Depending on your musical tastes, you may or may not know that we are in the midst of a massive boom in the presence of Hip-hop and Hip-hop related shows on everyone’s favorite time waster/streaming service, Netflix.
These programs range from shows that originated in the heyday of 90s Hip-hop and use music as part of the backdrop, “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” is soon coming to Netflix, along with a “Cosby Show” spinoff, “A Different World”. There’s also shows that focus on the history of the genre like the Baz Luhrmann produced “The Get Down” and “Hip-Hop Evolution”. This even extends to more current shows like Marvel’s “Luke Cage”, which uses its soundtrack to set scenes in an fascinating fashion that we’ll touch on later.
Currently, it very much seems that the recent, much more intense focus on Hip-hop is due to the genre hitting the mainstream audience, and the acceptance of rapping as a form of art. In recent years, Hip-hop has sort of escaped its placement on the list of activities and concepts that your mom said would rot your brain, only to find itself in the soundtracks of film, its artists on television and its songs on the top of the charts Is this where I shout out Migos and “Bad and Boujee?”
This development is not dissimilar to the meteoric rise of jazz and, more recently, Rock and Roll. Earlier in 2016, a new documentary series called “Hip-Hop Evolution” was first shown in Toronto’s own Hot Docs Festival. Created by the team behind “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” and hosted by rapper Shad, the series traces the genre’s first 20 years through interviews with luminaries like Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow and Big Daddy Kane. All four episodes were originally aired on HBO, but if you missed out the entire run is available on Netflix . The series encapsulates Hip-hop’s rise music made by inner city youth looking to pass the time to being a genre of music that sells out arenas and wins Grammys.
If you haven’t seen Marvel’s “Luke Cage”, created by Cheo Hodari Coker, it should definitely see an add to your ever-growing watch list. The story centers on a Harlem superhero, portrayed by Mike Colter, previously seen on fellow Netflix and Marvel collaboration, “Jessica Jones”. His powers include superhuman strength and unbreakable skin, and dropping testosterone injected one liners. Luke Cage is a former convict with superhuman strength and unbreakable skin who now fights crime in the Hip-hop mecca also known as Harlem. Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, and Alfre Woodard also star in season one.
Thanks to Coker, “Luke Cage” is dripping with hip-hop references. Coker tabbed A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad as the show’s musical supervisor. The musical choices made by the staff give the show a very Shaft-esque feel. It fits in the realm of neo-blaxploitation and western storytelling. At times, the show can feel a bit hokey and over the top, with Colter as Cage always being the biggest, baddest and coolest guy in the room. He’s very much built off the women want him and men want to be him archetype. A motif repeatedly used in the show is a picture of The Notorious B. I. G. with a crown sitting tilted on his head. Throughout the first season multiple characters stand in front of the portrait at just the angle to eclipse Biggie and wear the crown. Even the trailers have tapped hip-hop classics for the soundtrack. One trailer pulled Nas’ “Made You Look” while another lifts the remix of Miike Snow’s “Heart Is Full” featuring the Hip-hop super-duo, Run the Jewels.
Netflix’s Hip-hop expansion isn’t limited to works from this millennium. I’ve already mentioned “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “A Different World”, but “Coming to America,” starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall is a must-see. Hip-hop and Rap is stuffed with references and call backs that are going to fly over your head unless you have seen this. Is this the single greatest New York City comedy ever? Possibly, but you can’t argue that this was Eddie Murphy at his finest, playing several characters along with Arsenio Hall.
Unlike Murphy’s later films, the characters are relatively more grounded in reality compared to the outlandish and decidedly unamusing and crass characters he’d play in later in his career, putting on fat suit after fat suit. The film has everything you can ask for in a late eighties comedy: memorable characters like Cleo McDowell, an innovative, brilliantly fun storyline, and most crucial to its legacy, endless quotables: “When you think of garbage, think of Akeem!” Twenty eight years after its release, the film is still being referenced by big name acts like Drake, J. Cole, Migos and Kendrick Lamar.
These programs, along with many others that are also accessible through Netflix are important to the culture of Hip-hop because in their very existence, they have shown Hip-hop’s staying power. It’s been shown that, like Rock, Hip-hop isn’t just a fad, but an established and expressive artform that is growing and evolving.
I can really get behind honest portrayals of Hip-hop, and like many others, were tired of it not being represented fairly or at all for that matter. For the first time the music is being put in that honorific light, instead of being used to go after low-hanging fruit and make fun of people who genuinely enjoy it.