Beat Street: Wikis


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"Beat Street" may also refer to Orange Street in Kingston, Jamaica.
Beat Street

Beat Street movie poster
Directed by Stan Lathan
Produced by Harry Belafonte
David V. Picker
Written by Andy Davis
David Gilbert
Paul Golding
Steven Hager (story)
Starring Rae Dawn Chong
Guy Davis
Jon Chardiet
Leon W. Grant
Saundra Santiago
Music by Arthur Baker
Harry Belafonte
Webster Lewis
Cinematography Tom Priestley Jr.
Editing by Dov Hoenig
Kevin Lee
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date(s) June 6, 1984
Running time 105 min.
Country United States
Language English

Beat Street is a 1984 dramatic feature film, following Wild Style in featuring New York City hip hop culture of the early 1980s; break dancing, DJing, and graffiti.



Set in the South Bronx, the film follows the lives of a pair of brothers and their group of friends, all of whom are devoted to various elements of early hip-hop culture. Kenny Kirkland (Guy Davis) is a budding disc jockey and MC, and his younger brother Lee (Robert Taylor) is a hardcore b-boy who dances with the New York City Breakers. Kenny's best friends are Ramon (Jon Chardiet), a graffiti artist known by his tag, "Ramo", and Chollie (Leon W. Grant), his self-styled manager/promoter.

The film begins with the main characters preparing for a house party set in an abandoned apartment building, where Kenny is the featured DJ. An uninvited Lee and his breakdancing friends crash the party, and nearly get tangled into a battle with a rival troupe, the Rock Steady Crew. The battle of mostly words is broken up by Henri (Dean Elliot), a squatter who lives in the building and is befriended by Kenny, Chollie, Ramon, and Luis (Franc Reyes).

Kenny has dreams of performing in New York City's top nightclubs. No club is bigger than the Roxy, and on one visit he crosses paths with Tracy Carlson (Rae Dawn Chong), a collegate music student and composer. A breakdance battle between the Breakers and Rock Steady ensues, and Tracy admires Lee's performance. She then invites him to audition for a television show focusing on dancing. Lee, Kenny, and their crew arrive during a dance rehearsal, and Lee gives his performance only to find out he won't be on television. Protecting his brother's interests, Kenny rips into Tracy for leading Lee on; Ramon steals a videotape of Lee's dance as the crew walk out.

A remorseful Tracy then shows up at the Kirkland home to apologize. Lee was not home but Kenny was, working on a mixtape. Tracy clarifies her story, saying that she did not promise to Lee that he was going to be on the TV show. She then takes an interest in Kenny's mixing and the two find common ground. Kenny and Tracy then head into the subway, where they meet up with Lee, Ramon, and Luis spray painting an abandoned station platform. They pack up and leave when they hear noises, thinking it may be the police; it turned out to be a rogue graffiti artist known as "Spit", who defaces Ramo's work (and the work of other artists) by spraying his tag over it. The group take the train back uptown, and Kenny and Tracy spend the rest of the evening together, striking up a romance while walking and talking.

Chollie talks Kenny into a guest spot at the Burning Spear, a club run by DJ Kool Herc. Kenny not only spins but presents a special Christmas-themed skit performed by the Treacherous Three, Doug E. Fresh, and the Magnificent Force. The crowd's reaction convinces Kool Herc to invite Kenny back. But both Kenny and Chollie see the regular gig as a stepping stone to their bigger goal. They return to the Roxy, where auditions are being held for new talent. Chollie convinces Kenny to let him do the talking, and waits for the auditions to end before he succeeds in getting the talent scout to check out Kenny at the Burning Spear. The scout keeps his word, and is impressed enough that he offers Kenny a performance on New Year's Eve. Tracy offers to help Kenny out by allowing him to work on a computer keyboard system at her studio. But Kenny accidentally pressed a wrong button and deleted his work. A stubborn Kenny then leaves the studio, saying he had enough material for New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, Ramon is feeling pressure from two sources. His father Domingo (Shawn Elliot), who despises his graffiti, wants him to find honest work, while his girlfriend Carmen (Saundra Santiago), who's also the mother of his son, longs for them to be together as a family. Ramon eventually gets a job in a hardware store, and he then takes Carmen and their baby to live with him in Henri's building. But Ramon does not stop thinking of the subway trains that are his canvas. When he sees a white-painted one pass him by, he vows to put his mark on it. Later that evening, Ramon and Kenny find the train and proceed to paint one side of the lead car. When the get on the other side, their work is interrupted when Ramon hears noises—it is "Spit", defacing the completed side. Ramon and Kenny chase Spit through the tunnel and into a station, and a fight ensues. Spit sprays paint in Ramon's eye, and both men tussle on the roadbed before they roll onto the electrified third rail, which kills them instantly.

As the group mourn the death of their friend, Kenny considers not doing the New Year's Eve show at the Roxy. But with the help of Tracy and despite initial reluctance from Chollie, Kenny turns his big break into a celebration of Ramon's life. The show is the film's grand finale, starting with a rap performance by Kenny while slides of Ramon and his work were shown in the background. Kenny was followed by Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five, and a Bronx gospel choir backed by dancers and breakers.


Kadeem Hardison was credited as "High School Student" in the director's cut of the film. However, his scenes were all cut from the final theatrical version.


The project began when journalist Steven Hager began writing visiting the South Bronx to document break dancing, graffiti art and hip hop music in the early 1980s. Hager sold his script to Harry Belafonte.

Some of the plot line was based on the New York City graffiti documentary Style Wars. Most visibly, the antagonist Spit in Beat Street was lifted from the real-life graffiti artist CAP MPC, who was portrayed in Style Wars. It was screened out of competition at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.[1]

Filming locations

Beat Street was filmed entirely on location in New York City, in the boroughs of the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Several scenes were shot inside the city's subway system, both onboard trains and in stations, notably Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets, 57th Street-Sixth Avenue, and Fresh Pond Road. Scenes were also filmed on the campus of the City College of New York, which includes the concert venue Aaron Davis Hall. Many of the internal dance sequences were filmed at the popular nightclub the Roxy, located in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

Most of the graffiti art that was displayed all throughout the film was not done by real graffiti artists—it was airbrushed by set decorators.

Musical performances and soundtrack

There are several performances in the movie, notably from established early hip-hop groups Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five, Doug E. Fresh, Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force, and the Treacherous Three. As a member of the Treacherous Three, Kool Moe Dee also appeared in the film. It stands as one of the few media appearances he has ever made without his trademark sunglasses (a style he had not yet adopted at the time). In addition to these acts, Guy Davis, who played Kenny, is also a blues musician in real life.

The film also includes other musical performances from novice acts, such as Tina B and The System, both of whom appear on the soundtrack album. Though not featured on the album, there were also appearances by rapper Richard Lee Sisco and singers Bernard Fowler and Brenda K. Starr.

Contrary to popular (internet legend) belief, The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan was not actually in the movie. Some rumors have floated around the net stating that he is the guy in the black hat rhyming during the Roxy auditions scene. However, RZA has gone on the record stating he was not in the film. In fact, he would have only been 15 at the time Beat Street was filmed. The actor in the black hat appears to be markedly older than 15.

At least three breakdancing battles between the New York City Breakers and the Rock Steady Crew were also included in the film. In addition, the Roxy audition scene features a pair of breakdancing boys known as the Fantastic Duo.

This was the first American film to feature more than one soundtrack album. Originally, Atlantic Records, which released the soundtrack albums, had three volumes planned, but only two of these were released. The second volume was never released on compact disc.

The trailer includes an alternate version of the title song performed by Kool Moe Dee, a version that was not featured in the movie or on the original soundtrack albums.


Volume 1 (Atlantic Records 80154)

  1. Beat Street Breakdown - Grandmaster Melle Mel
  2. Baptize the Beat - The System
  3. Strangers in a Strange World - Jenny Burton & Patrick Jude
  4. Frantic Situation - Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force
  5. Beat Street Strut - Juicy
  6. Us Girls - Sha Rock, Lisa Lee, Debbie D
  7. This Could be the Night - Cindy Mizelle
  8. Breaker's Revenge - Arthur Baker
  9. Tu Carino/Carmen's Theme - Rubén Blades

Volume 2 (Atlantic Records 80158)

  1. Son of Beat Street - Jazzy Jay
  2. Give Me All - Juicy
  3. Nothin's Gonna Come Easy - Tina B
  4. Santas' Rap - The Treacherous Three
  5. It's All Right by Me - Jenny Burton
  6. Battle Cry - Rocker's Revenge
  7. Phony 4 MCs - Ralph Rolle
  8. Into the Night - La La


  • The film is mentioned in episode 12 of The Boondocks while Robert "Granddad" Freeman discusses Riley's graffiti masterpiece.
  • The Notorious B.I.G in his song "Suicidal Thoughts" said, "Should I die on the train tracks like Ramo in Beat Street/People at my funeral frontin' like they miss me."
  • Rapper Ras Kass in his song "Won't Catch Me Runnin'" said, "When my voice hits the mike, I electrocute Spit like Beat Street."
  • Lines from the film were mentioned in Lost Prophets song "Five is a Four-Letter Word."
  • 1200 Techniques sampled lines from the film in the song "Battlemaster."
  • 50 Cent from G-unit references Spit and Ramo in "Hustlers Ambition."
  • Portions of the Beat Street Breakdown scene can be downloaded from the video-sharing sites YouTube and MySpace.

Beat Street's impact was felt internationally as well as throughout the United States. In Germany, for example, movies such as Beat Street and Wild Style are credited with introducing the hip hop movement to the country. Because movies are so easily distributed over borders, part of the importance of this movie lay in its ability to influence both East and West Germany, which at the time were still divided.[2] Beat Street was of particular importance in the East, where it is said to illustrate for young people the evils of capitalism.[3] Because the film focused so heavily on the visual aspects of hip hop, such as breaking and graffiti, these aspects had the heaviest influence on the emerging German hip hop scene.[4] It was precisely these visual aspects that helped bring hip hop culture to Germany, rather than simply a genre of music. Beat Street appeared in the Democratic Republic at almost the same time as in the West. Dresden, the center of the Beat Street scene was geographically out of media range, making it a perfect center to explore this genre of music. The hip hop scene for the entire public would meet at breakdancing competitions, emceeing competitions, and graffiti spraying.[5] Puerto Rican and African American breakdancing, hip hop and Latin freestyle dance sounds, and inner-city American graffiti made up what Germans knew as hip hop culture. The aftermath of Beat Street propelled events such as competitions in emceeing, break dancing, and graffiti spraying throughout Germany[5].

See also


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Beat Street". Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  2. ^ Brown, Timothy S. "Keeping it Real in a Different Hood: (African-) Americanization and Hip-hop in Germany." In The Vinyl Ain't Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. by Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, pp. 137–150. London.
  3. ^ Brown, Timothy S. "'Keeping it Real' in a Different 'Hood: (African-) Americanization and Hip-hop in Germany." In The Vinyl Ain't Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. by Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle pp. 137–50. London
  4. ^ "Beat Street"
  5. ^ a b Elflein, Dietmar. "From Krauts with Attitudes to Turks with Attitudes: Some Aspects of Hip-Hop History in Germany." Popular Music, Vol. 17, No. 3. (Oct., 1998), pp. 255–265.

External links


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