I've written about a couple of the key early hip-hop movies (Wild Style, which was the first and the rawest, and Krush Groove which was one of the glitziest, most star-studded) so it was inevitable that I'd eventually get around to some of the other early hip-hop flicks. Once Hollywood got wind of the rapping-break dancing-graffiti craze sweeping the South Bronx and Queens it was inevitable that every studio would take a stab.
None of the movies that still get mentioned are worthless and all are charming, but the sheer volume took some of the novelty out of seeing this street culture legitimized on the big screen. Beat Street is yet another story of kids in the South Bronx coming together to throw parties, pick up chicks and express themselves. Once again, there are outside forces trying to glom some of the street cred off the kids. This time it's plucky young Rae Dawn Chong as the downtown high-culture girl who introduces the notion of escaping the ghetto to Guy Davis, a DJ/rapper looking to make a name for himself. Reality comes crashing back down on Davis when one of his friends dies.
There isn't much unique about the story but film gets a lot of details right. The opening credits immediately feature some excellent break dancing and graffiti-inspired design while the burned-out buildings and house-parties vibe of the South Bronx youth culture is legit. (One of the film's most memorable lines: "This ain't New York, this is the Bronx!") Additional credibility is provided by appearances from rap pioneers like Afrika Bambaata and break dancing legends Rock Steady Crew.