In June 1984, Beat Street premiered in theaters. Similar to its predecessor, Wild Style, Beat Street is based around a love story that takes place in the Bronx during the early days of the burgeoning cultural movement known as Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop's elements of Graffiti, MCing, Djing and B-Boying are heavily represented in the film, which started as a script written by journalist Steven Hager called The Perfect Beat.
"I took the script to Jane Fonda's production company hoping to find a politically aware company that would release a truthful piece about the origins of Hip-Hop," Hager told The Foundation. "Jane Fonda's company turned me down, but offered to buy the rights to the story for $500. I then went to Harry Belafonte, who wanted to make a nice movie that really didn't touch the dark side or show the violent and nasty side of life in the South Bronx."
Hager says that a few of his original characters names were kept in the movie, but nothing of the story resembled his script. Hager received a "story credit" in the film.
The soundtrack to Beat Street, which was released in two volumes, was both successful and groundbreaking. The film's title track "Beat Street Breakdown" by Grandmaster Melle Mel is highly celebrated as one of the greatest socially-conscious rhymes in Hip-Hop. At a recent college lecture, Mel said Harry Belafonte inspired him to pen the historic verses.
"We weren't supposed to be in the movie. We were touring and had other music out," he explained. "I wrote the song so that Guy Davis, who played the lead could perform it, but he could never get the lyrics. If you look at the movie he comes out and does the first verse, and they tweak my voice to sound different, then I come out and do the second verse."
Mel then spoke about Belafonte's influence on his highly revered lyrics in the song. "My influence was a conversation, not even a conversation, but listening to him talk for 10 minutes or so," he said. "Just hearing the words of a great man, we were so electrified, and hearing him talk about the world made me write it."
The soundtrack was s produced by Arthur Baker, and also included The Treacherous Three with Doug E. Fresh, The System, Juicy, Us Girls, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force with Shango, Cindy Mizelle,Arthur Baker, Rubēn Blades, DJ Jazzy Jay, Tina B, Rockers Revenge, La La, Ralph Rolle and Jenny Burton.
Beat Street greatly helped spread B- Boying, which was also called breakdancing, to mainstream America in the mid-80's. Many countries around the world, especially Germany, credit the film as their introduction to the culture. According to Keeping It Real In A Different Hood: Hip-Hop in Germany, the film was extremely popular in East Germany, where it showed young people the evils of capitalism.
"Because the movie concentrated heavily on the visual aspects of Hip-Hop such as graffiti and breaking, those aspects had the heaviest influence on the emerging German Hip-Hop scene," said author Timothy Brown.
Beat Street is a cult classic that still resonates decades after its release.