Fantastic Five: The Legacy Of The Wild Style Breakbeats


When the movie Wild Style was released in 1981, it helped spread the culture of hip-hop across the world. But while Charlie Ahearn and Fab 5 Freddy’s flick has become a cornerstone of hip-hop history, the story of the breaks that were used in the movie has been shrouded in mystery. Instead of calling on the popular breaks of the day, Ahearn and Freddy plotted to record a set of brand new breaks — a move that somewhat confused the principal deejays appearing in the movie and had record collectors adding another holy grail to their wants lists (a fact exacerbated by only 100 white label copies ever being put into circulation).

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As Ahearn reveals in the liner notes to a deluxe reissue of the breaks (out next week via Kenny Dope’s Kay-Dee Records), he also found himself disappointed that more artists did not re-use the beats for new projects. (Most of the deejays gravitated towards “Down By Law” and were content to leave many of the other 13 breaks totally unused.) Still though, some discerning rappers have dipped into Wild Style‘s grooves for their own creative profit — here’s five of the best.

Original Flavor, “Can I Get Open”
Original Flavor’s “Can I Get Open” is a doozy of a song that also happens to feature one of Jay Z’s high-strung, pre-superstardom guest raps. Producer Ski Beatz’s track is sparked by the vocal instruction, “Ready on the right… ready on the left!” It’s a sample that was nabbed from the “Military Cut” break — with Wild Style movie producer Charlie Ahearn himself unearthing the phrase from the depths of his own vault of soundtrack vinyl.

Nas, “The Genesis”
The highest profile repurposing of Wild Style came when a plucky young Queensbridge troubadour called Nas decided to pay homage to the film during the opening of his debut album Illmatic. The music Nas and AZ are nattering over is the “Subway Beat,” while the vocal charge to “Stop fuckin’ around and be a man” is taken direct from the movie itself.

Common feat. De La Soul, “Live At The Amphitheatre”
Few rap troupes are as smitten with the genre’s old school icons as plug tunin’ trio De La Soul. Here they repay Common for his appearance on “The Bizness” by joining him on an album cut from One Day It’ll All Make Sense that’s titled in honor of Wild Style‘s triumphant closing jam. The beat underscoring the sharp rap shenanigans is sourced from the ruggedly funky “Gangbusters” break.

Big Daddy Kane, “On The Bugged Tip”
“Down By Law” is the most ubiquitous of all the Wild Style breaks, being used by a majority of deejays in the movie. Golden era lothario Big Daddy Kane followed his predecessors’ lead by tapping into the break’s groove for “On The Bugged Tip” from his vainglorious ’88 debut album Long Live The Kane. The production’s swagger is matched by Kane’s cocksure lyrical delivery.

AZ feat. Raekwon and Ghostface, “New York”
Possibly taking a cue from the way his Queensbridge spar Nas opened up Illmatic with a grab from Wild Style, here AZ calls on the “Gangbusters” breakbeat for his sinewy Big Apple tribute. Guest rap chaps Rae and Ghost Deini bless the beat with a stylistic synergy that suggests the idea of a Wu meets Wild Style pet project would come through with a burly charm.

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