DAVE CHAPPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY (Michel Gondry, 2005)
With the help of several big names in hip-hop and R&B, Dave Chappelle put on an outdoor concert in September 2004. Kanye West, The Roots, and the reunited Fugees were among the artists who came to Bed-Stuy for a day-long celebration of music and comedy. DAVE CHAPPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY is the document of the event and lead-up to it. Chappelle lives on a farm near Yellow Springs, Ohio and goes about his hometown (and nearby Dayton) handing out golden tickets that will take care of all his guests' needs getting to and returning from New York for the concert. He adds some local flavor to the show by inviting the Central State University marching band to come and perform.
Although not a concert film in the traditional sense—the activity before the event and offstage are as important as the performance itself—DAVE CHAPPELLE’S BLOCK PARTY captures the energy and excitement of people gathering to put on and watch a show. Chappelle rounded up a who’s who of hip-hop stars and let them tear up the stage with their mixture of big beats and socially conscious lyrics. Accompanied by the CSU band, West burns through his hit single “Jesus Walks”. Dueling soul divas Erykah Badu and Jill Scott add their distinct styles to the rap-heavy bill. In a happy accident, The Fugees reunite since the record label wouldn’t give permission for Lauryn Hill’s solo material to be performed. Chappelle is the concert’s giddy emcee, goofing with Mos Def and the musicians to the delight of the crowd.
Although he is the host and organizer, the fun for Chappelle is in being able to bring people together to have a good time. He seems astounded at his good fortune to be in a position to give back. His much-publicized walking away from a $50 million contract had not yet occurred, but it must have weighed on him as he strives to share his success with these communities. The concert scenes pulsate with life, but the best moments are Chappelle’s interactions with his fellow Ohioans and the regular people of New York. The joy is in giving as he invites a convenience store worker who sells him cigarettes to come to the concert and the marching band to play. One senses that the big grin that spreads across his face at these times means more to him than the millions he eventually turned down.
Chappelle’s comedy deals in race issues, but BLOCK PARTY is a uniting work. Chappelle laughs at and makes fun of society’s hang-ups, but it’s done in a way that allows people to be drawn together than driven apart. He’s an edgy comedian, but his purpose with the concert and film is to make a diverse crowd feel comfortable with one another. More than any message, that effort is likely to be remembered.