The best film ever made about hip-hop is also the first: Wild Style.
Released in 1983, Wild Style covered all four elements of hip-hop—graffiti, MCing, breakdancing, DJing—in the culture’s earliest days. It’s not a documentary, but at time it feels like one. The setting is hip-hop’s nursery, the South Bronx, at its run-down grimiest; the leads are played by real-life graffiti legends Lee Quinones and Lady Pink, then fresh-faced street kings; Fab 5 Freddy co-stars, and the Rock Steady Crew is shown busting moves; pioneering rappers and DJs such as Grandmaster Flash, the Cold Crush Brothers, Kool Moe Dee, Busy Bee and other old-school legends are captured performing in their prime.
The film is defiantly low-budget and raw, but that didn’t lessen its impact. It’s become a Magna Carta of sorts, a founding document for a culture that at that time was unknown beyond the streets of the five boroughs. The year the film was released, Run-DMC dropped their first single, “Sucker MCs,” and hip-hop quickly began exploding from a local sound to the global juggernaut it is today—which has only made Wild Style, with its pitch-perfect time capsule of hip-hop culture in its adolescence, that much more indispensable. Released independently in a handful of theaters, the movie wasn’t a box-office smash, but future generations of hip-hop fans and artists alike made sure it remained a cult classic. The Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill both used snippets of dialog from Wild Style for classic early-’90s albums while Nas, De La Soul, and AZ are among those who have sampled the movie’s angel-dusted soundtrack and score.
30 years later, a new, remastered Blu-ray and DVD re-release is in stores on Oct. 15th has Wild Style looking more vibrant and pristine than ever. To celebrate the film’s indelible legacy, we spoke to many of the players behind it—three decades later, every last one of them has become a legend in his or her own right. Here they break down the ins, outs, ups and downs of the first (and only) film to successfully capture hip-hop in its rawest, purest form.
As told to Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)
Charlie Ahearn - Director/producer of Wild Style, co-author of Yes Yes Y’all
Lee Quinones - Legendary graffiti and visual artist from the Lower East Side, starred in Wild Style as “Zoro”
Fab 5 Freddy - Renowned visual artist and music-video director, former co-host of Yo! MTV Raps, co-starred in Wild Style as Phade
Lady Pink - Legendary graffiti and visual artist, starred in Wild Style as Rose
Grandmaster Caz - Member of influential Bronx rap group Cold Crush Brothers, plays himself in Wild Style
Grandmaster Flash - Legendary DJ, front man of influential rap group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, plays himself in Wild Style
Patti Astor - Renowned indie film actress, co-starred in Wild Style as Virginia, former owner of the influential Fun Gallery in New York
John “Crash” Matos - Legendary South Bronx graffiti artist, played unspoken part as member of Union Crew in Wild Style, also worked on animation and graphic design for the film
Chris Stein - Guitarist of Blondie, worked on the soundtrack and score of Wild Style