WARNING: This article is laced...heavily with sarcasm, but that doesn’t make the subject matter any less lovable or desirable. I got mine so you get yours…
Ah, the innocence of early Hip Hop…
I think the average person knows that the DJ invented Hip Hop, or so I hope. It’s pretty obvious that the MC quickly became the most popular part of the Culture once records came into play. However, I think many forget that it was really “Breakdancing”* that made Hip Hop a household name. Mainstream America was fascinated by the Hippity Hop moves of the Urban Youth…
I don’t know with absolute certainty where the wildfire started, but I have my suspicions. In ‘83 Style Wars and Wild Style both hit and made some noise in the Hip Hop community and started to resonate beyond, but didn’t quite take it mainstream. It took something a bit more commercially susceptible…
I can recall the “day everything changed” vividly. It was a Monday in Mr Asmir’s art class and the primary focus of conversation was who had been to the movies that weekend. It wasn’t small talk. It was specific. The real question was who had seen Flashdance? The film itself isn’t about Breakdancing, just as much as the talk in general wasn’t about the film, it was focused on that quick couple of minutes where the Rock Steady Crew graced the screen. That brief moment had people mesmerized. It created a domino effect in people trying to get their Breakdance on.
Around the same time as all of this, a inspiring filmmaker was finishing his documentary/variety show about the West Coast Hip Hop Scene called Breakin' N Enterin'. Of all the films mentioned above, it is perhaps the least known. However, it is infamous for what it inspired. Breakin’ N Enterin’ takes you on a journey thru L.A. to meet Chris “The Glove” Taylor, Egyptian Lover, Hen Gee, Ice T, Boo Ya Tribe, Nat The Cat, and of course, Taco, Shabba Doo & Boogaloo Shrimp… Yes, Breakin’ N Enterin’ was the inspiration for the blockbuster movie Breakin’.
Breakin’ was huge! It entered suburban America and never came back. I’ve always wondered how it was received in New York. I can picture hordes of New York youth heading to theaters to peep it and barely being able to get keep themselves from laughing uncontrollably at the sheer ridiculousness of this rendition of the West Coast Hip Hop Scene. I’m sure they thought it was just as corny as they expected Hip Hop outside of New York to be. Although, a bit unfair since Breakin’ isn’t the most authentic and/or complete look at the LA Hip Hop Scene. Then again Breakin’ N Enterin’, somewhat of a documentary, doesn’t make the scene seem that much cooler. However, what NYC probably failed to realize is that their scene may not have been as cool as they thought to outside eyes, particularly in hindsight. Such evidence of that was exposed to the mainstream later that same year with Beat Street. Sorry NYC, there’s a hint of absurdity in your history too, but we still love you!
Truth is, back then it was all a bit silly, but it’s irrelevant because it was a time of innovation, fun, empowerment, entrepreneurialism, and more. Hip Hop had already been around about a decade before Breakin’, but it was definitely a turning point for corporations realizing they could make a lot of money exploiting this Culture. They now recognized that they didn’t have to stop at just giving out bad record deals. They could also get over with movies, TV commercials, and other forms of visual media. That made Breakdancing the best exploitable medium, as it was most visually appealing.
OK, OK. This isn’t meant to be all cynical & bitter, it's a light-hearted piece. I suppose it is also true that very exploitation also added the fuel to the fire that allowed Hip Hop to become a multi-million dollar industry…including my job and ability to get paid for writing this article, so unfortunately I probably owe those greedy people, bad fashion, and horrendous trendy Hollywood writers a thank you…sigh.
Anyway, I can’t lie, I was 14 years old and I loved Breakin’ when it came out. I was amazed by the Popping moves of Boogaloo Shrimp (Turbo in the films), leading myself, along with countless other young kids, to trying out our Popping moves with a broom after viewing this movie.
Breakin’ has a pretty standard Hollywood premise. There’s the Suburban White girl, Special K, from the upscale upbringing who is an aspiring Jazz dancer who just happens to stumble across Street Dancing and falls in love…not just with the dancing either. A romance begins to brew between Special K & Shabba Doo (Ozone in the films). All the while they train Special K in the art of Breakdancing, tour the LA Hip Hop Scene, win some dance battles, and get Street Dancing respected by a committee of Professional Dance snobs…pretty impressive I say.
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo took the silliness to a whole other level, which you might not even think is possible, but it is. However, the heart is in the right place, as this time around the mission is to save a neighborhood community center from demolition. Guess what? SPOILER ALERT: Hip Hop wins again!
Alright, confession time. Those movie synopsis’s are from memory and IMDB.com descriptions because I haven’t seen either one of the Breakin’ movies since the 80s probably. Part of the reason I ordered this double pack DVD was so I could finally own them myself. With that said, don’t judge me if my description isn’t 100% on point, I know it’s the basic idea, so just roll with it OK? ☺
Another thing interesting about these early Hip Hop inspired movies was the lack of Hip Hop on their Soundtracks. They would generally have more Hip Hop song clips in the movies that didn’t make the Soundtrack. I take that as more proof of the superior popularity of Breakdanding. The corporate leaders, who saw dollar signs with a movie on Breakdancing, didn’t think that people would buy a Rap Soundtrack. That is my best guess. In any event, the Breakin’ Soundtrack is still pretty awesome, even with it’s ONE Rap song. It’s a reflection of the West Coast scene’s Roots deep in the Funk and fusing it with Electro. This invites lots of Vocoder, Drum Machines, bright Keyboard sounds, and plenty of singing.
I have no idea where the duo Ollie & Jerry came from, but they represent admirably with the perfectly catchy theme song, “Breakin’…There’s No Stopping Us”. This song just makes you want to dance for the revolution of self, you can barely resist it. The team returns for “Showdown”. It doesn’t reach the same heights, but uses similar elements, plus throws in some minimal scratching, on this primarily instrumental track designed to set the battle scene. Although, the tempo and mood of the track makes me visualize people dancing in slow motion and with lots of smiling faces. The legendary Bar-Kays contribute the fast paced dance jam, “Freakshow On The Dance Floor”…it’s pretty great. I completely forgot about Hot Steak’s “Body Work”! It’s the home to the acapella intro “I Don’t know what I been told/Music makes you lose control…” Despite the fact that if you don’t know what you’ve been told then you’re probably not a good listener, this song is still a good listen. Man, as I listen to this I am reminded of how sweet this Soundtrack is! I am going to need a Breakdance lunchbreak… Carol Lynn Townes “99 ½” is another nice joint with some low tuned Roland TR-808s, sparse use of some Heavy Guitars, and some singing pulled up from the Soul in the name of love. 3-V’s “Heart Of The Beat” has the most Hip Hop styled drum programming of the tracks so far and acts as a slowed down Hearthrob track a la The Cover Girls, Debbie Deb, and the like. Fire Fox’s “Street People” isn’t ringing the same familiarity as the other tracks mentioned, but I’m feeling it. It’s the Street Dancers anthem and I’ll gladly ride for it and with it, this is one for the convertible! Re-Flex holds it down for the “New Wave” craze and could have fit just as easy on the Footloose Soundtrack. The album ends on two classics of a different type. Chaka Kahn’s “Ain’t Nobody” is colossal! I love this track; the production, the arrangement, the written words, and of course her amazing voice! When she drops the jewel, “It happened so naturally didn’t know it was love”…whoa! Touching hearts son! This is a 80s favorite for me. It all comes to a close with the lone Rap track and it’s a monster. Ice T and Chris “The Glove” Taylor** pick up the pace for this super team-up to praise the DJ skills of The Glove. I can clearly remember sitting in my room and listening to this and just marveling at that elegant intro, “Once upon a time a DJ’s task/Was just to play records, what more could you ask?/But then came remixes scratching, and cuts/Which was too much for many, drove some DJs nuts!” As if you need another reason to buy this Soundtrack, this reissue on Get On Down Records includes a full length poster!!
All in all, these are fun 80s movies that give you a glimpse of the LA Scene, plus you get to see a bunch of awesome stuff like; Ice T in fantastic outfits, Jean Claude Van Damme busting some Popping moves in the background, the correlation of Breakdancing and magic, Spandex, and all sorts of smile and/or head-shaking inducing antics. Pick up the movies and the Soundtrack, share it with your children, laugh about it with your friends, or reminisce about your days as a Street Dancer with pride. Whatever the reason, just do it, I know you want to…
*Breakdancing: I know this isn’t a term embraced by all in the Culture, but it’s certainly fitting here in a discussion about Hollywood movies. To keep it a tad bit realer though, shout out to all my B-Boys and B-Girls!
**Both Breakin’ & Breakin II had some other Ice T cuts that I always wanted to have, but where only in the movies; “Combat”, “Go Off”, and a couple others I think. I still hope those surface one day….
***Breakin' N' Enterin' Isn't available on DVD or otherwise far as I know, but you can watch it in pieces on Youtube. You can BUY THE SOUNDTRACK HERE!