Hip-hop’s first big screen love letter is getting the acclaimed landmark treatment. The game-changing 1983 film Wild Style is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, an impressive mark considering that when the movie was first released three decades ago most observers didn’t know what to think of the obscure flick. There is the news that Wild Style will be returning to theaters this fall (including a September 27th screening at New York’s IFC Center) and will be the subject of a bells and whistles collector’s edition DVD re-release.
Yet it’s still a miracle that director Charlie Ahearn and cohort and star Fab 5 Freddy were able to pull off such an unlikely feat. Wild Style, which gave a dramatic insider’s view of the underground hip-hop scene in all its B-boy glory, featured Grandmaster Flash, the Cold Crush Brothers, Rock Steady Crew and a plethora of legendary graffiti artists. Yet the groundbreaking statement struggled to garner financing and the respect from movie studio powerbrokers that viewed the independent vehicle as a mere novelty. Of course, that’s only part of the story. VIBE caught up with the aforementioned acclaimed Fab 5—artist, filmmaker, and former host of Yo! MTV Raps—to discuss the arduous task of making Wild Style, how the crew beat the odds to create a classic and why the film still matters today.—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)
VIBE: This year marks the 30th anniversary of Wild Style. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you look back at your involvement in this landmark film?
Fab 5 Freddy: That this is the first illustrated depiction of real people that made it happen during the birth of this hip-hop culture as it entered into the pop zeitgeist. As the person that had the original idea and connected with Charlie [Ahearn] to collaborate and make this movie, our original intention was just to capture the most real, honest, and true story for our core audience. We had no thoughts that 30 years later Wild Style would become what it is today. Charlie had a background in underground independent cinema…I coming right out of Bed-Stuy as I’m trying to figure out a way to get my work and ideas out there. So I connected with people in the downtown scene…we all became co-conspirators. The kids in the city were our target audience as well as the downtown scene.
Did you look at yourself as the mayor who brought those two different worlds together?
I guess there’s a lot of different ways to look at that. It’s all been a blessing for me. I’m just very pleased and thankful that there was a receptive audience of people that I was able to connect with. But I have to say this. People actually perceived me with being this cat from the Bronx because I’m one of a handful of folks that was actually acting in Wild Style. Although I grew up as a fan of the culture from the disco DJ era as a young kid and hearing the beginnings of hip-hop, I’m hearing it all from another borough in Brooklyn. I’m just as curious as the next kid who really wanted to figure it out. So when I connected with Charlie, I was already planting my seeds in the downtown scene. I was connecting with Blondie and people on the new wave scene. Jean-Michel Basquiat and I had just linked up. We were all just trying to figure it out.
Wild Style was filmed in the Bronx in a very barebones, guerrilla style. What kind of issues did you face shooting this movie?
I don’t think it was so much guerrilla. I would call it independent. The kind of film Wild Style was it was honestly independent…independent of any movie studio structure; it was finding sources that believed in our ideas when a lot of people closed the doors in our face. So when Charlie said let’s so this we began to go to the Bronx on a regular basis to meet the artists that we would put in the film. It was crazy interesting and exciting.
As graffiti artist how impressed were you with Wild Style’s attention to detail by having someone of the caliber of a writer as Lee Quinones in the starring role among other graff icons?
To come up with a film that put that all in one frame and then find a Lee Quinones as a lead was huge. Me and Lee had some of the first exhibits of our work in a gallery in Rome. I had got with him and started putting these ideas together and Lee was with the program. But you have to remember, there was no real view of all these elements—rhyming, graffiti art, B-boying, and DJing—as all being connected. There were some people who did graffiti that listened to hip-hop in the Bronx, but that wasn’t the overall idea throughout the whole city…these four hip-hop elements.
You had no other choice but to use real graffiti artists, DJ’s and MC’s in the movie given that hip-hop was such a new artform, right?
Right…we wouldn’t have been able to find actors that could pull it off. We were meeting other people from the scene that were talented, that we could communicate and hang out with. So the idea was let’s just put all these real people in the movie and allow them to play themselves. This was a double-edged sword because it’s not as easy as it sounds. We worked to come up with a storyline and then we got different people like Caz, Daze and Pink that we were also meeting. It was almost as if me and Lee having those shows out in Italy and doing a couple of things downtown was an alarm and a lot of the graff cats came out of the woodworks and wanted to get into the mix. That was part of the idea of Wild Style.
There’s also a who’s who of great hip-hop artists of the day in Wild Style: Busy Bee, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Moe Dee, Grand Wizard Theodore, Double Trouble, Rammellzee, the Cold Crush Brothers. How did you go about choosing the musical acts for the film?
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