Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2006)
Starring: Dave Chappelle, Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Common, The Roots, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Cody ChestnuTT, John Legend, The Fugees
Directed by: Michel Gondry
Not quite a documentary, not quite a concert film, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party captures a moment in time, when Dave Chappelle decided to throw “the concert [he] always wanted to see”, by bringing together some of the best in indie hip-hop and neo soul to Brooklyn, and throwing a free concert for those who could make it. In doing so, he serves as a pied piper, bringing in a varied group of concert goers, from the older lady who sells him smokes in Dayton, the Central State University Marching Band, or whoever was lucky enough to find out about it via the internet and word of mouth, all while Michel Gondry captures the action.
The predominant mood of the film is one of celebration, creating a good natured vibe that draws the viewer in. The secret to Chappelle’s humour is that for all his bluster, he is incredibly approachable and friendly. Everything he does is tempered with a mischievous grin that lets you know that he’s just messing with you, no harm intended. Block Party takes this cue from Chappelle, giving as much focus to the daycare that operates on the block of the concert as it does megastar Kanye West.
The highlights of the show are Chappelle’s tour of Dayton, doling out golden tickets to the party like Willy Wonka, Kanye entering to the CSU marching band rendition of “Jesus Walks”, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu trading choruses of The Roots‘ “You Got Me” (Scott originally wrote and performed the chorus, but was bumped off the record by Badu when the label decided they wanted a name), and the return of The Fugees. That’s right, the muthafuckin’ Fugees! Together! Originally, Lauryn Hill wanted to perform on the show, which in itself would be a moment as L-Boogie has stepped away from the spotlight since having a son (who she brought onstage), but Columbia Records wouldn’t allow release of any of her songs for the movie. So she approached Chappelle, wondering if would be alright if they had a Fugees reunion instead. Which I’m sure was a tough decision for him.
This anecdote best illustrates the vibe of the film. Artists were so behind the positivity Chapelle was promoting, that he managed to get Wyclef Jean, Pras, and Hill to not only talk to each other, but perform together. When Wyclef started with the chorus to “Nappy Heads”, it made my night, flashing me back to high school.
While Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is a lot of fun, it is a little too uneven for my liking. As I stated in the opening sentence, it’s not quite a documentary, not quite a concert film, which in some ways makes it more, but also is a little too meandering. The concert portions often interrupt the story, and then they’re gone just as you’re getting into the concert. I get that Gondry is interweaving the story, concert, past, and future to enhance the mood of the proceedings, but it’s sometimes really distracting. I think I would’ve preferred it to be more concert, less documentary, as it’s merely a documentary on the concert. As it is, they do a great job in showing what a great time everyone involved had at the concert, but too often keep us from sharing in the fun.