike Lee is rumored to be directing season two, while his other film in development, Chiraq, stars the rapper and Oscar winner, Common.
This summer also sees the release of Straight Outta Compton, the NWA biopic. The trailer is an arresting mix of parties, protests and police conflicts, and crucially for contemporary audiences, a glimpse at scenes depicting the aftermath of the Rodney King murder. It's 1991, and it's America today; there couldn't be a more poignant time for the long awaited film to drop.
The nineties and early noughties might be heralded as a golden era for cinematic rap thanks to Juice, Boyz N Da Hood, Set It Off, Menace II Society etc., etc., but it's the exports of the next two years that promise to be just, if not more, necessary. From political commentary, to rap on Broadway [Russell Simons hip hop musical The Scenario opens next year], the many different nuances of hip hop - from the playful to the politicized - will be seen across a number of platforms.
Chuck D once said that hip hop is 'Black America's CNN', but what if it's more? What if it's also its Mad Men and its Mean Girls? Get ready, because the revolution will definitely be televised.
Text Shannon Mahanty