For three days in June of 1981, a movie director, a hip hop scenester and a drummer met in Blank Tapes studios in Manhattan and created the soundtrack to the most iconic hip hop movie in history. Named Wild Style, the flick was a collaboration between the aspiring filmmaker Charlie Ahearn and Fred Brathwaite (known around the downtown scene as Fab 5 Freddy); after a conversation at a Times Square show, Ahearn recalls they decided to “bring the hip hop world and the graffiti world together into focus” on the big screen. As a musical curveball, Ahearn proposed what he looks back on as a “ridiculous” idea: Instead of utilizing the popular soul and funk breaks that DJs like Grand Wizard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash were spinning at parties, they would create their own instrumental percussive grooves to score the movie.
To that end, they drafted in the talents of Lenny Ferraro (sometimes known as Ferrari), a drummer playing on the punk circuit who had originally cut his teeth backing up Aretha Franklin and Jerry Butler. The outcome of those studio sessions became known as the Wild Style breakbeats – a series of 13 short instrumentals that are now some of hip hop’s most revered and mysterious recordings.