Krakow Film Festival 2024

Hip-hop’s half-century: from bronx streets to global beats

INTERVIEW / Porto/Post/Doc and curator Guille de Juan celebrates hip-hop's transformative five decades.

The 50-year journey of hip-hop is a narrative of cultural evolution, marked by its ascent from the gritty streets of the Bronx to its pervasive influence in global mainstream culture. Emerging in the 1970s as a result of the ’77 New York City blackout, hip-hop has since reshaped fashion, language, and politics. Characterised by its innovative use of sampling, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti, hip-hop has consistently been a driver of social and cultural change. In its five-decade saga, the genre has provided a platform for artistic expression and sparked essential dialogues on race, identity, and social justice. As it continues to evolve, hip-hop remains a mirror to the changing times, albeit now as a global cultural force touching virtually all corners of the world, including at this year’s Porto/Post/Doc.

Porto/Post/Doc’s tribute to 50 years of hi-hop is less of a backward glance and more of a forward leap into the genre’s vibrant, ever-evolving heart. Curator Guille de Juan hasn’t just spun a yarn of nostalgia; he’s crafted a narrative that pulsates with the lifeblood of a the genre.

De Juan’s vision encapsulates hip-hop as a force that transcends music. «Hip-Hop is something much bigger than just a musical genre. It’s a cultural phenomenon with urban roots that is dynamic and in constant transformation,» he tells Modern Times Review. With that approach, the programme isn’t just a throwback; it’s a comprehensive exploration of hip-hop as a cultural leviathan that’s been breaking barriers and defying norms for half a century.

Style Wars Tony Silver
Style Wars, a film by Tony Silver

Visual mixtape

The festival’s film roster is like a finely curated mixtape. From the street art and raw beats of Tony Silver’s Style Wars to the lyrical depth of Nas: Time is Illmatic (as de Juan describes, his favourite artist and music documentary) by One9 to the Soundcloud-rap of the Terrence Malik-produced Lil Peep: Everybody’s Everything, each documentary offers a slice of hip-hop’s rich, diverse history. Kevin Fitzgerlag’s Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme, on the rap battle, Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives (dir. Bobitto Garcia), on New York’s famed underground radio duo, and You Can’t Create The World Twice (dir. Catarina David, Francisco Noronha), on hip-hop’s development in Northern Portugal, round out the programme.

De Juan’s own hip-hop baptism, an impromptu discovery of DJ Krush (Meiso) and DJ Shadow (Endtroducing) in a New York record store, mirrors the genre’s unpredictable and transformative nature. He describes this profound influence as «Those two albums became the soundtrack of my first trip to NYC, and for hours every day, I aimlessly walked the streets, on my own, taking in the fast bustling rhythm of the city while listening to the fat breakbeats, dreamy melodies, sample-heavy, mainly instrumental hip-hop rhythms of DJ Krush and DJ Shadow.»

This was in direct contrast to the early hip-hop influence in de Juan’s native Spain. On his ingestion of hip-hop culture during those days, de Juan says «Since the mid-nineties when I got into hip-hop I have consumed it directly from the American and UK markets. I bought imported records and attended shows and watched documentaries about hip-hop scenes that were not in my geographic region.»

De Juan’s approach to curating is a conscious effort to sidestep the rose-tinted view of hip-hop’s past, focusing instead on its pulsating present and future. «I knew well that a 10 documentary programme could not be complete or comprehensive, but I did try to include relevant documentaries related to each of the main areas that define this culture,» he explains. It’s about capturing the essence of hip-hop in all its forms – from the turntables to the street corners, from the recording studios to the cyphers.

«Hip-Hop is something much bigger than just a musical genre.»

Modern tech and the music doc

During our conversation, we also touched upon two important aspects of the programme: technology and the rise in popularity of the music documentary. On the popular ascendancy of music documentaries, de Juan observes, is attributable to their rich blend of narrative and rhythm. These aren’t just films; they’re visual mixtapes, weaving together stories of struggle, triumph, and unfiltered expression. They offer a cinematic journey through the beats and lives that have shaped the genre. He also expounds on the quality of the genre, «The quality and artistry in the production of documentaries have increased notably in recent years, and specialised festivals like In-Edit and online platforms have helped audiences to access these documentaries. »

On technology’s role in hip-hop’s evolution, de Juan pointing out, «Technology has made it possible for creators to produce hip-hop recordings without having to invest a lot in a recording studio.» While a boon for creative freedom, this democratisation of music production also floods the scene with tracks that might not hit the mark in artistry. It’s the age-old struggle between quantity and quality, the underground versus the mainstream.

Nas: Time is Illmatic One9
Nas: Time is Illmatic, a film by One9

Legacy talks

At Porto/Post/Doc, the festival also transcends the film programme with engaging talks, enriching the cinematic experience with deep dialogues on the genre’s societal impact. «Words that Transform,» moderated by music critic Rui Miguel Abreu and featuring sociologist-turned-rapper Capicua and filmmaker Fábio Silva, promises a fusion of perspectives on rap’s transformative power. Meanwhile, «Nó das Antas: Where is Porto Hip-Hop?» led by journalist Ricardo Farinha, offers a localized exploration of hip-hop with insights from Ace of Mind da Gap, MC Maze of Dealema, and André Carvalho of Circus Network. These sessions provide further platforms for exploring hip-hop’s role in community building, cultural expression, and social change.

Porto/Post/Doc’s «50 Years of Hip-Hop» is a celebration of a genre that refuses to be boxed in. It’s a journey through the lifeblood of hip-hop, exploring its past, present, and future. This festival is the place to be for anyone looking to understand the pulse of hip-hop, to feel its beats, and live its stories. It’s not just a walk down memory lane; it’s a deep dive into the heart of a movement that has and continues to define generations.

Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Steve lives in Bucharest, Romania. He is Communications Manager and Industry Editor of MTR.

Industry news

Living in limbo

Living in exile is hard, as we can experience in Mohamed Jabaly's award-winning Life Is Beautiful. Despite the hardships, this film is a feel-good story celebrating solidarity and friendship.

Life without papers

MODERNITY: Revealing the hidden world of the evaporated.

An unknown soldier

CONFLICT: Contrasting quiet Ukrainian life compositions with intercepted phone conversations between Russian soldiers and their families.

Children’s nightmares of war

CONFLICT: A short doc follows a researcher as he probes children’s trauma-induced nightmares.

DOX:EXCHANGE: documenting change in restrictive environments

Making documentary films and nurturing an ecosystem is not easy for most filmmakers, but in #Belarus and #Georgia, filmmakers...

Bodies and freedom

THESSALONIKI: Elina Psykou's Stray Bodies sheds thought-provoking light on bodily autonomy through abortion, in-vitro fertilization and euthanasia, while Tzeli Hadjidimitriou tells the story of the lesbian community on the island of Lesvos in Lesvia.

CPH:DOX INTER:ACTIVE: Intersections of flesh and code

REPORT: When CPH:DOX opened its doors for its 21st instalment between 13 and 24 March 2024, it centred on issues ranging from fertility, ableism, discrimination and trauma, regarding the body as a site of socio-political conflict.

The art of moving

HUMAN IDFF: The Norwegian documentaries Ibelin and A New Kind of Wilderness, both of which have gained international acclaim, tell moving stories about distinctive individuals - but also provide enriching perspectives on our social life.
- Advertisement -spot_img

You might also likeRELATED
Recommended to you