All the Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding – Film Review

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Narrated by Zoo York co-founder Eli Morgan Gesner and scored by legendary producer Large Professor, this new documentary about the embryonic days of skateboarding in the big apple explains why a New York state of mind brought rap and skating together in a perfect union. It’s a history of when NYC itself was a lot more nonchalant in its attitude and it’s an astonishingly deep dive into the archives of some of the players involved in the growth of Rap music and the global streetwear industry, which have been commodified to the point where they are both worth billions !

Way back, when I saw the mighty Gonz or Rodney Mullen in Rad or Thrasher Magazine, with the images of swimming pools, homemade ramps and skinny skateboards being ridden by sun-bleached blonde kids across California, I thought that skateboarding was only for white children that lived in constant sunshine. This film de-rails that vision for anyone that isn’t aware of precisely when the culture proverbially let go of it’s Mommy’s apron strings. This film is about the grit and the grind of skateboarding in a city; the wall riding, the lips and ledges, the slides, the kinks & rails and the squalid cityscape that unwittingly led the adolescents of the period creating a scene for themselves. In much the same way as the DIY vibe of early Hip-Hop, these kids were just doing it for themselves. It was just an explosion of opportunity, and as Black Sheep Rapper Dres describes it ‘There was no blueprint’. 

Jeremy Elkin’s feature examines the do it yourself approach taken by the teenagers of that era. They were pre-adulthood New Yorkers who just had a brash unapologetic approach to skating, to fashion and to music. Non mainstream attitudes that were not widely expressed before then. The racial kinetics highlighted, focus on how the dynamics of race were developing at the time too. But the convergence in the title is key, vital in what a generation of minors had in their headphones and grew up aspiring to, Hip-Hop. And riding a board with the freedom of the city.

We’ve spoken before about the relevance and importance of two of the gamekeepers of Rap radio, DJ Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia and the vintage footage of their show on NY college station WKCR adds mega authenticity to the overall film. Members of the Wu-Tang Clan and Busta Rhymes can be seen rhyming freestyles in the studios of their show from before either were signed to a record label – Scenes that were doing the rounds in the 1997 VHS Zoo York Mixtape which featured DJ Roc Raida, Busta, Diamond D and more. In the film, Large Professor can be seen rhymin his verse from Live at the BBQ, which he wrote in the studios that night.

There are a slew of conversations with the members of the community of the time. As well as radio personalities, naturally, plenty of professional skaters celebrate their involvement too. From Jeff Pang to Gino Iannucci, and as the Larry Clark film KIDS is discussed as a tipping point, Rosario Dawson discusses her memories of Harold Hunter amongst other things. Iconic Hip-Hop luminaries Kool Keith and DMC from Run DMC appear, as do DJs Clark Kent and Kid Capri. Electronica darling Moby also gets a little screen time [he got his first DJ gig at the famous Manhattan club where Kent, Capri and Stretch Armstrong would regularly play, Mars]. Some are touching, some poignant and with footage of interviews with people that are sadly no longer with us like Keith Hufnagel, some are quite moving.

At 89 minutes running time, it offers insightful origin stories on names and faces you will and won’t recognise, and if you have ever wanted or worn Supreme in your life, it’ll shine a light on the local downtown NY store when it was nothing more than a clubhouse for latchkey teenagers. In a recent interview, Gesner explained ‘New York was NOT the focal point of skating in the early 90s’, and with the grimy low-def VHS imagery of downtown Manhattan and it’s pre-gentrification tagged walls, All the Streets Are Silent is not only a love letter to the city, it’s one of the finest and most accurate documents to youth subcultures in years.

All the Streets Are Silent is available to stream from the usual outlets.

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