New York City in 1977 was notoriously tough. With the Son of Sam murders, economic disaster and a July blackout that was the occasion for widespread looting and crime, the city was in bad shape. And nowhere exemplified that situation like the South Bronx did.
Mary Cronin, a TIME Correspondent sent to the South Bronx in the wake of the blackout, noted that, with some 2,000 stores affected by crime during that episode, "store owners gaze angrily at the rubble, the empty shelves and the twisted grilles hanging from their windows."
As the magazine reported late that year, President Jimmy Carter called his visit to inspect the region "a very sobering trip" and noted that he toured "several blocks of burned-out buildings, rubble-choked vacant lots and garbage-strewn streets in the South Bronx of New York City" before ordering an aide to "devise a salvage plan for the 3-sq.-mi. area, where about 400,000 people now live (compared with about 530,000 in 1970)."
The musical series finds its characters in the South Bronx in 1977, in the early days of hip-hop. And there's no doubt that, in that "very sobering" time, something new was being born.
"Originating in the South Bronx in the mid-'70s, rap music is a cultural anthropologist's mother lode," TIME would note in 1983. "It combines musical influences as disparate as disco, George Clinton funk, conventional R & B and Ennio Morricone scores for Italian westerns, cross-pollinates them with the Jamaican disc jockey's art of 'toasting' (talking over the instrumental breaks in records) and a street kid's fondness for boasting, synthesizes the results with some distinctly contemporary audio technology and winds up with a sound that invites deejays at local dance palaces to 'scratch' the surface."