In a pivotal scene from the 1983 cult classic hip-hop movie Wild Style, a soldier angrily confronts his graffiti-loving brother: “Stop fucking around and be a man. There ain’t nothing out here for you.” Zoro, the chided graf writer, fires back: “Yes there is. This.” A heartbeat later, Wild Style’s “Subway Theme” snaps in.
Besides the graffiti documentary Style Wars, no other early rap film reigns supreme like Wild Style. Dozens of hip-hop artists have paid homage by sampling dialogue from the film, including Nas, who replayed that entire exchange between Zoro and his brother on the opening of his classic debut album Illmatic. Wild Style wasn’t exactly a triumph in filmmaking. The plot, writing, and acting were decidedly amateur. But whatever it lacked in polish, the film felt more genuine than later “hip-hopsploitation” films such as Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Written, directed and produced by Charlie Ahearn with a big assist by Fab 5 Freddy, Wild Style made a point to include key New York hip-hop figures. That included rappers Busy Bee and Cold Crush Brothers, the Rock Steady b-boy crew, graffiti artist Lady Pink, DJs Grand Wizard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash. Whether or not you believe that hip-hop culture is comprised of “four elements”—dancing, DJing, MCing and graf writing—Wild Style played a pivotal role in minting that mythos.