Whether you were born and raised in New York, or you arrived with nothing but a dollar and some dreams, the city will humble you with a quickness. It’s a town that demands wits, ingenuity and fearlessness; no matter what industry you’re tying to break into. In order to make it here, you have to be a doer and a hustler, or else, opportunities will simply pass you by. I’ve lived in NYC for seven years now, and the hustle mentality is something I’m still learning every day.
VH1’s latest original film, “The Breaks,” is a movie that suggests that the grind in this town is nothing new. It’s a story about passion and the things that can break you before you even get started.
Set in the summer of 1990, Seith Mann’s “The Breaks” follows three 20-somethings – Nikki Jones, David Aaron and DeeVee – who are all scrambling after their dreams, desperate to reach them by any means necessary. The city can be a lot to handle today, but back then, the crime-riddled streets were even grittier. Mann brilliantly captures the grey caste, graffiti, chunky gold, and most importantly, the music of the era.
Inspired by journalist Dan Charnas’ novel on hip-hop business, entitled “The Big Payback,” we meet Nikki Jones (played by Afton Williamson), a recent grad, who turns down a scholarship to Harvard Law School in order to hustle her way into a internship at Fouray Entertainment, a big shot entertainment company. Williamson’s performance as Nikki is brilliant, and, quite frankly, she carried much of the film on her shoulders. Despite the naysayers and the sexism that continually permeates the hip-hop music business, Nikki’s quick thinking and sharp tongue keep the men—and women—around her in check. Some of the best lines in the film spill out of her mouth, instantly inciting laughter from the audience. And yet, the most brilliant thing about her character is the fact that you never quite know who she is, or if you even like her by the end of the film.
With barely a coin to her name when she arrives in the city, Nikki shacks up with her boo-thang, David Aaron (played by David Call) — the son of a legendary record executive who refuses to live in his father’s shadow. (Despite the fact that he and Nikki are living in his daddy’s apartment rent-free.) Though David’s path is different from Nikki’s, it’s one that many millennials will be able to relate to, especially when it comes to pushing back against the “old” way of doing things. Nikki and David’s love of hip-hop came at a time when many old-time executives didn’t expect hip-hop music to last another five years. This is particularly difficult when your boss is as icky and velvety as Russell Hornsby’s portrayal of DJ Sampson.
“The Breaks” also reunites “The Wire” alums, Mack Wilds and Wood Harris. Wilds stars as DeeVee, a college dropout and aspiring producer who returns to his childhood home at the Fort Greene Housing Projects in Brooklyn, in search of the next dope MC. On the other hand, Wood Harris, in a role that is somewhat reminiscent of his days as drug Kingpin Avon Barksdale, plays Barry Fouray— Fouray Entertainment’s founder. As Nikki struggles to find her footing at the company, she discovers that Barry just might be more infatuated with the limelight then his actual day-to-day business.
As I tend to be when it comes to made-for-TV films, I was skeptical when I first heard about “The Breaks”, but I was glad to be proven wrong. With classic ‘90s hits like A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonnita Applebum”, Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison,” and Johnny Gill’s “My My My” sprinkled though this love-letter to hip-hop and dreams, VH1’s third foray into original films is their best effort yet.
“The Breaks” is hilarious, well acted, and speaks not only to 20-somethings, but to anyone who ever had a dream, and did everything in their power to try and achieve it. After all, as one character says in the film, “… business rewards hustlers.”
“The Breaks” premieres tonight, Monday, January 4 at 9PM ET/PT on VH1.
*** Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at http://www.chocolategirlinthecity.com/ or tweet her @midnightrami