Although Dave Chappelle’s “Block Party” is by no means a Hollywood picture and has “DVD Bonus Disc” written all over it, there is no doubt that the only place it does belong is in every theater in America.
For those of you who had no idea that Chappelle has a movie in theaters until now, you’re probably not alone. “Block Party” is a documentary directed by Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”) and produced by Chappelle. The film showcases a dozen of the biggest names in rap and hip-hop through a concert that was held in Brooklyn in 2004. We’re talking Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, the Roots, Cody Chesnutt, Big Daddy Kane and a little group called the Fugees. That’s right, the Fugees. I have to admit, aside from the Fugees, I can’t name a single song by any of these artists. But for Chapelle, that’s exactly how he wanted it.
With a 95 percent white audience in my theater, it didn’t take long to figure out what the comic genius of Dave Chappelle was up to. The film goes behind the scenes of the concert and showcases not only every artist’s music, but also their messages that are ignored across the nation simply because their music is seen as nothing but profanity doused in sexual music. These artists aren’t singing or rapping about how they just broke up with their boyfriend or girlfriend but rather how they are political prisoners in America and that the black population has been one of the most discriminated against minorities for the past 30 years. And here’s the goofy Dave Chappelle letting the camera speak for itself, resurrecting issues that the dominant white population has forgotten about since the ’60s.
Bravo, Dave. Bravo.
On top of Chappelle’s black power movement and hip-hop jamming concert, there’s plenty of white-bashing and chicken-eating jokes to go around. Whether he’s convincing old women from his hometown to come to his party or telling kids in a classroom to call him “Black Bush,” Chappelle never fails to make you laugh and, most importantly, enjoy yourself while taking in such a powerful message. Considering the amount of time dedicated to musical performances and non-comedic scenes, revealing any of the surprisingly real people in the film would be too much of a spoiler. Anyone already in love with Chappelle’s work or has any sense of humor in general will readily enjoy what “Block Party” has to offer.
Unfortunately, much like how the heavens decided to open up and pour rain on Chappelle’s party, it can’t all be perfect. Of all the possible failures “Block Party” could have had, its main weakness lies within its direction and editing. Gondry, who is actually known for his music video career, seems to have no idea how to make a concert-based film. He cuts away during the best part of a song or dramatic scene and organizes the entire story as if his mother had told him to clean his room; everything just gets thrown in the closet, disorganized but still appearing clean. Apparently Gondry didn’t get the memo titled, “If the Fugees ever come back together and play ‘Killing me softly,’ don’t ever cut to another scene in the middle of it.”
Nevertheless, what Chappelle and friends have done should not be ignored like the material shown within “Block Party.” There’s so much to experience with “Block Party” and only the images and music can paint the entire picture. The sense of cultural wholeness that Chappelle creates is beautiful and should not be forgotten. Nor should it take another 30 years for us to see more of it.
Chappelle is certainly on his way to becoming the next Richard Pryor in both his comedic and serious work. If you want to gain a new respect for Chappelle or rap music in general, get in on this party; you won’t regret it.