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Pioneering 1984 hip-hop film Beat Street comes to the Neon

A still frame from Beat Street (1984).
Orion Pictures, 1984.
A still frame from Beat Street (1984).

On Wednesday, December 6, Dayton’s Neon movie theater will host a screening of the groundbreaking 1984 hip hop musical drama Beat Street. Ange Mitchell from the Neon joined Evan Miller on Midday Music to discuss the screening, along with Basim Blunt, director of the WYSO’s Eichelberger Center for Community Voices and host of Behind The Groove. Directed by Stan Lathan and produced by Harry Belefontaine, Beat Street was one of the first mainstream films to depict New York City’s hip hop culture. “It’s a very in-depth view into how hip-hop culture changed the scene in the 1980s, and how it affected the lives of young people on the scene,” Ange said. Basim, who grew up just outside of New York City, talks about seeing Beat Street when it was first released and about how Hip Hop has gone global in the four decades since.

Beat Street tells the story of Kenny (Guy Davis), an aspiring DJ and MC living in the South Bronx. Along with his breakdancer brother, Lee, and graffiti artist friend, Ramon, Kenny struggles to find acceptance for his creative passion. Basim Blunt, a native of Jersey City, recalled seeing the movie in theaters when it was first released.

“It was a big thing, because hip hop was finally getting recognized on a bigger scale,” he said. Basim said Beat Street captured the radical spirit of the early years of hip hop in New York, which included not only musicians and dancers, but also visual artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat. The film has parallels, he said, to the life of Michael Stewart, a graffiti artist who was killed in NYPD custody after being arrested for vandalism. The result was “a big protest in the Black community,” he told Evan. “It ties into some of the sentiments you’ll see in this movie: not only does it have hip hop and rapping, it has breakdancing and graffiti.”

The film also features appearances from a number of hip hop pioneers, like Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five, Jazzy Jeff, and DJ Kool Herc. Like many reviewers at the time, Basim said he was initially skeptical of the film’s staying power. “We thought it was just a little novelty movie because, you know, Hollywood wants to capitalize on this quick genre called hip hop is gonna fade away,” he said. But today, he said, “as we celebrate 50 years of hip hop, Beat Street has made its place in this historic type of music.”

Beat Street will appear for one night only at the Neon Movie Theater in Dayton on December 6. The film will begin at 7:30pm, and will be followed by a lecture by producer and Hip Hop historian TL Cross. After the lecture, two WYSO DJs, Basim Blunt and Jason “3J” Jordan, will host a Q&A session about the film. Tickets and additional information are available at www.neonmovies.com.

Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.
Peter Day writes and produces stories for WYSO’s music department. His works include a feature about Dayton's premiere Silent Disco and a profile of British rapper Little Simz. He also assists with station operations and serves as fill-in host for Behind the Groove. Peter began interning at WYSO in 2019 and, in his spare time while earning his anthropology degree, he served as program director for Yale University’s student radio station, WYBC.