Saturday, March 04, 2006

Chappelle's Block Party in Review

Typically, my Friday evenings consist of the consumption of fried food (see: the quiet killer of the black community) and whatever is appealing on basic television. This Friday was different, as March 3, 2006 marked the national release of Dave Chappelle’s “Block Party”. Indeed, must see cinema for all hip-hop and Chappelle fanatics.

Admittedly, my movie taste is partial to those films with some level of African-American focus, so Chappelle’s film seemed to be a natural choice. Well worth the cost of admission, Mr. Chappelle’s recent theater release is representative of all that is encouraging within hip-hop and black comedy. Reliant upon an eclectic collection of hip-hop acts, the setting of Chappelle’s film is split between his hometown of Ohio and a defunct Bed-Stuy block, all with the central focus of creating “the concert [Chappelle has] always wanted to see.”

The cast of performers includes Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, The Roots (with Big Daddy Kane, Martin Luther and Cody Chesnutt), and The (recently reunited) Fugees. Undoubtedly a cast of epic hip-hop importance, the audio tracks of the film alone offer the viewer an experience perhaps best phrased as organic, as it offers hip-hop in its rawest and most natural form directly to the people. Especially important to note during these performances is the raw political message of Dead Prez and Fred Hampton, Jr., the son of slain Black Panther party leader Fred Hampton, Sr. The choice to include this pro-black, hip-hop banter that is vicious in its imperial, right-wing assault speaks volumes about Chappelle’s character and what he values in expressing himself.

Further, the organic composition of the acts within the film is one of its absolute strengths. This is done in humble fashion by crafting a documentary-style, piecemeal explanation of how Ohio’s Central State University (CSU) marching band is randomly chosen to perform and how those lucky souls who encounter Chappelle in and around his hometown are blessed with the opportunity to attend an all-expenses paid trip to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Seemingly trivial in its purpose, Chappelle’s ostensibly random selection of concertgoers from Ohio is demonstrative of a penchant for connecting with people of all backgrounds once he has stepped off the stage. This point is reinforced in Mr. Chappelle’s unprovoked visits to a local Brooklyn daycare center and an adjacent thrift store.

At the risk of spoiling the film for those who have not yet had the opportunity to see it, the absolute highlights are the “Nigga on the side” freestyle and Lauryn Hill's captivating performance of "Killing Me Softly". Visibly older with her faint facial expression and seemingly stoic demeanor, Hill gracefully transplanted the viewing audience to the time of only a decade ago when The Fugees were still recording together and hip-hop was at a distinct plateau.

The aforementioned freestyle left the patrons of my viewing in delight, while Hill’s performance left the same rowdy crowd quiet and reflective. Any further articulation of these two pieces of the film would only fall short of adequate description, so I would encourage you to see the film for yourself and then let me know what you think via the comment function of this blog.

Devoid of an appropriate conclusion, I can make the truthful admission that I left the movie theater with my soul feeling much lighter. While the film’s content, earlier described as organic, did not hinge on any particular agenda, it compellingly made the argument that hip-hop and comedy are two of the most polarizing forces to bring people together. Chappelle himself should be added to this list of polarizing forces, as he effortlessly straddles the line between the two and visibly enjoys himself in the process. For this, I truly applaud him.

Read on.

1 comment:

Brother Smartness said...

I had the pleasure of watching this film just last night. I have to say, I also left the theatre in quite a good mood.

It was great to see Chappelle in his element once again. I had the pleasure of watching him on Oprah and on Inside the Actor's Studio. But seeing him along with some of the most remarkable performers in hip hop put me in the greatest of moods.

Chappelle is one of the most conscious and misunderstood brothers out there. And yet he knows exactly what he's doing. He's simply remarkable when he has a microphone to amplify the genius behind his voice. Couple that wit with the Roots, the Fugees and other renowned artists and you've got the recipe for a blockbuster. These brothers and sisters coming together in Bed-Stuy was like a rose growing in concrete.

Brother Smartness gives it two thumbs up!