REVIEW: Dave Chappelle’s Block Party [2005]

“Turn off the radio”

It is very refreshing to see a Michel Gondry film with hardly any descriptive marks to tell you he made it. Besides the opening titles being drawn in bright colors on the fence behind Dave Chappelle and the one instance where we hear Gondry’s French accent ask Jill Scott a question, this could be any old concert film. Well, I shouldn’t say that…Block Party is definitely a one of a kind, behind the scenes look at a bunch of people giving back to the community and having a real good time doing so. Chappelle says it best early on when discussing why he was putting together this free show in Brooklyn: he was a fan of each artist before he ever met them and this is the concert he’d like to see. I must say, not being the biggest rap/hip-hop fan out there, it is quite the show.

Even a total dork rock fan as myself gets goosebumps and understands the amount of talent on stage here. When you have The Roots going with Scott and Erykah Badu singing backup, it’s something special. Not to mention Common and Mos Def rapping with everyone, Dead Prez singing with Chappelle’s commentary, Kanye West coming out with the Ohio State University marching band playing “Jesus Walks” behind him, and the reuniting of The Fugees, the music is top-notch. However, the concert aspect isn’t the best part. No, Gondry has spliced in some wonderful nuggets of candid looks, comedic moments, and historical tidbits to enhance the background soundtrack. Being the music video maestro he is, I couldn’t think of someone better to portray the true meaning of the show with the event itself, infusing each moment with the heart that went in, cross-cutting stories of the attendees with practice sessions and live performances on the stage without one false move.

Chappelle’s rapport with everyone is something to see a well. He is self-deprecating and compassionate to all those that cross his path, culling a diverse group of people from his Ohio hometown to join the other fans coming into Brooklyn to watch the stage in front of Broken Angel, the derelict building being restored into something better than it ever was, and Dave’s scouting location for any Hollywood film in need of a crack house. That house, however, not only gives us an intriguing venue coupled with the day care center next-door who’s manager allowed them to use its roof as a box seat, but also two of the eccentric characters that shape the movie. The elderly couple living in that house is so out-there, yet so real, that you are able to see past the getups and crazed stereotypes you may be thinking of. This is a couple married for 46 years, with quite the story on how they decided to join lives, who don’t enjoy rap because of all the swearing and language inappropriate for adults let alone children. Even so, they stick around and partake in the event—while also offering a place for Dave to rest his loins whenever he’d like—as the many others do, including his elderly white shop workers from Ohio and that “one Mexican” who can’t be found.

The anecdotes and confessionals really shine as they are peppered through the musical acts. The OSU marching band story is great, especially if his accidentally finding them is true, because they are a perfect example for what Chappelle is trying to do. Words from the one musician about how young people must seize their opportunities and how all these famous people are just like him, enjoying the skill and playing of everyone else, really hit home. Also, the band’s presence allows for a wonderful coda from Wyclef Jean after a nice solo at the piano. Strong words about how these young kids can’t use excuses and blame “the man” for all their troubles hold some meaning in the venue he speaks them in. He says that he came to America not knowing English and he found a way to become a success. If they want to follow they must show the initiative and not hide behind excuses and laziness. You want to learn something and better yourself, go to the library, education is there for the taking if you want it.

Besides the message and morals being thrown around, I really just enjoyed the inside look. Hearing what someone like Jill Scott has to say about Badu’s effect on her, or Lauryn Hill explaining how The Fugees formed and Pras talking about the differences he and Jean had breaking the group apart, or even the bureaucracy surrounding the reason why the group reformed for the show to begin with—Columbia not giving clearance for Hill to sing her own songs on the film. A lot went into the creation of this historic event and the filmmakers do justice to the end result. You know it’s been a success when you can go through the whole review without really touching on the star’s comic routine. Chappelle is definitely funny at every turn, cracking some spot on jokes, challenging a fan to a rap dual on stage, and just having a blast as the number one fan out of the whole crowd. Block Party is definitely something to experience.

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


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