Friday, May 7, 2010

Hip-Hop Pit Stop: Washington, D.C.

Although the birthplace of hip-hop is Bronx, New York, its development can be traced all over the East Coast, which includes the nation's capital.

Washington, D.C. is one of the places where hip-hop got its funky and rhythmic beat through the influence of Go-Go music. Go-Go was a style of funk music with a twist percussionists lived for because of its heavy reliance on drums and congas. Basically, Go-Go was a funkier and more rhythmic version of disco music. It was groovy and raw at the same time!

Dating to 1976, Go-Go blasted the D.C. music scene with bands like Rare Essence, Experience Unlimited (also known as E.U.) and Trouble Funk. Chuck Brown, who was credited as "The Godfather of Go-Go," used the improvisational type of music as a transition to the next song when he performed live with his band, The Soul Searchers. It was his way to respond to the cheapness and popularity of the disco D.J.s who had the advantage of spinning into the next song without missing a beat when they D.J.ed at local clubs. Brown allowed his drummers and percussionists to keep playing how ever they wanted to as he spoke to the crowd with call-and-response lyrics. That kept the crowd hype, plus it was a very innovative way to move into the next song.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, everybody was traveling to D.C. to witness Go-Go. In the early 1980s, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell took interest in the sound and wanted to sign bands to the label to make it almost like a Go-Go label. Unfortunately, due to heavy competition amongst the bands, none of them wanted to be on the same label. So, for the most part, Go-Go bands continued playing music unsigned and with their only exposure coming from their live shows. In 1988, Spike Lee featured the band E.U. in his movie "Skool Daze" and their hip-hop classic "Da Butt" on its soundtrack.

After "Da Butt" grew popular, hip-hop musicians took note of it and wanted to incorporate Go-Go on their records. Artists like Salt-N-Pepa, Kid N' Play, and DJ Kool had Go-Go influence on their hit songs like "Shake Your Thang" (Salt N' Pepa), "Rollin with Kid N' Play" (Kid N' Play) and "Let Me Clear My Throat" (DJ Kool). Those artists added more energy and an impeccable rhyme flow to their records that had not been touched by the founders of Go-Go.

Even artists nowadays use Go-Go in their music. Wale is one of the biggest hip-hop artists to come out of D.C., and he often uses Go-Go on his records. Examples include his major hit with Lady Gaga, "Chillin' (Looking at Me)," and "Rising Up," his breakthrough single as a featured artist with hip-hop legends The Roots and Chrisette Michele, which was a direct tribute to Go-Go music. He even won best breakthrough artist in 93.9 WKYS's Go-Go Music Awards.

Go-Go is still around in the D.C. area as artists like CCB, Familiar Faces, and UCB perform live throughout the metro just like those before them had in the '80s.

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