Dancing in the Streets
Dave Chappelle Doesn’t Have To Shuffle to Throw a Killer Party
Who would have thought that the dirty-mouthed hip-hop comedy recluse would make the first feel-good flick of the year? You remember Dave Chappelle, the dude who went from the top of the world to almost completely off the map, pretty much over night, leaving behind a reportedly $50 million contract and a legion of fans scratching their heads? Whether or not he’s completely flipped his lid or not remains to be seen. The two things that are for sure are that the man is funny as hell and he knows how to throw a damn good party.
The premise of this concert doc is a combination of the good, old-fashioned New York block party, a treasure hunt, and a surprise party. On Sept. 18, 2004, Chappelle arranged to have all his favorite artists—Mos Def, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Common, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and more—show up to perform a show that was so shrouded in secrecy that none of the concertgoers even knew where they were going. After retrieving directions to a Chinatown neighborhood via the internet, attendees stood in line and waited to be put on a bus that took them to Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood, where as far as they knew Chappelle would be hosting a concert, and some special guest—say, maybe, Lauryn Hill—was gonna perform. Little did the crowd know that most of the anti-bling, adult-contemporary hip-hop all-stars would be there doing their thing.
“This is the concert I’ve always wanted to see,” Chappelle notes at one point, while we watch the behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle in the makeshift dressing room—a day-care center catty-corner from the stage and one-time home of the Notorious B.I.G. And, though it goes without saying, who wouldn’t want to see this bill? The concert portion of this movie is beyond dope—just look at the list of performers. What is really surprising and equally fun and hilarious are the movie’s nonstars.
The watchful eye of Michel Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and various supercool music videos, captures the real Dave Chappelle as he takes us on a tour of his rural Ohio home and hands out “Golden Tickets” to random people he sees: seemingly unlikely hip-hop concert attendees (old white people), the ’round-the-way barber, some police officers, and whoever else he sees fit—including Central State University’s entire marching band and two young black guys who tell a funny story about playing golf (because that’s what black people in rural Ohio do), taking an emergency piss on the fairway, being called the “n-word” for it by a fellow golfer, and apparently refraining from “kicking his ass” because they didn’t want to miss the show.
Their excitement—along with the excited NYC fans, the adorable kids in the day care center, and legendary Brooklynites Arthur and Cynthia Wood, the eccentric couple whose bizarre 10-story residence known as the “Broken Angel,” serves as the backdrop for the stage—provides many warm and hilarious moments. “You can rest your loins here anytime you want,” Cynthia reminds Chappelle in between taking breaks from explaining her plans to remarry after her death. (“Over my dead body,” Arthur replies.) Seriously, the movie is almost magical, filled with candid performances (Cody ChesnuTT plays a mean acoustic set), conversations (Chappelle telling Roots drummer ?uestlove he knew the Washington-area sniper was black because he was taking weekends off), and rehearsals (Mos Def as a drum-playing straight man?). It all contributes to the movie’s spirit, keeping it from feeling like an honest and well-intentioned fan thank you. At no point do you get any impression of Chappelle as a self-indulgent rich dude throwing himself a bad-ass party for no-ass reason.
And, really, at the end of the day, there’s no reason for anyone to see or not to see this movie based on anything they read here or anywhere else. Just do the math: Chappelle, the Roots, Scott, Badu, Def, West, Dead Prez, and the Fugees, performing some of the most thoughtful, insightful, and soulful music in years on one stage. What the hell else do you want for $10?