In the late 1980s and early 1990s, skateboarding and hip-hop culture collide in downtown Manhattan. Archival footage from the era showcases the fusion of these two forms of expression.
All the Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip Hop and Skateboarding (1987-1997) Vividly recalling the collision of two young cultures on the streets of New York City, Jeremy Elkin's documentary sometimes struggles to figure out what it all meant.
As far as titles go, you can’t accuse Jeremy Elkin’s “All the Streets Are Silent: The Convergence of Hip-Hop and Skateboarding (1987-1997)” of false advertising. Tracing the two youth cultures as they dance around one another and finally intersect on the streets of New York City throughout the decade, the director gathers an astonishing amount of vintage footage, and finds no shortage of deep veins to tap. And yet, despite its doctoral dissertation-style title, “All the Streets Are Silent” lacks a thesis: less a sociological study of the rapper-skater convergence than a celebration of a very specific type of guy in a very specific fragment of space and time. In this case, the kind of young person who felt most at home roaming the streets of Dinkins-era Manhattan with only a board and a boombox for company.
And one might argue that that type of guy, now older, is also this documentary’s target audience, as the film makes only passing attempts to explain or contextualize its dizzying whirl of names, places and allusions throughout a very busy 89-minute runtime. We learn about the creation of the nightclub Mars, the origins of “The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show,” the early days of Zoo York, and the ways that the encroachment of the mainstream – whether it be Larry Clark’s film “Kids” or the entire globalized streetwear industry – both immortalized and commodified the sense of freedom that these skaters, DJs, rappers and hangers-on were once able to enjoy in a less buttoned-down New York. But a viewer coming into the film who isn’t already well aware of the abovementioned could find themselves a bit lost, and a strong sense of “I guess you had to be there” may keep the film at arm’s-length for outsiders.
That said, you can’t say the film doesn’t make you wish you were, in fact, there. For anyone with even a passing interest in ‘90s hip-hop and its associated satellite cultures, some the archival footage contained in this film is genuinely remarkable. Here’s a strikingly young Jay-Z rapping cleanup for Jaz-O on a tiny club stage. Here’s a then-unknown Busta Rhymes showing up uninvited to a college radio station and kicking a freestyle which includes lines he would eventually incorporate into his verse on “Scenario.” Here’s a glimpse of the scene at Supreme back when it was just a local skate shop. For those who only know these people and institutions through their later, more polished incarnations, these snapshots of their humbler origins are unexpectedly poignant.