'The Breaks' Creator Dan Charnas Talks Authenticity, Beepers + Staying True [Interview]
This Monday, Feb. 20, the VH1 series The Breaks will make its premiere to anticipating audiences around the country. Picking up where the movie left off, Nikki, played by Afton Williamson, her boyfriend David (David Call) and Deevee (Tristan “Mack” Wilds) are all trying to make it in the music business during the summer of 1990. The show moves at a slower pace than the movie pilot and gives viewers a chance to get to know the characters, including New York, which is its own set piece with the ’90s as the backdrop.
New characters are also introduced in The Breaks as Teyana Taylor rounds out the cast that also includes Wood Harris, Method Man and others. Loosely based on author and executive producer Dan Charnas‘ book, The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, we were able to chop it up with the creative about the show’s authenticity, the time period—from beepers to tagged up subways to slang like “herb”—and staying true to telling a dramatic story. Be sure to set your dials to VH1 when The Breaks airs at 9:00 p.m. EST / 8:00 p.m. CT. Enjoy!
Okayplayer: The series has most of the same actors, Dan, and it also has the same music supervisor and staff?
Dan Charnas: Yes, same characters. Wood Harris, Method Man, Mack Wilds [are returning], and we have also added some important new ones. So, you’re going to see a character played by the wonderful, amazing Gloria Reuben. There’s also a character played by Melanie Diaz from Fruitvale Station. We will have some significant guest appearances as well—T.I. plays a role. Teyana Taylor plays a character. We have expanded the cast.
DJ Premier came on as our executive music producer last year. This year, he has graduated to become one of the members on our executive producer team. As far as the music is concerned, Premier and I own that together. He is the composer of the score along with the assistance from the amazing musician, Jason Moran, and he is also the composer of a lot of the original music. We have Phonte Coleman [of Foreign Exchange] as a lyric writer like he was last season. Afro is another young kid who completely bought into the ’90s aesthetic—he’s got his own lyrics and he’s like a machine. We got blessed.
It is a fantastic music team. Everybody is in lockstep in terms of what the musical mission of this thing is—to create and evoke the world that we are actually in—the summer of 1990 in New York.
OKP: What kind of things did you all have to do to get the younger actors into ’90s mode?
DC: I didn’t have to do much because the actors are so motivated and have so many good resources. Mack Wilds grew up in Staten Island. His mother cut hair for The Wu-Tang Clan. He’s known Method Man since he was a shorty. He’s a fan of the ’90s. He loves the ’90s. There was no disconnect for him and a very short learning curve. Similarly for Teyana Taylor, who is from Harlem and her parents are old school hip-hop heads as well.
The young actors really got it. When I meet a new actor I like to give them my book—many of them already had the book. I never felt like I had to do much at all in terms of schooling them. I think they schooled themselves which shows just how much they believed in the show.
OKP: We have been having a run of nostalgic movies centered around hip-hop from The Get Down to Dope. How does The Breaks fit into it, but also what do you think about this renewed interest in the time period?