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Film / Big Fun in the Big Town

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Big Fun In The Big Town is a 1986 TV documentary made by the Dutch production company VPRO for Dutch television, directed by Bram van Splunteren and hosted by Belgian TV presenter Marcel Vanthilt, who would later become world famous as a veejay for MTV. It talks about Hip-Hop at a time when the genre was finally breaking through to the mainstream with the success of the single "Walk This Way" from Raising Hell by Run–D.M.C.. Many famous hip hop artists of the old school hiphop era are interviewed, including Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run–D.M.C., Doug E Fresh and the inspirational pioneers The Last Poets. The crew also talks with several hiphop artists who at that time were still unknown, but would gain more fame later, like LL Cool J, Roxanne Shante, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Russell Simmons, Mr. Magic and Schoolly D.

Apart from interviewing a veritable "who is who" in early hiphop "Big Fun In The Big Town" also features a lot of footage of rap acts recording in the studio or performing on stage or even in the streets, with a memorable bit where Doug E. Fresh beatboxes in front of the camera. Seeing that hiphop would finally reach a global audience and crossover to the white suburban market soon afterwards, the episode is quite an interesting time capsule of this transition period.

Interestingly enough Big Fun In The Big Town was one of two documentaries about popular music the crew shot in New York City. The production company actually had more interest in the director's documentary about Iggy Pop, who was already a huge star worldwide. Seeing that the footage with and about Iggy was shot quickly and efficient director Van Splunteren decided to use the remaining time in the USA to shoot more footage and interviews about the local hiphop scene, a genre that was dear to him but hadn't quite caught on in his home country. Ironically enough the hiphop documentary would become a Cult Classic in the Netherlands, while the Iggy Pop contribution was met with a lacklustre reception and is nowadays completely forgotten.


At the time of its broadcast, November 30, 1986, "Big Fun In The Big Town" got a enthusiastic reception by Dutch and Flemish viewers. Despite being only 40 minutes long the documentary is credited with singlehandedly popularizing hiphop in the Netherlands and many Dutch hiphop acts still refer to it as their main inspiration. For instance, quotes from Schoolly D in this documentary are heard during the track "De Wet van T.O.K.I.O" on the Dutch band Osdorp Posse's album "Harde Kernramp" (2000).


Big Fun In The Big Town provides examples of:

  • A Cappella: At Harry Truman High School in New York City we see a group of teens rap, beatbox and sing without any aid of instruments. Doug E Fresh later demonstrates his beat boxing skills while being interviewed out on the street in Harlem, New York City.
  • Big Applesauce: The documentary was shot in New York City, despite the fact that other parts of the USA also have a blossoming hiphop scene at the time. But it makes sense that a foreign documentary crew would go to the most well known American city. Several scenes are shot in the streets of Harlem and the Bronx and two concerts are filmed, one at the Latin Quarter.
  • Big Damn Movie: The title mentions the word "big" twice.
  • Big Fun: Literally in the title.
  • Bigger Is Better: The title promises "big fun" in the "big town".
  • The Big Rotten Apple: The crew filmed in the black ghetto neighbourhoods and the more crime infested parts of the city, like the Bronx and Harlem. To avoid problems they hired a bunch of bodyguards to protect them.
  • Boastful Rap: Several rap artists talk proudly about their skills and achievements.
  • Concert Climax: The documentary ends with a concert by Schoolly D.
  • Concert Film: Many rappers perform A Cappella versions of their songs on the street, but there are also actual concerts featured. One by Roxanne Shante and Biz Markie and one featuring Schoolly D.
  • Cool Car: DMC shows off his new Cadillac of which he is very proud.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Schoolly D at one point says that he works independently because it allows him to say the things he wants to say, something that the bigger hiphop acts who work for huge record companies aren't allowed to do. He also says that Rock & Roll was cool when it was raw and badass and he feels hiphop should stay the same way too.
  • Cool Shades: Several young blacks are seen wearing one.
  • Conscious Hip Hop: Suliaman El Hadi (The Last Poets) puts a lot of emphasis on the fact that music ought to be about social messages. He even downright dismisses much of the hiphop acts inspired by his group for being nothing else but "children's nursery rhymes".
  • Dirty Rap: Schoolly D presents this side of hiphop.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Roxanne Shante and Biz Markie sing a Protest Song against crack. Vanthilt then explains to the viewers what crack cocaine is and how it is a problem that affects many poor people in the ghetto.
  • The '80s: This entire documentary breathes the 1980s.
  • The Golden Age of Hip Hop: This movie is a nostalgic trip to the time of old school hiphop, with many pioneers being interviewed. At the time of recording the music was still mostly underground, with only a few acts starting to making it big. Many people, and not only in the USA, weren't sure whether the genre was just a passing fad or if it had staying power? By the time the episode got on the air "Walk This Way" by Run–D.M.C. was a huge hit and Hip-Hop finally caught on worldwide, even with people who weren't black.
  • The Glasses Come Off: Two young blacks called The Mystery Crew give a demonstration of their rapping skills. Before singing the final line one of them takes off his shades to put emphasis on his concluding Wham Line against gang violence.
  • Hip-Hop: This documentary is an excellent introduction to the genre. It addresses the history of hiphop, interviews various pioneers and provides some explanation and demonstration of rapping, dj'ing, scratching and beatboxing.
  • It's All About Me: Suliaman El Hadi (The Last Poets) criticizes hiphop because it's too much about people boasting how great they are as musicians, lovers and gang members, which to him only leads to more gang violence and doesn't change anything about the political and economical problems in society.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Frequently discussed by many interviewees who believe that, despite what everyone says, hiphop will one day be accepted by the mainstream.
  • Music Is Politics: Schoolly D wants to be able to say what he wants and explains this is the reason why he doesn't work for a huge record label.
  • The Power of Love: Doug E Fresh explains why he, contrary to other hiphop artists, writes love songs.
  • The Power of Rock: All people interviewed have differing opinions about hiphop, but they all express the importance of the genre in their lives.
  • Take That!: Doug E. Fresh and Schoolly D both criticize the Pop and Hair Metal acts of the time for being bland and all about the image instead of music. Record producer Russell Simmons at one point says that Europe focuses too much on gimmicks in hiphop like "Holiday Rap" and claims that Run–D.M.C., contrary to Diana Ross and Whodini, write and produce their own songs.
  • Time Marches On: It goes without saying this docu is a capsule of an era now long gone. Jam Master Jay and Mr. Magic are interviewed here, but passed away in the 2000s. Def Jam's office is still a tiny building. Many hiphop musicians who would later become big names are still approachable in the street for an interview. It's also amusing to hear several people talk how hiphop may one day become accepted by the mainstream, but at the same fear it may get too commercialized. We also hear Vanthilt explain many things to Dutch viewers that nowadays are well known, like crack cocain, for instance.
  • Title Drop: Mr. Magick tells his radio listeners:
    Turn the boxes up. It's big fun in the big town