The Music of “The Get Down”

Hey hey!

I’m here to talk to you about my latest obsession. It’s a little show on Netflix called The Get Down. Y’all. This show is amazing! Everything about it is beautiful; the storyline, the visuals, the music, the sounds, the cinematography…just everything. If you haven’t heard of it yet, The Get Down is a new musical drama series about these teens in the Bronx (New York) in 1977. We follow a group of teens, The Get Down Brothers, and Mylene and her two best friends. Both groups are centered around music and art. The Get Down Brothers is made up of 5 guys: Ezekiel, Shaolin, Dizzee, Ra-Ra, and Boo-Boo. They formed a group mentored by Grand Master Flash called The Fantastic Four Plus One…or The Get Down Brothers. Shao is the DJ, Ezekiel is the rapper/MC (The Wordsmith). On the other end, we have Mylene, who aspires to be a Disco queen. Her two best friends, Regina and Yolanda help to form their group, The Soul Madonnas.

Also. With the real Grand Matser Flash and Nas there to coach the actors in a hip-hop bootcamp…how could you go wrong?

Now that you have the synopsis, let’s talk about the music. I’ll be talking about the music in the second episode. There are 6 episodes total, and they’re all about an hour long. I also don’t want to spoil too much of the show for those who haven’t seen it.

The way the music is used throughout the show really keeps you captivated and dancing! At the beginning of every episode, there’s narration and a recap rapped by “Adult Ezekiel” (voiced by the rapper, Nas). He’s telling a story, which is what I feel hip-hop and rap should always do. It has an old school vibe to it, with just enough modernism mixed in. The rapping, the beat behind it, the scenes from previous episodes and shots of the city all work together to create something beautiful.  Elliot Wheeler, the composer, did a great job setting the tone.In your typical series set in the 70s or made in the 70s, you have that funky, lots of strings and brass transition music. That can be found here, but again, has a modern twist on it. For example, the music used whenever Grand Master Flash came by to mentor The Get Down Bros., there was always some sort of pentatonic scale like melody being played giving off the East Asian vibe. I do have to admit that it seemed a bit corny after a while, though. I think that’s what they may have been shooting for. You know how “kungfu” films from the 70s had that campy East Asian sound thrown in the score, this is almost exactly how it’s used here. Another great example is the use of Merengue and Latin percussion. Whenever the scene transitions to Mylene or her family, that’s what’s playing in the background. With Shao and Zeke, it’s always hip-hop.

A scene that really stuck with me that involves Zeke and Shao, is when they’re on the roof of their space, and are releasing pigeons. The pigeons start to fly in formation and synchronize with one another. While this is happening, you hear strings, piano, and an inspirational theme playing. All the while, you sill hear trains, cars, horns, your typical city sounds. It’s like finding beauty in the mess and destruction that’s going on in the city. Zeke also has scenes where he is writing new material while you hear the same sort of music and background noise. Again, it’s like he’s finding inspiration in the city and using it as fuel; it’s driving him. The song, ‘It Takes Two” is used in this episode. It’s the song that Shao is trying to master as a DJ. He was given a crayon by the master, he wasn’t told what to with it, though. Shao and the crew spent the episode figuring that out and how to “arrive and depart” on time. All while It Takes Two is playing, Zeke is always by Shao’s side trying to help him out. The lyrics “It takes two to make a thing go right, It takes two to make it outta sight” are constantly being repeated. That music was also being played while the pigeons were circling on the roof – when Zeke had his realization about the crayon (I won’t spoil what it’s for. Watch for yourself haha). It takes two to make things go right 🙂 To add to it, while Mylene and Zeke were arguing in the hall, the record kept skipping and fading in and out. I think that played well with how their team (Mylene and Zeke) weren’t meshing as well anymore. How it was a bit of a battle to get it to work out.

Another great scene that integrated music to fit the mood was a scene in the nightclub. Cadillac, who is the owner of the club and gangster…and prince of disco, is playing the song “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield. While this is playing, he’s questioning and trying to scare a confession out of two kids while waving a gun around and dancing…and snorting cocaine. The lyrics to Superfly that are heard the most in this scene are ” Hard to understand, what a hell of a man. This cat of the slum, had a mind, wasn’t dumb. But a weakness was shown, ’cause his hustle was wrong. His mind was his own, but the man lived alone.”

Things take a turn for the worse when the building The Get Down Brothers work from is set on fire. Suspenseful music and a slower faded and scratchy version of “Rock Steady” mixed with a hip-hop beat are being played while Shao runs towards the burning building in slow motion. It’s like you can hear all the records melting. When he stops and Zeke tries to talk some sense into him, you hear a mix of those inspirational strings and piano along with rising and angry strings as Shao grows more and more frustrated. Shao pushes him down, and the music stops, like all the noise in head clicks off.

The final scene I want to talk about is the last scene in the episode. Mylene has a record producer to impress, but she’s gotta take a church hymn and turn it into a disco tune. She has Zeke to help her on the piano as well. The song starts off with the entire choir singing and her father, the pastor, preaching to the congregation/There are people passing out in the audience, praising, and singing. However, the choir isn’t too impressive. The record producer is switching seats throughout the audience and growing impatient. Mylene spots this and breaks out. There’s a spoken word (And I think a bit of a Flamenco)  vibe going on along with stomping and clapping as Mylene makes her way to the front of the choir stand. She starts to sing the song arranged from the hymn with the lyrics Zeke wrote for her. Zeke starts to play a disco beat along with her singing, she completely flips the song to fit her style. This is where the “It Takes Two” theme comes back to me. They worked together to make it right! Below, I have the scene I’m speaking of.

I highly recommend watching the entire series. It gets better and better!

Thanks for listening to my rambling 🙂

– Bri

Credit should also be given to Stephanie Diaz-Matos : music supervisor, John Carbonara: music editor,  Jamieson Shaw: music programmer, and Ed Bianchi:director