A Millennial’s Guide to Season 1 of The Breaks

Know your hip-hop history.

by Harrison Kay

The Breaks series picks up right where the movie leaves off, following Nikki Jones, Barry Fouray, and their crew as they navigate the art and business of hip-hop in 1990. Although technically fictional, The Breaks features numerous nods to the real-life players and stories of the game. From Special Ed and Keith Sweat to Def Jam and Video Music Box, each historical reference adds to the show’s exceptional realism. Now, without making anyone feel too old, let’s acknowledge that there are some audience members who weren’t even alive in 1990, and such naïve Millennials might not be able to appreciate every detail and experience in the show to the fullest. With this in mind, let’s go back and review our favorite historical references from season one of The Breaks.

  • DJ Chuck Chillout

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    Ahm and DeeVee’s debut track gains widespread attention after it’s played by the revered DJ Chuck Chillout, an OG on New York’s hip-hop radio waves. In the pre-digital era of The Breaks, to be on his playlist was to be in everyone’s ear. These days, you can tune into Chuck on New York City’s 98.7 KISS FM.

  • Special Ed

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    Fouray Management hosts a listening party for one of its premiere clients, rapper Special Ed. A Brooklyn native, Ed arrived on the hip-hop scene when he was just sixteen with his 1989 debut album, Youngest in Charge, featuring the hit “I Got It Made”.

  • Elektra Records

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    When revising the VIP list for Special Ed’s listening party, Nikki advises Barry to nurture his relationship with Elektra Records. In the early ‘90s, Elektra was home to a diverse collection of A-list talent, from Metallica and The Cars to Keith Sweat and MC Lyte.

  • Cold Chillin’ Records

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    While working in Barry’s cramped back office, Nikki has an abrupt phone call with Len Fitchleberg, co-founder of Cold Chillin’ Records. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Cold Chillin’ produced numerous hits for the Juice Crew, a Queensbridge hip-hop collective featuring Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté and Kool G Rap.

  • Keith Sweat

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    Nikki and Barry negotiate to have D-Rome perform at The Ride concert alongside R&B superstar Keith Sweat. A Harlem native, Sweat achieved success in 1987 with his multi-platinum debut album, Make It Last Forever, which contributed to the birth of New Jack Swing, a progressive genre that fused hip-hop with contemporary soul and funk.

  • Tommy Boy Records

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    The Fouray Management team worries that their young star, D-Rome, may be dropped by his label, Tommy Boy Records. Founded in 1981, Tommy Boy has been the home of artists like Queen Latifah, Naughty by Nature, and De La Soul. Gucci Mane even signed with the label at the start of his career.

  • Def Jam Recordings

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    While attending The Ride concert, Josie, can be seen wearing a “Def Jam” t-shirt. Founded in 1983 by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, Def Jam Recordings is a pillar of the hip-hop community. By 1990, the label had already produced seminal albums for artists like LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy.

  • Nikki Sings “The Song”

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    Backstage at The Ride concert, Nikki begs her journalist friend, Damita, to keep quiet about Barry and Gordy’s heated argument over control of the talented D-Rome; it’s a juicy story that could derail the future of Fouray Management. In exchange for her silence, Damita asks Nikki to sing “the song”. So what is the song? “She’s Your Queen” is a short tune from Eddie Murphy’s 1988 film, Coming to America.

  • New Music Seminar

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    Much of Episode 3 takes place at the historic New Music Seminar, an annual convention that brings together people from all corners of the industry to network and perform.

  • Da Lench Mob

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    While at the New Music Seminar, DeeVee and David narrowly avoid a brawl involving Da Lench Mob. Comprised of Los Angeles rappers J-Dee, Shorty, T-Bone and Maulkie, Da Lench Mob gained widespread recognition through their association with Ice Cube.

  • Ralph McDaniels

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    While at the Seminar, Josie gets some words of encouragement from a bystander named Ralph McDaniels. In 1983, McDaniels co-created hip-hop’s first television program, Video Music Box.

  • Tony Humphries

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    Sampson tells David that he’s hiring DJ Tony Humphries to fill the empty chair in the station’s booth. A Brooklyn native, Humphries has been instrumental in popularizing house music since the early 80s.

  • Mr. Van Putten’s Playlist

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    DeeVee finds his father dancing alone in their basement while flipping through his old record collection. Poppa Van Putten moves and grooves to “I’ll Be Good to You”, the 1976 hit song by The Brothers Johnson. Watch the video above and dance like nobody’s watching!

  • Mo’ Better Blues

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    The love-struck DeeVee calls Damita and asks her out to see Mo’ Better Blues, Spike Lee’s 1990 film starring Denzel Washington as fictional jazz trumpeter Bleek Gilliam.

  • Bob James

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    On the hunt for a fresh sound, Ahm flips through DeeVee’s records and pulls out BJ4 by Bob James, a Grammy Award-winning jazz keyboardist and record producer whose music has been heavily sampled by numerous artists including Wu-Tang Clan and Run-D.M.C.

  • Vanilla Ice

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    Record executive Maddie Taylor is on a mission to sign rapper Vanilla Ice, whose 1990 hit, “Ice Ice Baby”, became the first hip-hop song to top the Billboard Hot 100.

  • “You Love Me Long Time!”

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    While out walking with Nikki, Josie is verbally harassed by a hopeless horndog who catcalls, “You love me long time”, invoking 2 Live Crew’s 1989 hit, “Me So Horny”. The “me so horny, me love you long time” vocals are sampled from a Full Metal Jacket scene in which a Vietnamese prostitute offers herself to a group of American soldiers.

  • 2 Live Crew

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    Damita interviews 2 Live Crew, whose controversial 1989 album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, became the first album in history to be ruled legally obscene (although U.S. district court Judge Jose Gonzalez’s decision was later overturned). With the group’s “Throw That ‘D’” playing in the background, Damita speaks with their leader, Luther “Luke” Campbell, whom the Miami New Times described as “the man whose booty-shaking madness once made the U.S. Supreme Court stand up for free speech”.

  • Yo! MTV Raps

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    Juggy is on a mission to explore the music that his late son, David, loved so dearly. As part of his hip-hop education, he watches Yo! MTV Raps, one of the first television programs to promote hip-hop culture through music videos, interviews, and live performances.

  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

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    Juggy watches an episode of Yo! MTV Raps that features a shout-out from DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. In West Philadelphia born and raised, this dynamic duo won the first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance in 1989 with “Parents Just Don’t Understand”.

  • “Let the Rhythm Hit ’Em”

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    In an attempt to show Juggy the “internal rhyme, the alliteration, the metaphor” of hip-hop, Nikki plays “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em” by Eric B. & Rakim. These New York natives raised the hip-hop bar with their seminal debut album, 1987’s Paid in Full.

Watch DeeVee and Ahm’s show-stopping performance during the season finale of The Breaks.