The Breaks takes us back to Hip-Hop’s most compelling years, where the inner city’s wildest dreams became reality in exchange for the loss of the culture’s innocence.
“You love to hear the story again and again / of how it all got started way back when..” – MC Shan, “The Bridge”
When reminiscing on the past, viewing it through rose-colored glasses is often a true ascertainment, but not when it comes to Hip Hop’s “Golden Era”. The late 80s through early 90s was a turning point for the music, culture and business, and those who experienced it wax lyrical (ad nauseam, even) whenever given the chance. Hollywood is especially paying attention to the era’s current popularity, with a strong number of thematic projects rolling out in 2016. VH1 has high hopes for The Breaks, a film inspired by journalist Dan Charnas’ superlative book on the history of the industry called The Big Payback, premiering on the network tonight at 9pm ET/PT [Monday, January 4].
“The Big Payback spans 40 years, but The Breaks takes place during a pivotal summer for Hip Hop in 1990,” explains Charnas. “And even though The Big Payback is nonfiction and The Breaks is fiction, they both try to answer the same questions: Why did Hip Hop end up the way it did? How did it go from being an industry outcast to the world’s pop music? Who fought for it and what did they have to gain or sacrifice? And why did Hip Hop itself change so much?”
Written, directed and executive produced by Seith Mann (The Wire, Grey’s Anatomy), The Breaks chronicles the journey of three friends united by their love of Hip Hop, working to make their mark in the industry. Featuring a cast of veteran actors and exciting newcomers, the movie (rumored to eventually be made into a series) reflects on a time where artists, producers, executives and hustlers intersect in the clubs and street corners of the still crime-ridden New York City.
DeeVee (Mack Wilds) is an aspiring producer hunting to find the next big rapper and dealing with his perennially irritated father Darryl Van Puten, Sr, played by Method Man.
“[Method Man playing my father] was probably one of the funniest moments in my life,” Wilds offers. “DeeVee’s dad is a strict father, who genuinely wants the best for his son, but dictates with a heavy dose of tough love. Knowing Meth is the complete opposite made the days on set so much more fun.”
“This film is so authentic to Hip Hop,” adds rapper and radio host Torae Carr, who plays “no-nonsense MC” Sig Sauer. “Before any and everyone could make a record, you had to be official to get respect as a lyricist. Dan and Seith did an amazing job of making sure that story was told from a very real perspective.”
Breakout star Antoine Harris (Power, Ballers) plays “Ahm”, a drug dealer with a lyrical gift whose talent could bring them all to the next level.
“Ahm could have been a Fortune 500 CEO in another lifetime; he’s pragmatic, guarded and brilliant,” Harris says. “We’re so quick to put somebody in a box because of their social heredity and environment. You can’t put a roof on a person like Ahm, because you don’t know where they’re going and what they’re capable of. Look at Malcolm X. He had his chance to evolve. Ahm is in a position where he can still change.”
Veteran actor Wood Harris tackles the role of visionary rap Svengali, Barry Fouray. “One of the biggest things that attracted me to this project is DJ Premier doing the music,” Harris says matter-of-factly. “Also to work with so many people from The Wire, the chemistry is already a certain way. There’s an alumni vibe.”
The Breaks is set in a time when Hip Hop was, more than most things, hopeful and innovative. Some feel the same can be said for the music today. “Hip Hop’s in a place where it’s thriving,” says Wilds. “There are so many different facets of it now. Hip Hop grew up, had kids, and now we’re seeing some of its flourishing offspring.”
While many debate the current state of Hip Hop compared to yesteryear, there’s no question The Breaks will encourage thoughtful reflection on days past, and maybe even an outlook on those ahead.
This article appears in The Source magazine’s Issue #268, on newsstands now.