Chuck Brown, Rap Patriarch The complicated relationship between go-go and D.C. rap

For a long time, a significant part of the go-go narrative has been its struggles: against a city that would police it into the suburbs, against an often indifferent mainstream. D.C. hip-hop has also helped define itself by a struggle: against go-go.

You hear from local hip-hop veterans all the time that D.C. is a go-go town, a fact that area rappers have discovered to their dismay. In large part, rapping was once confined to talking parts on go-go records; a full-time rap career was an uphill climb. “A lot of dudes were trying to do rap,” Black Indian, one of the few local rappers to get some national exposure in the 1990s, once told me. “If you were rapping, [folks] were like ‘What, you think you from New York?’”

In the late 1970s and ’80s, go-go developed parallel to and independent of hip-hop. But you only had to look to the memorials last week on Twitter to know that, absent a foundational D.C. hip-hop figure, Chuck Brown is the patriarch of local rap. “I can’t think of anyone else able to inspire our city like that,” rapper Tabi Bonney told me. “I just hope I can reach his level when it’s all said and done, and be just as busy as he was at 75 years old.”

The relationship between go-go and hip-hop has been complicated: MCs fusing hip-hop and go-go have had a hard time selling records. But ignore go-go, and you’re ignoring your roots.

Some of go-go’s national blips speak to its role as a source of hip-hop inspiration. Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shake Your Thang” had a go-go swing courtesy of E.U. “Ashley’s Roachclip,” a song from Brown’s pre-go-go days, has been sampled by everyone from 2 Live Crew and Eazy-E to Duran Duran and Milli Vanilli. The drum break to Brown’s biggest hit, “Bustin’ Loose,” was used by Nelly, Public Enemy, and Eric B. & Rakim. (Go-go bands, in turn, have long covered commercial hip-hop in their live acts.)


One slightly pat line of argument goes like this: Because the outside conceived of D.C. as a go-go town—in part thanks to the early success Brown ignited—rap from D.C. could never export. That’s too basic: The industry wasn’t paying attention, but MCs like Kokayi and Asheru and a handful of microscenes were making ripples. By the 1990s, the two genres still seemed separate: Go-go’s click-clacking swing was a far cry from the boom-bap that dominated the small U Street NW hip-hop scene.

The two sounds have certainly crosspollinated as local hip-hop has experienced a minor renaissance in the last few years. Live, Wale is often backed by the go-go outfit UCB. And his single “Pretty Girls”—featuring a sample from Backyard Band and a hook by its singer, Weensy—was the best moment on the rapper’s 2009 debut, Attention Deficit, although it peaked at 56 on Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop chart. It’s no surprise that much of the debate around Wale’s once-sputtering career centered on his fealty to his city and its sound.

But look around: Bonney, the city’s most visible backpacker, often incorporates go-go’s smoother side into his music. On its recent single “I Love Lamp,” Virginia band RDGLDGRN fused go-go’s percussion with hip-hop and Caribbean-inflected rock. Crooner Raheem DeVaughn released a bounce-beat remix of his single “Bulletproof”; he said last week he might record another go-go tune at some point. These are just a few examples.

D.C. may always be a go-go town. But as D.C. hip-hop artists have become a more confident force, their experiments with go-go are sounding more confident in turn. Chuck would dig that.

Our Readers Say

Quick revision (maybe). I think you got the two Soul Searchers songs confused when you referred to Eric B & Rakim's sampling of their drum break. "Ashley's Roachclip" is the basis for "Paid In Full", which is where many other artists such as PM Dawn and Milli Vanilli got their inspiration to sample the same break. I don't know of any EB&R song that samples the break from "Bustin Loose".

Also, Nelly didnt sample "Bustin Loose", but had an interpolation of the song played by The Neptunes as the backing music for "Hot in Herre" (where he referenced "Bustin Loose" verbally during the first verse as a lil internal hook).

Thx for the story. And holla @ Ill Street when you write these stories, we can lend a hand too.
Thanks, RBI. I greatly appreciate that.

Many thanks, bro.

i want to know more about this Chuck Brown, Who is he? And what can he do? I was this in the http://www.Washingtoncitypaper.Com/articles/42: I am interested to know more about this Chuck Brown. Thank you very much for your understanding.

Take Care

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Larry D. Gee, Sr.
Well the Neptunes were INSPIRED by "Bustin Loose". I'm a musician and I can clearly here the inspiration. Also, The neptunes are about 1 1/12 hours away from the DC so the def heard Go-Go on the regular
As a producer, songwriter and artist, I've ALWAYS felt obligated to produce at least one go-go track on my Cd's just to get the backing of my Home town. I felt that it would draw attention to the CD. GO-GO is very powerful in this city. It will also help with live performances if they crowd was "Dead". It will wake them UP!!
Let's understand ONE thing...Chuck Brown is ours...those of us who grew up in DC that a high school student in the 70's we could hear Chuck perform at the GoGo virtually every night of the week...and we would go...listening to the same music oer and over...everybody moving exactly the same move with Chuck singing to us and us singing back to him...this was without respect to what ANYONE else in the country was doing...sure we listened to other music but CHUCK was ours...and GoGo music...well it means NOTHING unless you understand what a GoGo is...Tuesday nite GoGo Panorama Room...Thursday night GoGo Masonic Temple...Friday night GoGO Northwest Gardens...the folks who grew up in the 60s had their spots and those who grew up in the 80s and 90s had theirs and to this day one thing we ALL have in common...GoGo and Chuck Brown...after the 90s violence showed up and Chuck took his performances to the new Washingtonians at Festivals etc etc etc...but Chuck...he is OURs...and we dont care where you came from or what you listen to...if you grew up in DC you love Chuck and you love GoGo! Chuck could take ANY song and put that GoGo beat to it and turn it out! Everyone comes to DC from all over the place and they want to impose their cultural identity on us...Carpetbaggers from the North South East and West...well when it comes to GoGo...well, it is OURs and we could care less what any other musical genre thinks or feels about it, we will ALWAYS support GoGo! It's those drums it's that can't be replicated!!! RIP Chuck Baby! We will always love you!
There doing that in addition to mythos... Why not try mythos when considering out... When blizzard does diablo 3 its not really the same, sorry... Not with the Flagship team developing this game... So the diablo error is over.. Here comes the Hellgate blunders...

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