Justice Smith Was Ashamed Of His Hip-Hop Miseducation

Justice Smith appears to be on the verge of exploding into stardom.

Justice Smith appears to be on the verge of exploding into stardom. He has been toiling away and honing his wares for around five years. However, with the Netflix original series The Get Down, he may have found the vehicle that will propel him to greater heights.

The dramatic comedy series takes place in the years that saw Hip-Hop become a NYC ghetto phenomenon in the late ’70s, before exploding into a nationwide cultural revolution.

Smith plays lead protagonist Ezekiel Figuero, a young South Bronx resident of Black and Puerto Rican descent who is trying to find his rightful place in the world. He is a member of a rap group called The Get Down Brothers. Their moniker is derived from the the popular parts of disco, funk and R&B music that DJ’s would repeat on two turntables, aka the ‘get down’ part.

The Shadow League: Talk about this seminal cultural phenomenon and how you were able to give it justice.

Justice Smith: [We were] Supplied with all these resources and all of these movies, music, books and all this other stuff so we could really immerse ourselves in that culture so we wouldn’t put something disingenuous on screen. So, when someone comes to up to us on the street, life or wherever, who’s actually from that place and time period and says ‘You guys did it justice’, it’s a huge compliment and it extends to the entire family.

TSL: What has the overall experience been like for you?

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JS: It’s been amazing. I’m so grateful to be a part of something that so many people connect to. It’s really revolutionary in a way, bridging that age gap, telling a story that hasn’t really been told before about the Hip-Hop and the South Bronx in that time period.

I said this in another interview but I’m going to keep saying it, young kids coming up to us and saying how inspired they are. I even have aspiring rappers and aspiring poets come up to me and and be like ‘I’m half-black, half-Puerto Rican as well. I’m from the Bronx as well. You inspired me to write more.’ That kind of stuff touches the heart.

TSL: In learning of this era, did you feel deprived or like you missed something?

JS: There are certain Hip-Hop artists from that time period that I am ashamed I didn’t know before. Things that people my age ask me, like ‘Who’s this?’ And I’m like ‘Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. How could you not know who that is?’ My Dad and Mom are both musicians. My Dad is a funk musician. Funk, R&B and all that.

So, I grew up listening to Earth, Wind and Fire. That was not too new to me. I had heard ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash. That was the extent of the music that I had heard at that time. Delving in deeper, I realized how expansive this world is. There are songs that I hear on the radio that are just an extraction of a beat I heard from The Message or a line from a song from the ’70s that no one really realizes still influences our music today. That was really cool to see.

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Ricardo A Hazell has served as Senior Contributor with The Shadow League since coming to the company in 2013. His byline has appeared in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the South China Sea Post, the Root and many other publications. At TSL he is charged with exploring re black cultural angles of where they intersect with the mainstream.