by Rachel Brame –
Never ever underestimate the POWER OF A MEGAPHONE!!!! Dave Chappelle instinctively and indiscriminately spews his awesome signature freestyle wit throughout Block Party: and it is AMPLIFIED. “Bring yo self! Bring yo self!! Bring yo self to the block party won’t you?” It’s all goin’ down in Brooklyn at the intersection of Quincey and Downing Street!!! The set-up for a large gathering is in between the perfect trifecta of a Salvation Army thrift shop, Pal Quincey Daycare Center (Biggie Smalls old haunt), and an ill crib called the Broken Angel house. Midway through, Lil’ Cease gives us all a schooling on the locality A.K.A. Junior MAFIA’s old digs. The chosen spot for this concert is in the middle of the neighborhood they all grew up in, and he’s still a part of it.
Everything came together September 18, 2004, but Block Party still seems fresh in so many ways. Directed by Michael Gondry and released in 2005, the movie is a hilarious journey of comic relief following Dave around Ohio rounding up fans, fraternizing with performers during rehearsals in New York, and reveling in music. He brings together the virtuosity of the Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kwali, Common, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, The Roots, Dead Prez, John Legend (of pre Grammy super fame), Kanye (in his College Dropout era before he went off the wall), and an amazing reunion of the Fugees on stage after a 7 years! This concert is a true testament to the timeless talent of the artists on stage since so many are still going strong. It’s not just the ultimate curation of hip hop and R&B artists from the turn of the century in Dave Chappelle’s mind, I am 100% aligned with him on this one. “All these people comin’ to this concert – before I even met them, I was fans of theirs. So, to work with these people in this kind of setting is a dream come true.” This movie is also a window back in time during the Bush era. Although it’s been 12 years since the party went down, there’s one culturally binding aspect I forgot was embedded within it: we are still fighting the same wars. Watching performers giving shout-outs to the U.S. military men and women deployed THEN, I’m reminded how it’s still pertinent to some of those same people serving our country today and where they might be now.
It is a true delight to see the expressions on people’s faces as Dave Chappelle hops around his local dive spots around Dayton, OH three days before the show inviting lucky random people to come on an all-expense paid bus trip to his party in Brooklyn. By happenstance, Central State University’s talented drumline elatedly accepts a special invite to perform. Dave’s impulsive humor works anywhere with anyone: on the stage, street corner, or even in a consignment shop with an older white gentleman trying to sell him some gangsta outfits. “Bam! Oh, snap! Pimpalicious…You know you’re doin’ something right if old people love you.” The film crew drops in on an excited lady from a local convenient store whose biggest dilemma now is choosing what to wear, “I don’t really know what to take to a block party…I know I should have bought a thong!” I love this film so much it inspired a personal stop to the now famous Ha Ha Pizza joint one summer during a road trip through Ohio (all the way from Florida). BTW: Everything is yarn bombed in this cute-as-a-button town outside Dayton: down to the trees, telephone poles, street signs, benches…you name it, it’s been knitted a sweater.
Life is a funny unpredictable thing sometimes and Dave’s way of interacting with people projects a larger message of reaching out and helping folks rise up; “5,000 black people chillin’ in the rain, 19 white people peppered into the crowd – everybody’s welcome…” It’s in this way that he reminds me of Richard Pryor’s role in the 1974 film Wattstax – a truly beloved comedian weaving together cultural context and daily struggles of black people throughout. With a touch of humor and utmost poignancy, community issues and the plight of people are expressed with the same urgency as they are today. M1 from Dead Prez teaches us the phrase ¡Ya basta! – Mexican for ‘enough is enough’ (and its corresponding hand gesture). The struggle continues, and Dave helps us all laugh while he makes us think about it.
Block Party crescendos with the minor miracle of the Fugees performance and they completely knock it out of the park! When everyone sees Lauren Hill onstage again with Wyclef and Pras you can palpably feel their jubilation. It’s lunchin’ to me hearing Pras and Wyclef dishing with Dave trying to understand the science of how it all came together. Pras- “I’m a fan of them both…they say to err is human, to forgive is divine- so we just came together. When she start singing killing me softly I almost wanted to cry.” One of the most touching moments that brings it all home for me is at the very end. With CSU’s marching band huddled around, Wyclef brings us back to humble beginnings four years before Barack Obama was elected, and six years before he ran for Haiti’s highest office closing out the movie with a soaring impromptu song “If I Was President”. It reminds me why having positive role models is so important, and that we all deserve a chance at good guidance in life.
So bring yo-self, plop on a couch, rock out, and enjoy the celebration.