The Oral History of "Wild Style"

The Oral History of "Wild Style"All images via Music Box Films

THE LEGACY:

Chris Stein: The film is awesome. I remember telling Charlie, as soon as this thing comes out Hollywood is going to copy it. Beat Street came out right after. It’s pretty bad.

John “Crash” Matos: [Beat Street] was a commercial rip-off.

Fab 5 Freddy: I was like, “Here comes Hollywood with their money thinking they know better than everyone.” There are some cool brothers behind that film, no disrespect to them, but some things are best done from within.

 

It’s probably the most accurate movie about hip-hop culture to date. It showed us in our natural habitat—as hip-hoppers in New York.
—Grandmaster Flash

 

Grandmaster Caz: Wild Style puts movies like Beat Street and Krush Groove and all those movies that came after in a different perspective. This is the most authentic movie about hip-hop ever made. [Beat Street] was trying to be a hip-hop movie, but it was trying to be a movie more than it was trying to be hip-hop. I mean, what does Harry Belafonte know about hip-hop?

Lee Quinones: There’s films that have been wannabes, copycats, follow-ups, whatever you want to call them, but just cannot ever touch the authenticity. No one was acting; they were actually being themselves. Busy Bee, Fab 5 Freddy, Patti, everyone was who they were. You can never get that in a nutshell at that time in New York. You can plan for the script in Hollywood, but you can never get it in the raw innocence that Charlie was able to capture on film.

Grandmaster Flash: It’s probably the most accurate movie about hip-hop culture to date. It showed us in our natural habitat—as hip hoppers in New York.

Grandmaster Caz: I think it brought a realization to people that hip-hop is not just the music, it’s an entire culture of all these things together. It kind of helped etch hip-hop in stone.

Fab 5 Freddy: It’s the movie that kind of put it all together. To be even more specific with you, the term hip-hop didn’t even exist beyond something that was shouted out from party to party, from MC to MC at that time. When we were beginning to start the media push of framing what the film was about, Charlie and I talked about it, and I thought we needed to call it something. We didn’t want to just call it rapping, because that was just one aspect. [Hip-hop] became the obvious thing to call it as representative of what we were doing it. [Wild Style has] got the DJ scene, you got Lee painting The Amphitheater, and then you got Rock Steady in the park—it all fit together. It made it seem like, "Oh yeah, these really are related."

Lady Pink: It has stereotyped us into being hip-hop people. It has been incredibly difficult since then to be taken seriously, to have my artwork taken seriously when I’m some gimmicky little hip-hop star from the movie Wild Style. And don’t get me wrong, I adore Charlie Ahearn, but this is what has happened. It’s all about commercialization and marketing. It makes a neat little package that can be tamed down and sold to the masses for major profit. That’s just the American way. We were thrown in there as an afterthought, as a visual part for this mass marketing of hip-hop. Graffiti became the background for the rap music and the breakdancers. But honestly, you were only exposed to that kind of stuff if you lived in certain kind of neighborhoods. In other neighborhoods you heard Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and you saw people doing Irish dancing. My favorite music is probably heavy metal. I love Metallica, System of a Down, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix.

 

The film is definitely corny and the film is definitely spotty. The plot isn't much, but I think the feeling is very strong in the film. I can stand by that.
—Charlie Ahearn

 

Charlie Ahearn: Lady Pink, whenever she’s interviewed, she has to go on a soapbox. She hates hip-hop. It’s cute. I don’t take it seriously. She is hip-hop, whether she likes it or not.

Lady Pink: I am not hip-hop. We’ve always been so focused on doing our art, getting it done, getting it done properly [that] we have no room for any music, or fashion or anything like that. We are just a bunch of bum artists, and that goes in there with the whole hip-hop thing, but I’m just really not feeling it.

Grandmaster Flash: The places that I go now—Germany, Budapest—so many people know that movie from the scene of me DJing in the kitchen, cutting up Bob James “Take Me to the Mardi Gras.” That tells me that’s one of the biggest scenes in the movie. Before I get ready to play Rock the Bells, I say, “By a show of hands, how many people have seen Wild Style?” As soon as I drop that beat, I already know what’s going to happen.

Charlie Ahearn: [Wild Style] didn’t become historic for another decade. It had to be rejected totally before it could be rediscovered. By ’88 and ’89, it was all over. People were like, “No. I never did any of that. That’s embarrassing. I would never b-boy.” It was already considered passe because things kept changing and kids are always into what’s new. The DJs always were there, but nobody was listening to the DJs before. They’re like the monks—they‘re carrying the flame because they’re collecting vinyl. They're the ones who knew [about the film.] It hadn’t been out in a long time; there was no distribution of it. People were bootlegging it. I started bootlegging it. And then it started slowly—this idea that there was a history to this, that the film represents a history. The idea that there were people before Run DMC and that they had a whole thing that evolved for 10 years before that. It started to dawn on people.

Lee Quinones: Wild Style is a cult classic. Walking down the street and getting tapped on the shoulder by Yasiin [Bey] aka Mos Def or LL Cool J or someone of that kind of caliber. They still call me “Z” or “Zoro.” It’s a great feeling when you get that kind of feedback. It’s inspired many people around the globe that are household names now.

Fab 5 Freddy: Nas started off Illmatic with a scene from the film [Ed. Note—"The Genesis" samples the soundtrack’s "Subway Theme."] It was perfect. When I was on Yo! MTV Raps, he told me how his father took him to see Wild Style when he was 8 or 9, and it had this crazy impact on him. That was special to me. I told him I wanted to work together, and I ended up directing the video for "One Love.”

Charlie Ahearn: There isn’t really anything that represents that generation well. Even if it’s not literally accurate, I think it’s pretty accurate in its feeling. I’m proud of that, however humble the film might be. The film is definitely corny and the film is definitely spotty. The plot isn't much, but I think the feeling is very strong in the film. I can stand by that.

Patti Astor: I may never win an Oscar, but when some kid tells me Wild Style changed his life, that’s good enough.

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Tags: wild-style, charlie-ahearn, fab-5-freddy, lee-quinones, grandmaster-flash, grandmaster-caz, south-bronx
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