Dance battles, not war! Beat Street is a fun and funky journey into New York’s budding hip hop scene. Graffiti, breakdancing, and hip hop music flourish with the South Bronx youth, a great alternative to drugs and gang culture I’d say. Beat Street focuses on the specific talents of four friends: Kenny Kirkland (Guy Davis), an aspiring DJ, his little brother Lee (Robert Taylor), a b-boy of the Beat Street Breakers (played by the actual breakdance group the New York City Breakers), Ramo (Jon Chardiet), a graffiti artist, and Chollie (Leon W. Grant), a suave and sufficient entertainment promoter.
What gang fights used to look like. Both are actual crews in New York!
I found myself asking, “Where did all the good hip hop go?” Beat Street takes you back to a time where good rap didn’t have to include mentioning the amount of girls you get with, what kind of jewelry you wear, or your really big butt. It reminded me a lot of Step Up, with its long dance off sequences and musical performances. Stan Lathan made sure to bring in as many popular early 80’s hip hop notables as possible: Trecherous Three, Afrika Bambaataa, and Doug E. Fresh just to name a few. He brought in so many, there had to be three soundtracks made for this one film.
Some of the conflict in the film didn’t seem substantial enough to get upset over, such as when Kenny gets upset at his love interest, Tracy (Rae Dawn Chong) for being affectionate with Robert (Duane Jones). The guy is like 50 years older than her! How do you assume their flirting? Apparently this is rational enough for him to storm out of the studio. Despite this, Beat Street does have its deeper moments. The sub-story with Ramo and his baby momma is actually quite heart wrenching. He finally finds an apartment where they can be away from her oppressive mother and gets a job at a hardware store. His love for art leads him to the “white train”, which he has been longing to graffiti. However, “Spit”, the mystery rival that has been defacing Ramo’s work, attacks his piece. Both of them struggle on the train tracks until together they fall on an electric train rail and die instantly.
Ramo’s death inspires Kenny to use his make-or-break DJing performance into a performance art tribute to his friend. The final scenes of movie are filled with mixed media projections, dancers, and music of all styles.
If you’re a hip hop fan and want to get a taste of the original sounds that inspired artists like Notorious B.I.G and 50 Cent, this isn’t the movie to miss. And even if you aren’t, there’s enough fun and funky-ness to go around. Join the hip hop culture! You might find some beats you’d never thought you’d like.