with Charlie Ahearn - Director
of Hip Hop Classic film
JayQuan: How did you first come in
contact with Hip Hop , and what year was it?
Charlie Ahearn : Well , there’s no doubt that my ear was
onto Hip Hop by 1978. I was living near the Smith projects where Lee
Quinones lived in the 70s. I was doin’ these experimental film
projects with a 16mm camera where I would film neighborhood kids and
come back the next week and set up a projector and project the images
the wall. There was a gym at the Smith projects and kids would
come there and dance. I distinctly remember hearing the DJ cutting up
James Brown , and the kids would drop to one leg , and stick the other
leg out in synchronous fashion like a line of guys at once. To this
honky from upstate New York it looked like tribal dancing , I had never
seen anything like it , and I didn’t know what Breakdancing was at the
time. But I did have my camera and I would tape this even though I
didn’t know what it was. I was very excited by this , and there were
all these murals in the area by Lee. When I was shooting this stuff a
group of kids came up to me and said that they wanted to make a martial
arts movie , and I said sure. I had never gone to film school & I
knew nothing about making movies. But I shot these kids
with Lee’s murals in the background, and it was like a Bruce
Lee martial arts movie set in the housing projects. I was playing around
with different percussion sounds to put in the background , and I went
to this record store , which ironically is still there at Park Row.
JQ:So you heard a DJ scratching James
Brown in ’78?
CA: Yes , and in the book “Yes Yes
Y’all” there is a flyer for that jam at Smith projects. Theodore
& Fantastic were there , Flash was there , I just didn’t know what
it was at the time. In the summer of 80 Freddy and I went to DJ A.J.
parties , Breakout parties , we went to the subway yards with Dondi. The
movie was just a vehicle for these people to get their 3 to 5 minutes ,
and it was never intended to be a documentary , we never took it that
serious. It wasn’t supposed to teach anyone anything – it just is
what it is.
JQ: Did the Furious 5 originally
perform in the Ampitheatre scene?
CA: Yes , what happened was we shot
everything for the film in the fall of 1981 , and
that winter looking at the footage , all the musical scenes
didn’t sound very good. We used the Cold Crush sound system and it was
loud , but it wasn’t clear , which is not good for recording sound for
movies. I had to make a painful decision that winter to scrap everything
that we shot and to redo the whole soundtrack. We
redid the Dixie scene , the Ampitheatre – everything was done twice.
The original Ampitheatre scene had Flash & The Furious 5 on stage ,
and also the Cold Crush. By the spring a lot of things had happened –
Flash & the Furious were breaking up again , the Funky 4 had broken
up , there was a lot going on. So what you see is the best we could do at
JQ: Do you still have that footage?
CA: It’s in a warehouse in Jersey
somewhere , its very hard to get to. If I could get my hands on it I
would have released it long ago.The dvd would have been the time to do
it , but I found it impossible to go through what I had to go through to
JQ: How did everyone co exist on the
set as far as Graf artists &
Emcees/DJs & B Boys ?I hear that
Graf artists didn’t really like being lumped in with Emcees and
DJs , and that not all of them were really into rap.
CA: Freddy had a kinda fantasy or
vision of Hip Hop as this united front , which was kinda radical at the
time. There were interconnections , but there were no visible signs of
it. Like in the whole year that I was in the Bronx before the movie , I
saw no B Boying – it simply wasn’t there. It was going on somewhere
else. I got to know Rock Steady through Lee Quinones . There was a party
at his studio , and I met them there. B Boying was considered passé and
out of fashion in the Bronx. People remembered it , but when I mentioned
that it would be in the movie people would go awwwww that’s been
played out so long ago!!! The Emcees really were not into it. The B Boys
were not really on the scene at the parties and events except Frosty
Freeze. Like wise the people who were down with the Graf scene
weren’t at those parties. The only one I saw was Phase II because he
did the flyers. Lee Quinones was a B boy when he was a kid bombing
trains , but he never went to the parties.
JQ: How did Blondie & Chris Stein
come into play.
CA: Before Freddy and I met he was
working with Glenn O'Brien on a thing called TV Party. Debbie (Harry) and
Chris were always on TV Party and Freddy used to hang out with them.
Freddy took Chris & Debbie
up to a P.A.L. show of Flash before the movie , this was the
spring of 1980. He took them and introduced them , hence you get the
story in the song “Rapture”. Debbie was as big as any pop star could
get back then , but she still hung out like that. She made this song as
sort of a joke to make her references to Hip Hop , and Freddy had a lot
to do with the writing of that song. In fact that song was the first
time a lot of people heard rap.
JQ: How did the Emcees get along on the
CA: Cold Crush & Fantastic were
deadly rivals. They
were friends growing up , but during this time it was like heavyweights
before a match. The others got along fine , Busy Bee hung out with
JQ: Was there anyone that didn’t
appear in the movie , but you wished had ?
CA: Yes Spoonie G. He had Spoonin’
Rap on Peter Brown’s label
, I used to love that , the mood and everything. I wanted to work
with him , but he was doing the Sugarhill tours and he was a recording
artist , and I was on a street level , so during the movie
never really got a chance to talk to him. I loved the Treacherous
3 – New Rap Language was my favorite. Treacherous 3 could have been
the headliners of the whole movie , but we were on the way to tape the
Ampitheatre scene , and we were in a van. Special K asked the driver to
stop & he jumped out because he saw his girlfriend on the street. He
said he would catch up with us , but he never showed. I was shooting
16mm film which was very expensive , and I told Moe & L.A. if you
can’t get your guy here I can’t roll film on you guys. They gave a
great show & could have headlined. I worked very closely with
Theodore on the music track , and I don’t think anyone has done this
since , but I showed him the film in edited form and he watched and
Scratch mixed watching the scenes. I also worked with Grandmaster Caz on
the theme songs , my regret was that I wish that I had more of Caz in
the movie , and more of Theodores' Scratch Mixing like the way you see
Flash. Originally that scene would have been right before they went to
the Ampitheatre to see his group. There was a whole talking scene
between Freddy & Flash that had to be cut because they are talking
about goin' to the Ampitheatre.
JQ: How come the Bob James break (Take
Me To the Mardis Gras) is deleted on the Flash scene of the dvd ?
CA: I went to get permission for it ,
and they wanted an ungodly amount of money , and Rhino wasn’t paying
me any clearance money.
JQ: Im gonna name some Hip Hop movies
and ask you to rate them on a scale of 1
-10 , 10 being highest.
Beat Street – 6 (the Subway battle
scene is so cool)
Breakin’ – 4
Rappin’ – 4
Style Wars – 8 for the original release , 10 for the re release
JQ : How did the book "Yes Yes Y’all" come about
CA : I went to Seattle to the
Experience Music Project to show Wild Style , and I was disappointed
that many people had never seen my photos. So I pulled out a book of
photos & Jim Fricke pulls out flyer from like ’76 , 77 and so on.
I said we have to put a book together where we have the flyers and
photos back to back . So we would have a flyer , a photo and a story .
My original idea was to call it “Legends Of Hip Hop” , and focus not
so much on the exact truth , but what peoples perceptions were. I had
been working on a movie idea about early myths in Hip Hop and I still
want to do that , but that was the original idea for the book.
JQ : A central theme in Wild Style
seems to be the Graf artists rejection of the mainstream art galleries ,
how do you feel about where we are 20 plus years later with rap being so
mainstream , do you feel that it’s being exploited?
CA: The movie was the dilemma of
someone who is an outlaw , and his becoming public threatens that
identity. You cant be an outlaw and well known in the art galleries at
the same time. In terms of rap I always thought that the street aspect
of Hip Hop was in conflict with the commercial aspect. What we saw with
Rappers Delight was the defining moment when people who weren’t part
of the original culture became stars. It would be like if we never heard
the Beatles , but we heard the Monkees and that was considered to be
what 60s Rock & Roll was. Now the Monkees produced some great
records , but when you hear the Beatles it’s such a highly developed
form. When rap became commercialized in ’79 it was in conflict with the way it
was developed till that point. But at the same time all artists involved
in Hip Hop at the time were trying to earn a living from it. So it would
be absurd for anyone not to applaud the opportunity to make things
better for themselves. Nobody should wanna put it in a little box and say “if its not
on the street corner its not real”. That would be racist and counter
productive. So this contradiction between the needs of the commercial
world & the street has defined Hip Hop for the last 20 years.
JQ: How were you received in Japan when
you took the tour there?
CA: It was culture clash on many different levels for both sides , but it was very exciting. There was this Buddist Monk that came to all of our shows waving his beads……
JQ: Where did the title Wild Style come from?
CA: In the summer of 1980 when Fred and I began conceptualizing an exploring the movie , all the subway writers were using the phrase "Wild Style" to mean the most advanced form of letters , pushed to a complicated abstraction , unreadable except to those who practiced the art form. It was adopted as the name of the movie almost from the beginning. Much later I began to hear about , and meet with a pioneer named Tracey 168 who deserves credit for writing Wild Style in the mid 70s,and he is prominently thanked in the end credits of the movie.
JQ: How did the Sprite commercials come about , and what did you think of them?
CA: I was approached in 1997 by the Sprite advertising people. They wanted to do a series of "homage to the movie" scenes. Now you have to realize that the movie had not been in distribution for a long time and I was planning the re release with Rhino at the time. It seemed like a great opportunity to cross market the movie (since Rhino is notoriously cheap with advertising). I was excited about getting some of the people from Wild Style into the commercials. Also there had been some positive buzz about the ads since KRS- One had done one etc. It turned out that they didn't use as many of the original players as I had wished - Caz & Whipper Whip in the B ball scene and Flash & Crazy Legs in the club scene. But overall it was a lot of exposure for a very small movie.......
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