VH1’s The Breaks does its best to present the era of Hip-Hop where the music was inching to the cusp of becoming the mainstream machine it is today, but whose growth was still being suppressed by non-believing music execs, sabotaged by greedy label execs, and dismissed by pessimistic talent.
It’s become a well-known fact that today’s Hip-Hop game isn’t for the lighthearted (cast members of the Love & Hip-Hop series can attest to that), but in the 90’s it was an entirely different animal. Breaking into the industry required more than just a popular blog or IG account, and gangsters who enjoyed rapping actually preferred to hug the block to squeeze out every dime they could instead of wasting time in the studio.
Nowadays execs scout for talent on social media (just ask Tyga) and guys get into one brawl and run to the studio to scream they keep it gangsta. The game has indeed changed.
Taking place in the summer of 1990 the Seith Mann film revolves around three friends; Nikki Jones, DeeVee and David Aaron. Their love for Hip-Hop music and determination to become a part of the movement leads them on stressful and at times dangerous paths from which they could easily lose their ways if they don’t stay the course.
Nikki (Afton Williamson) is the witty, charming, and the “By Any Means Necessary” college graduate who notoriously turned down an all expenses paid ticket to Harvard Law School just so she could move to New York to pursue a position at Fouray Entertainment. The job was promised to her by its founder, Barry Fouray (Wood Harris a.k.a. Avon Barksdale), who runs his company like it was based in a Baltimore City projects. Armed with a silver tongue and a can do attitude, Nikki rises up to any and every challenge with the confidence that most men would envy.
When she wasn’t scrubbing toilets, getting vomit out of her hair, and turning down sexual advances from one of her superiors, Nikki was dealing with her supportive but sometimes passive-aggressive snow bunny boyfriend David (David Call) whose privileged background does nothing to hinder his love affair and appreciation of Hip-Hop. Refusing to take any handouts from his big time music exec daddy warbucks, Juggy (Evan Handler), and dealing with a wannabe Billy Dee Williams and Hip-Hop hating boss that is DJ Sampson (Russell Hornsby), David’s dedication to the Hip-Hop culture and determination to get it on the airwaves of the R&B station where he works is so profound you would’ve thought he was raised in a trailer park across 8 Mile.
Rounding out the three is DeeVee (Mack Wilds) who is a producer extraordinaire to the struggle rappers of the block and whose grumpy father (Method Man) belittles his dreams of Hip-Hop grandeur. As talented as he is on the boards the talent he finds on the mic have a better chance at making noise at amateur night at The Apollo than they do on a national level. His search for raw yet polished talent leads him to show stopping and scene stealing Ahm (Antoine Harris) whose gift for mic ripping is matched by his curse of set tripping. Though he knows his skills on the mic are second to none, Ahm’s interest in making records is as cold as the eyes that pierce through the men who stand across from him and have to stare at his scarred face. That is until fate intervenes and Ahm realizes he needs to rearrange his priorities before he ends up in a casket or in a cell.
Serving as each other’s crutches at a time when the hardships that come with the dreams of succeeding in Hip-Hop could cripple the hardest of men, the three amigos ride waves of emotional highs and lows. All this is donw while taking us on a journey through a gritty 1990’s New York where MC’s sharpened their swords in rhyme battles that took place in shifty locals, payola was the best way to get your records played on the airwaves, and sexism was basically tolerated in the work place. More often than not the three of them would find themselves in situations where sidestepping a problem isn’t an option and instead have to stand tall and roll with the punches because after all, with no risks come no rewards.
Even though Irv Gotti would overwhelmingly disagree, The Breaks was an enjoyable journey into the Hip-Hop scene of 1990. With a film score courtesy of the legendary and iconic DJ Premier and stellar performances from an excellent cast, the Seith Mann directed film was as engaging as it was entertaining with the capabilities to inspire aspiring artists, producers, and entrepreneurs. One could only hope this would be the start of an ongoing series instead of a stand alone film.
And while The Breaks is a nostalgic film that took a generation of 30-year-olds and older on a trip through memory lane and made a generation of teens and tweens thank God they were born into the internet era, the film also demonstrates just how far Hip-Hop music has come. Especially considering it was produced by and aired on a network whose hardest artist it featured in 1990 was Rosie O’Donnell.