Review: Krush Groove

Krush Groove (1985)
Blair Underwood, Sheila E, Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, the Beastie Boys, Kurtis Blow, New Edition, LL Cool J, Rick Rubin.

Krush Groove is a fictionized telling of the early days of Def Jam Records, surrounded by a fictional story of real-life people. Blair Underwood plays Russell Walker, the film’s version of Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, but Joseph “Run” Simmons plays the fictional version of himself, Run Walker. It’s a little weird, but don’t overthink it because this is a film that doesn’t want to be overthought.

What it does want, at least when viewed thirty-two years after its release by a forty-eight-year-old music lover is to elicit nostalgia for a time when the slate was still kind of blank, to inspire sadness at the losses of Jam Master Jay and the Human Beat Box and Adam Yauch, to be compared favorably to the other hip-hop films of the mid-Eighties, and to make me appreciate the music a bit more than I might have at sixteen

Krush Groove Records can’t keep up with demand for its hip hop records, so Russell borrows money from a big-time hustler. When the stars of his label jump ship to a big-time label, Russell finds himself in big trouble, unable to pay back the hustler. Run, who’s competing with his brother for the affections of Sheila E, is unsympathetic but of course they make up, thanks to intervention by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. It’s not that good a story, but the movie is in the spaces between.

One of my complaints about Beat Street was that the music all sounded canned, completely out of reality in what were supposed to be live performances. I don’t know if they recorded the live tracks live in this film, but it sounds like it most of the time. The Run-DMC tracks sound harder than the versions in my iTunes. They sound live, too, when they’re performing on stage. This is a huge improvement, and it improves performances of the Fat Boys, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J. The treatment isn’t given to New Edition or Sheila E, which is a disappointment because I love the way Sheila E sounds live, and the lip-syncing scenes are low points.

I never cared much for early LL Cool J or any Fat Boys, but I really dug them in this movie, so I’m going to check them out soon with new ears. The film does a nice job of making almost everyone sound better than I remember them. A fun, entertaining trip back.