Things I Learned Watching Dave Chappelle's Block Party
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Dave Chappelle's Block Party may be the ultimate triumph of the Okayplayer aesthetic, the warmest, gooiest, most feelgood concert doc I've seen this side of Fade to Black, though I should probably go ahead and rent The Last Waltz before I start throwing around superlatives like that. If you've read ?uestlove's mammoth OKP post from immediately after the show (someone more internet-savvy will have to help me find it again), you know that the show itself wasn't the hazy freeform utopia you see in the movie; there was stress about Kanye finishing his set in time to jump on a plane and open up for Usher somewhere, about Jill Scott and Erykah Badu performing back-to-back, about whether the Fugees thing would actually happen as planned. If you were wasting all your time on music blogs around the time the show actually took place, you also know that the audience was vetted and focus-grouped to keep it from being as overwhelmingly white as it would've been otherwise. None of that comes through onscreen, though; instead, we see a group of occasionally genius and perpetually like-minded artists performing for a supremely amped and appreciative crowd, everything flowing effortlessly from one segment to the next, everyone onscreen describing the day as one of the happiest in their lives, which maybe it was. And we also get Chappelle, whose stoner drawl and loping, graceful charisma hold the whole thing together beautifully. In the movie, he's actually funnier than he is in his stand-up specials or on his Comedy Central show; there's no evidence of the constant pressure that sent him to Africa, just the easy and unforced good humor of an incredibly funny guy giving out tickets to random people on the street in Dayton. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Chappelle seems to be having the time of his life putting together the show and hanging out with his favorite musicians.
Former Status Ain't Hood collaborator Michel Gondry, who probably hates me now, directed the movie, but we don't see any overt examples of his hand at work beyond the squiggly cartoon letters that come out of Chappelle's megaphone during the opening credits and a short moment where you can hear his voice interviewing Jill Scott. But the movie is shot in the muddy digital textures he likes, and he's brought his gift for finding stunningly gorgeous shots (or finding cinematographers who can find stunningly gorgeous shots) to the party. More than the music, which is mostly pretty good, Chappelle's calm hilarity and Gondry's comfortable, childlike humanism make Block Party a perfect hangover movie, which is exactly what I needed the afternoon after Friday night's Clipse show. I'll be eternally grateful.
Here are some things I learned watching Dave Chappelle's Block Party:
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• I cannot wait to see that Tyrese movie where the Game is the villain. Cannot wait.
• Common praying is way more endearing than Common rapping.
• Dayton, Ohio is a truly gray and ugly town, but it's full of people who manage to be totally charming while interacting with Dave Chappelle. I'd like to go there.
• Even when he's not on tour or anything, Talib Kweli's voice is wicked hoarse when he's onstage, and he can't find a beat to save his life.
• Dave Chappelle may be the only person alive who can convince Mos Def to stop singing or doing wacky spoken-word stuff and actually rap for a little while.
• Especially when hungover, the hardest thing about watching the movie is ignoring ?uestlove's herby white guitarist with stupid sunglasses and thinning hair. This guy was in Fade to Black too, and nobody this embarrassing to look at should get to be in two of the greatest rap movies ever. He might be friends with ?uestlove, and he's probably a great guitarist, but someone needs to get this guy a Jenny Jones makeover before he's ever allowed anywhere near a camera again.
• Dave Chappelle impersonating Dead Prez is better than actual Dead Prez.
• The Dead Prez performance of "Turn Off the Radio" is pretty much the movie's only example of the virulent anti-mainstream grandstanding that's ruined so many of my experiences with the OKP set. One of my big problems with the state of underground rap in general right now is that it's always more eager to tell us what it's not than what it is, to react more than to act. One of the strengths of the movie is that all that stuff got cut out (if it actually happened at all); it's freeing to see these artists actually taking delight in doing their music rather than in bashing people who don't always think they exact same way they do. And given that the assembled Block Party artists have probably sold about fifteen kajillion records overall, it's only appropriate.
• Erykah Badu comes off a little more nasal onstage than she does on record, though she still just about stops time every time she's in view.
• Jill Scott, however, just about sings Badu off the stage. I've never much liked her records, but her voice is huge and gorgeous and powerful. There's a great moment during the Roots' "You Got Me" when Scott and Badu share the stage, Badu improvising little flourishes around Scott's unfuckwithable howl.
• Musically, Big Daddy Kane is the best thing in the movie, getting just a minute or two to bust out that flawless fast-rap during the Roots' set. He still sounds amazing, and he lost a lot of weight between filming the movie and opening for MF Doom in January. This guy is still out there, floating around with no record deal, and someone should really snap him up.
• It's been a while since I've seen the Roots live. Sometimes I forget just how fucking great they are onstage.
• Virtuoso Afrobeat pastiche makes Mos Def's singing OK.
• "Take It Easy" and Verizon commercials have dampened the thrill considerably, but it's still a goosebump moment when the Fugees walk out together. Lauryn Hill is the movie's best singer, the best rapper other than maybe Kane, and the best performer other than Chappelle. I think I just fucked around and got excited about the Fugees reunion all over again.
Voice review: Ed Halter on Dave Chappelle's Block Party
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