Early on in “The Beat Says, This Is The Way,” Marrakech Star’s Roy Asheton insists that, if Mylene wants to be taken seriously as an artist, she needs to start crafting high-quality albums instead of just singles. While he’s right, it’s somewhat odd to hear a powerful executive of a disco label—a non-AOR musical genre if there ever was one—want to play the LP game instead of the EP or the singles one.
Don’t get me wrong—there were certainly classic front-to-back disco albums in 1978, including the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Giorgio Moroder’s From Here To Eternity, and A Love Trilogy by Donna Summer, who Asheton uses as a reference point for someone Mylene should aspire to be. But on a whole, the genre was viewed as more of a singles machine, a means of putting out epic-length tracks better suited for getting revelers to dance than being listened to on hi-fi home stereos. Tired and pointless as it is, there’s a reason that rock vs. disco was a legitimate war back in the ‘70s.
Regardless of its historical accuracy (an aesthetic trait that’s best not to worry about when watching The Get Down), the sea change insisted upon by Roy is important for all of the characters on the show. All of the series’ musicians are popular and talented enough at this point that they should be thinking about their careers in the longterm. They should be thinking about their futures. They should be favoring the LP framework.
Unfortunately, most of them are also still kids, meaning that they’re surrounded by people in power who are hell-bent on furthering their own agenda instead of the artists.’ In that same scene, Roy believes Mylene’s first album should embrace the persona of a sexpot diva while Papa Fuerte insists she should perform romantic ballads. It’s worth noting that the singer herself isn’t in the room for any of this. Then, as if to illustrate how wrong Fuerte is about the type of music Mylene should sing, the show cuts to a scene of her and Ezekiel having sex after seeing The Wiz a short time later.
But Roy’s not completely right either, and not just because he has his own creepy fixation on Mylene’s beauty. Being a flesh-and-blood person who’s approaching adulthood, yes, Mylene is beginning to explore her own sexuality. But she also knows her way around a good torch song penned for her by Jackie Moreno. She also knows how to mine the euphony from her complicated relationship with Pentecostal faith.
And who knows? Maybe she’d be fine solely playing the role of disco diva, mature balladeer, or gospel singer. But because she’s not in the room, she’s never offered the opportunity to make up he own mind. The situation becomes worse when her father steps in to steer the songs more in the direction of non-secularity—spurred by the fact that he just made a huge down payment on a lavish theater for his ministry.
The Get Down Brothers face a similar obstacle when, like Roy, the ever-wise Ra-Ra realizes that hip-hop is more than just a passing fad. In a speech that’s a tad overly prophetic, he tells Shaolin that this is a true movement, a new genre whose increasing popularity means they can turn it into a career instead of just a hobby. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about rap music in terms of artistry, culture, and financial stability. This is his version of playing the LP game.
Of course, as soon as they try to advance themselves by asking for more money and more shows, The Get Down Brothers are unwittingly caught in a club battle between Fat Annie and Cadillac. On a slightly stranger note, they find themselves on the underdog side of the war between hip-hop and disco.
Now, I don’t think there was ever a disco rivalry with rap in the same way there was with rock music. And yet, I don’t really care. In the spirit of the show’s midseason premiere, “The Beat Says, This Is The Way” decides to do away with realism and capitalize on a Warriors-style feud between The Get Down Brothers and Cadillac, resulting in yet another exhilarating (if slightly goofy) musical standoff. Because the writers go whole-hog with the absurdity of the concept, we get another animated montage—complete with Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc in the sky as Egyptian rap Gods—followed by a showdown in Les Inferno that combines all the best parts of free-styling, disco hustling, and breakdancing. Although co-creator Baz Luhrmann isn’t directly involved with the episode, it’s the sort of sprawling, genre-bending, multi-sensory sequence that works so well (well, sometimes) in his films.
Unfortunately, it’s short-lived. As if every adult in The Get Down is in cahoots to take control of the young musicians’ lives, all of The Get Down Brothers’ guardians soon discover their weed, their graffiti, and the money they’ve been making in an ill-timed raid. And this comes after another group of elder figures tries to use Ezekiel during his Yale interview. Right as he drunkenly realizes he’s one in a group of token minority prospectives, Shao comes to retrieve him for their impromptu gig at Les Infernos. This leads to a gunpoint scuffle with a couple of current students in the bathroom (Shao spilled their coke!), which leads to everyone else back home finding out about the rappers’ double lives.
It places all of The Get Down Brothers at a fly-or-die crossroads going into the next episode. Will the Kiplings adhere to their parents’ newly strict rules? Likewise, will Ezekiel seize the opportunity to patch things up with Yale? Or will they all throw caution to the wind and make sure they come out on top in the music industry? In other words, it’s time for them to start taking the musical long game seriously.
- While it’s good that an Ivy League institution is thinking about diversity, they’re sure going about it in the wrong way.
- Speaking of which, the two actors in the bathroom achieve a pitch-perfect mixture of douchiness and indignation.
- Am I wrong about the hip-hop vs. disco battle, or was it a real thing? I feel like early rap music relied too strongly on disco elements and samples for their to be a legitimate feud.
- Hat-tip to Shaolin for remixing “Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)” right after it was used in the animated montage.
- It seems Papa Fuerte is back to translating Spanish phrases to English right before/after he says them.
- “Mylene…Honestly, she’s like a daughter to me.” Eeew. Roy sure is a creep.
- “Don’t nobody own this music shit, you dig?” You couldn’t be more wrong, Shao.