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Netflix’s ‘The Get Down’ Mines More Hip-Hop History in Second Season

Variety logo Variety 4/28/2017 Dani Levy
© Provided by Variety

The second season of “The Get Down,” which Netflix launched April 7, presented series creator Baz Luhrmann and his team with an opportunity to delve even more deeply into the world of hip-hop in 1970s New York. The show takes audiences to the Bronx, where bright graffiti and underground parties provide a respite from the day-to-day violence and poverty that confront a team of talented teens.

While hardworking Ezekiel (Justice Smith) spends his time crafting a rap voice and pastor’s daughter Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) sings her way into disco, street-smart Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) earns his stars as an aspiring DJ. New songs energize each episode, just as they did the six installments that aired last season.

Steeped in the culture: Hip-hop history permeated the show from its conception, as academics and members of the original hip-hop movement collaborated to keep events that happen in the series as near as possible to reality.

A natural feeling: “We wanted to make it feel like the music was inevitable. We didn’t want people to just suddenly burst out into song,” says executive music producer Elliott Wheeler. “One of our mantras was, if we took out the music, the story shouldn’t make sense anymore.”

The masters: Hip-hop historian Nelson George and Grandmaster Flash, pioneer of the DJ techniques of “backspin” and “scratch,” told Wheeler and his team what music to include. George lent his knowledge to the script, and Flash supplied Wheeler with rarely heard sets from the era as well as new sounds recorded for the show.

Music is the star: “On a grander, macro level, we wanted to really implement the hip-hop thesis of re-sampling and borrowing from different genres,” Wheeler says. He might drop in part of a modern song, only to have Flash mix it in a later episode. “The amount of musical ideas in this show is just immense,” Wheeler notes. “You need to create some sort of interweaving fabric for the audience. It becomes another character in the show.”

Studio mix: The series’ partnership with producer Sony Pictures Television allowed Wheeler to mix in proprietary tunes from 1977 for the first season, and from 1978 for the just-launched current one.

Mining the past: Flash (a character on the show, played by Mamoudou Athie) provided the equipment he originally used, as well as descriptions of rarer items for the props department. During two months of hip-hop boot camp, Moore and Athie learned everything they could from the DJ on how to play and the intricacies of the technology they had to master. The actors also practiced their backspin techniques and DJ personas. It was up to the cameras to capture a sense of history as it was being made.

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