Film

Dave Chappelles Block Party (2006)

Dante A. Ciampaglia

Block Party sustains a balance between good-natured light-heartedness social commentary.

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Dave Chappelle, Kanye West, Mos Def, Common, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, the Fugees, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, The Roots
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Rogue Pictures
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-03-03

Music events, honest to God Events with a capital "E", are few and far between. Festivals are still a draw, but even those are becoming less prominent. Where the music industry was once a fertile ocean of creativity, seismic changes have resulted in a barren landscape of nostalgia tours, post-punk revivals, and '90s weekends on the radio.

The fluxing industry is only partly to blame for the dearth of Events, however. Politics has something to do with it too. Angry people bemoan this presidential action or that war or some global trade agreement, but bands and listeners (who might be termed passers-through looking for an oasis in this desert) don't want to get down and dirty with political action. It's easier to lament the poor state of the world today than it is to do something. The result of such a mindset is boring music, reminiscent of the excessive vapidity of the '80s.

All hope is not lost, however. And the unlikely savior galloping through the dunes is Dave Chappelle.

On 18 September 2004, Chappelle hosted a block party in Brooklyn, where some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B played a free concert to a mostly minority crowd of thousands. The show wasn't short on names: Kanye West, Erykah Badu, Common, Jill Scott, Dead Prez, Mos Def, and the Roots all performed, as did the Fugees, together for the first time since 1997. Chappelle decided to document the event and the days leading up to it, enlisting the help of Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as well as numerous groundbreaking music videos. Gondry's work, like that of fellow Director's Series video artists Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek, reflects an appreciation of music, marrying compelling visuals and music to expand the possibilities of both.

Gondry's work here underlines that Chappelle's Event isn't just a publicity stunt to push t-shirts. In fact, it recalls Wattstax, a 1972 show in Los Angeles that, like this one, not only provided entertainment but also raised awareness of racism, urban violence, the Vietnam war, and lack of opportunities for the underclass. Like Woodstock and Altamont, Wattstax was filmed and released theatrically. The film, Wattstax, directed by Mel Stuart of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory fame, intercuts music with Richard Pryor's performance.

The similarities to Block Party are glaring. For starters, the block party is most certainly a politically informed event: all these socially conscious performers have something to say about the conditions facing minorities, women, and the poor. At the same time, Chappelle provides acute humor: he invites a big, hulking guy onto the stage to battle him in a freestyle rap-off. The guy from the crowd is wearing a "Free Tibet" t-shirt, cut off at the sleeves. Chappelle remarks, "Free Tibet? There aren't any black folks in Tibet!" On one level, this is Chappelle poking fun at one of those ready-made political action "items." But on another, it's Chappelle remarking, "Free Tibet? There are people enslaved right here!"

Block Party sustains a balance between good-natured light-heartedness social commentary. Engaged viewers will find themselves wondering how they can better their community while bumping in their seats to the beats blaring from the multiplex's surround sound system. They'll also find themselves engrossed in the film's resemblance to the experience of actually watching a concert. Cutting from the drummer to the guitarist, singer to the horn section, the film emulates how attendees watch concerts. The most important aspect isn't a band's frontperson; instead, what's vital and moving is the sense of immersion in a show.

But ultimately, the film comes down to Chappelle. It's his block party, after all. Some might want to view Block Party as his effort to make us forget about his walking away from his show. But that's not the case. A telling moment comes when ?uestlove notes that Chappelle's audience changed from people like him to obnoxious frat boys once his television show took off. As Chappelle sits silent, somewhat pensive, ?uestlove observes that he didn't want his career to careen down that road.

Instead, Chappelle wants to make the world laugh. When he goes home to Dayton, Ohio, he passes out tickets to a couple underprivileged black youths, a couple of older white ladies, and a couple of parole officers entitling them to a free ride and room for the show, which they're guaranteed to get into. Chappelle even arranges for the entire drum and brass lines of a Dayton community college to not only go to the block party, but also to play in it. The shouts, shrieks, and excitement of every member of the group are palpable -- and inspiring. Chappelle sees this, too. Now that he has the economic and social means to give something back to his community, be it in Dayton or all over America, Chappelle's going to seize on that opportunity.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image