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Wild Style

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Wild Style
Directed byCharlie Ahearn
Written byCharlie Ahearn
Produced byCharlie Ahearn
StarringLee Quiñones
Sandra Fabara
Patti Astor
Fab 5 Freddy
Cold Crush Brothers
Rock Steady Crew
Grandmaster Flash
Busy Bee
Grandmixer DXT
Music byChris Stein
Distributed bySubmarine Entertainment
Release date
  • March 18, 1983 (1983-03-18) (United States)
Running time
82 min.
CountryUnited States
Box office$15,122 (United States)[citation needed]

Wild Style is a 1983 American hip hop film directed and produced by Charlie Ahearn. Regarded as the first hip hop motion picture,[1] it includes appearances by seminal figures such as Fab Five Freddy, Lee Quiñones, Lady Pink, The Rock Steady Crew, The Cold Crush Brothers, Queen Lisa Lee of Zulu Nation, Grandmaster Flash and ZEPHYR.[2][3]

Wild Style was shot in 1981, completed in 1982, and released theatrically in 1983.[4] The film was later released on home video by Rhino Home Video in 1997. In 2007, it was released on DVD for the 25th anniversary.[5] A 30th anniversary collector's edition was released on Blu-ray in 2012.


Fab Five Freddy (Fred Brathwaite) approached Ahearn about making a film focusing on what would become known as hip-hop culture and they began working together in late 1981. The idea was a hybrid of narrative musical and documentary, having hip-hop pioneers play themselves in a loosely scripted story shot entirely in the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, and MTA subway yards.[1] Freddy eventually stepped back from co-writing and co-directing with Ahearn ("Freddy didn’t have the focus at that particular time to write or direct," Ahearn said), but he helped Chris Stein produce the soundtrack.[6] An early version of the Wild Style logo appeared in 1981 when Ahearn hired graffiti writer Dondi to paint the "window down" subway car piece that appears in the film.[7] The Dondi piece was the inspiration for the animated title sequence designed by the artist, Zephyr and animated by Joey Ahlbum in 1982.[8] The Wild Style mural was painted by Zephyr, Revolt and Sharp in 1983.


Wild Style centers around a Bronx teenager named Raymond (Lee Quiñones), who under the pseudonym "Zoro" is a celebrated but anonymous graffiti artist. Raymond scorns a group of graffiti artists, known as the Union Crew, who have turned their talents to legitimate, commissioned murals on the walls of playgrounds and business establishments. Their graffiti murals attracted the attention of Virginia (Patti Astor), a journalist, who brings the uptown hip-hop culture to the downtown art world. There are a series of encounters with graffiti artists, rappers and breakers, leading up to a giant rap-break concert in a Lower East Side band shell decorated by Raymond.


  • Lee Quiñones (Lee) as Raymond Zoro
  • Frederick Brathwaite (Fab 5 Freddy) as Phade
  • Sandra Fabara (Lady Pink) as Rose Lady bug
  • Patti Astor as Virginia
  • Andrew Witten (Zephyr) as Zroc
  • Carlos Morales as Raymond's Brother
  • Alfredo Valez as Boy with Broom
  • Niva Kislac as Art Patron
  • Bill Rice as TV Producer


Wild Style premiered as part of the New Directors/New Films Festival at the 57th Street Playhouse in New York on March 18, 1983.[9] In November 1983, the film opened at the Embassy 46th Street Theatre on Broadway.[10] By early 1984, it was being shown in other major cities.[11]


Film critic Vincent Canby wrote for The New York Times that Wild Style "never discovers a cinematic rhythm that accurately reflects and then celebrates the rare energy and wit of the artists within the film." However, he noted that the "subjects are appealing, especially Mr. Quinones, a graffiti artist in real life, and Frederick Brathwaite as a very cool artist promotor."[9]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 90% based on 20 reviews.[12] Phelim O'Neill of The Guardian noted that despite the low production values, "nothing else comes close to capturing the atmosphere of the early days of hip-hop and spraycan art..."[13] Reviewing the film for BBC, David Mattin wrote that "Wild Style is a cult classic - indisputably the most important hip hop movie, ever."[5]

Historical value and impact[edit]

The plot of Wild Style is fairly loose and the film is more notable for featuring several prominent figures from early hip hop culture such as Busy Bee Starski, Fab Five Freddy, The Cold Crush Brothers and Grandmaster Flash.[14] Throughout the movie, there are scenes depicting activities common in the early days of hip hop. These include MCing, turntablism, graffiti and b-boying. The film demonstrates the interconnections between music, dance and art in the development of hip hop culture.

The film has received a large cult following over the years after its initial release. Highly regarded hip hop albums such as Illmatic by Nas, Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sunday by Cypress Hill, Resurrection by Common, Big Shots by Charizma, Mm..Food by MF Doom, Check Your Head by Beastie Boys, Beat Konducta by Madlib, Jay Stay Paid by J Dilla and Quality Control by Jurassic 5 have used samples from the film.

In 2007, the VH1 Hip Hop Honors paid tribute to Wild Style in recognition of its influence upon the culture. The film was also voted as one of the top ten rock and roll films of all time by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[2] In 2012, Wild Style was ranked No. 1 on Billboard's list of the Top 10 Best Hip-Hop Movies Ever.[15] The film was exhibited as part of a 1980s art retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston in 2012.[16][17] In 2021, it was shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to celebrate the closing weekend of the exhibition "Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation."[18]


Chris Stein of Blondie worked on the soundtrack and score of Wild Style.[9] The original 1983 soundtrack was released by Animal Records.[11] It consisted of 13 tracks recorded by various artists included in the film. A 25th anniversary edition expanded this to 17 tracks, plus a bonus disc of remixes, instrumentals and DJ tools. The album has been described by Allmusic as "one of the key records of early 1980s hip-hop".[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ebiri, Bilge (September 17, 2020). "The Timeless Honesty of Wild Style, the First Hip-Hop Movie". Vulture. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  2. ^ a b Krotov, Mark. "Wild Style celebrates anniversary". Paste Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 December 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  3. ^ Mc Call, Tris (29 July 2011). "Rock Steady Crew to throw 34th Anniversary party in Newark's Lincoln Park". NJ.com. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  4. ^ "Interview: Charlie Ahearn, Wild Style Director". Red Bull Music Academy. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
  5. ^ a b Mattin, David (August 3, 2007). "Wild Style (2007)". BBC. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  6. ^ Orlean, Susan (10 June 1991). "Fab Five Freddy, the Coolest Person in New York". The New Yorker.
  7. ^ Witten, Andrew (2001). Dondi White, Style Master General. Regan Books. pp. 94–95.
  8. ^ Cooper, Martha (2004). Hip Hop Files Photographs 1979-1984. Here To Fame. p. 188.
  9. ^ a b c Canby, Vincent (March 18, 1983). "'WILD STYLE,' RAPPING AND PAINTING GRAFFITI". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
  10. ^ "SCREEN: 'WILD STYLE,' A BRONX VIEW". The New York Times. November 25, 1983. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
  11. ^ a b Palmer, Robert (February 22, 1984). "THE POP LIFE; RAP AND HIP-HOP MUSIC IN 'WILD STYLE'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
  12. ^ "Wild Style". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  13. ^ O'Neill, Phelim (10 August 2007). "Wild Style". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
  14. ^ "Wild Style (1982)". Retrieved 22 November 2017 – via www.imdb.com.
  15. ^ Erika, Ramirez (November 8, 2012). "Top 10 Best Hip-Hop Movies Ever". Billboard. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
  16. ^ Waxman, Lori (25 April 2012). "Museum of Contemporary Art looks back at the '80s". Chicago Tribune.
  17. ^ "Art, Love and Politics in the '80s: An exhibition at the ICA – The Daily Free Press". 15 November 2012. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
  18. ^ "Wild Style". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Retrieved 2021-07-17.
  19. ^ Stanley, Leo. "Wild Style Original Soundtrack". Allmusic. Retrieved 9 January 2012.

External links[edit]