Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
“I’m rich, Bitch!” a line used exuberantly by Dave Chappelle’s Rick James character on the hit comedy show Chappelle’s Show. Unfortunately the phrase lost it’s luster and gained a whole new meaning when Chappelle started struggling to convey a deeper message through his comedy, ultimately leading to his shocking walk off set during filming of the 3rd, now last, season of the show. Amongst all of the hype and news surrounding this “break down” it became clear that after signing a $55 million contract, the pressure of conformity that accompanied a contract this huge settled in and Dave claimed to have lost touch with his community. You can sort of see an undertone of this sort of struggle within the late sketches on Chappelle’s show. After all of this drama, is it true that Dave Chappelle is ready to re enter the comedy scene?
From this lost connection and staggering struggle came the illustrious and refreshingly down-to-earth film “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party”. When news of this film hit the papers, it was apt for people to assume the film would be nothing less than a two hour episode of Chappelle’s Show, however this Wattstax inspired documentary/comedy/concert movie was so much more. Although the film may look, to the naked eye, sloppy and selfishly put together but there are many different ideas and undertones circulating through the film. Everything from the editing, to the songs chosen to highlight, to the small asides are in the film for a reason, to serve a greater purpose, the one Chappelle tried to illustrate in his sketch comedy show, a devotion to and love for culture.
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, released March 3, 2006, opens with a small comedic bit from Chappelle himself then evolves quickly into a behind-the-scene-esc look into the invitation, preparation, and execution of a free Block Party hosted by Chappelle on the corner of Quincy and Downing Street in Brooklyn, New York. The camera follows Chappelle while he walks in his hometown of Yellow Springs Ohio inviting an array of inhabitants to the block party, giving them a golden ticket that includes transportation. Dave also invites a marching band from Ohio to accompany an artist at the Block Party concert. In Brooklyn, while checking out the site of the up-coming concert, the crew interviews a couple in front of the ‘Broken Angel’ house. This couple becomes a sort of focus of the documentary as well as their enormous makeshift home that they have been rebuilding for 40 years. Accompanying the film aspect is the music, a glorious performance crafted by Dave Chappelle with the intention to create the concert he has always wanted to attend. Artists such as Mos Def, Common, Erykah Badu, John Legend, Jill Scott, Kanye West and many others lined up to give Brooklyn a hip-hop show like no other. The Roots Crew held down back up as well as their own slot, while a reunited Fudgees headlined with the long anticipated return of Lauryn Hill.
There is a lot going on in this film with the music and the ‘Broken Angel’ house but the film still collects all of the main ideas into an organized, cohesive piece of art by the hand of Director Michel Gondry. He used techniques to ensure that a specific message was shining through such as the nonlinearity of the plot and the use of the same scene more than once. Snapping back and forth between concert and rehearsal, the invitation process in Ohio and audience reactions during the Block Party concert helped to keep the viewer focused on the sense of community and interpersonal relationships from person to person. Gondry chose to highlight an interview of two boys from Ohio, talking about their incident with a man using a very derogatory term towards them regarding their skin, therefor acting extremely thankful to Chappell for sending them to an area with rich cultural and musical history they can relate to.
Relating to music is a prominent theme throughout the film, Chappell’s reliance on music to ground him and the way that this specific music brought so many people together. Brooklyn specifically is rich in hip-hop history having been the birthplace of artists such as Big Daddy Cane and Jay-Z, choosing to use a location so rich in hip-hop culture was very much intentional. The artists, as well as the line up, have some significance but there is something more when you are watching the set. Hip-hop has a very distinct ability to unite and speak to not only a select audience but also an entire community of people. Dave Chappelle speaks openly about his adoration for Dead Prez, and their quick lyrics that aren’t played on the radio because they do not conform to modern society. “Uh, who shot Biggie Smalls If we don’t get them They are gonna get us all I’m down for runnin’ up on them crackers in they city hall”. Also the women in the line up such as Eryka Badu and Lauryn Hill write such beautiful lyrics about music and how it moves and even kills softly, but it is more about the way they sing. Rappers and Hip-hop singers sing from a place of sincerity and throughout the concert even through multiple mediums the emotion in the music is palpable.
This film is a film of community, of being together and doing enjoying life for life. Common, Mos Def, The Roots Crew all are extremely successful performers who teamed up with Dave Chappell to put on a “jam” style performance where a lot of the artists worked together. The Roots Crew played behind almost every artist, and Eryka Badu made an impromptu appearance during Jill Scott’s set. A marching band from Ohio plays with a top hip-hop recording artist with emcee Dave Chappelle filling in gaps with different stand up comedy moments. All together this film brings a community together to the epicenter of hip-hop history, Brooklyn NY, for the main purpose of Dave Chappelle to give back to his community. “I’m Rich Bitch” is nothing if the jokes you use to get rich are being taken the wrong way by ignorant and light-minded people. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party was an interesting looking into a different side of Dave Chappelle, one whose love for his own community isn’t over shadowed by obviously exaggerated jokes.