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The Beat

The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, D.C.

Kip Lornell
Charles C. Stephenson.
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Beat
    Book Description:

    The Beat!was the first book to explore the musical, social, and cultural phenomenon of go-go music. In this new edition, updated by a substantial chapter on the current scene, authors Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson, Jr., place go-go within black popular music made since the middle 1970s--a period during which hip-hop has predominated. This styling reflects the District's African American heritage. Its super-charged drumming and vocal combinations of hip-hop, funk, and soul evolved and still thrive on the streets of Washington, D.C., and in neighboring Prince George's County, making it the most geographically compact form of popular music.

    Go-go--the only musical form indigenous to Washington, D.C.--features a highly syncopated, nonstop beat and vocals that are spoken as well as sung. The book chronicles its development and ongoing popularity, focusing on many of its key figures and institutions, including established acts such as Chuck Brown (the Godfather of Go-Go), Experience Unlimited, Rare Essence, and Trouble Funk; well-known DJs, managers, and promoters; and filmmakers who have incorporated it into their work. Now updated and back in print,The Beat!provides longtime fans and those who study American musical forms a definitive look at the music and its makers.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-343-3
    Subjects: Music, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. v-vi)
    Kip Lornell and Charles Stephenson
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.
  5. Preface to 2009 Edition
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.
  6. Photographer’s Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Thomas Sayers Ellis
  7. Introductions
    (pp. 1-10)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    The horrific nature and senseless brutality of the crime leapt off the page of theWashington Post,riveting me to every word. My close attention to the newspaper almost caused me to miss the sight of actor Kevin Costner strolling down the sidewalk about 15 feet from where I sat. Costner was in Washington, D.C., filming13 Days,a movie about the Cuban missile crisis. I was down at the end of the Mall on a sunny, 75-degree day—October 30, 1999—playing volleyball on the courts next to the Potomac River—only about a quarter of a mile from...

  8. 1 The Roots and Emergence of Go–Go
    (pp. 11-44)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    If you go back far enough, go-go’s fundamental musical roots can ultimately be traced back to West Africa. First and most profoundly, it is the beat that characterizes and distinguishes go-go’s utterly distinctive rhythmic drive, the essential element that keeps the troopers on the dance floor. The complex syncopated beat underpinning go-go represents a trait brought to Western culture in general and to America in particular by way of the interlocking percussion ensembles of the savanna.

    The sounds of drums spice nearly all of the music heard in the villages and small towns that fleck the hot, often dry and...

  9. 2 Going to a Go–Go
    (pp. 45-72)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    The uninformed often assume that go-go is synonymous with hip-hop culture, and to a degree this is true. Hip-hop has become ubiquitous, influencing the expressive culture of younger black—and increasing numbers of teenage white—Americans everywhere, including in the District. Even though go-go sometimes comments on contemporary issues, most notably drugs and poverty, hip-hop’s observations on the social scene are louder, more persistent, and far more pervasive. Go-go’s true underlying purpose is not to serve as a social sounding board, though it does partially fulfill this function. Instead go-go provides a creative outlet for local black citizens to express...

  10. 3 Band Profiles
    (pp. 73-109)
    Charles C. Stephenson Jr. and Kip Lornell

    You cannot discuss go-go music without acknowledging the contributions of Chuck Brown. You cannot have an intelligent conversation about the origins of go-go without mentioning the contributions of Chuck Brown. And, finally you cannot even begin to talk about the incredible talent that Washington, D.C., has produced without adding Chuck Brown to that list. Washington, D.C.’s musical giants include Marvin Gaye, Duke Ellington, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Me’Shell Ndegéocello. Throughout history Washington, D.C., has always been respected for producing great musical talents who had to leave the confines of home in order to find stardom. As a matter of fact,...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. 4 Communities
    (pp. 110-148)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    Because Washington D.C. is in many ways a city divided, go-go helps to promote a sense of unity within the African American community. It helps to demarcate physical as well as psychological space. For example, upper Northwest (above the National Cathedral) is a “white” section of town, while the extreme Southeast (across the Sousa Bridge) is distinctly “black.” Go-go provides many young (and increasingly middle-aged) black residents with both a rallying cry and a common point for musical and cultural references. In ways similar to a church—especially Pentecostal (“Holiness”) sects—go-go provides a place for like-minded people to gather....

  13. 5 Entrepreneurs
    (pp. 149-179)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    The people involved with documenting, disseminating, and promoting go-go are mostly local residents. The overwhelming majority of them are also African Americans. These are the people who earn a living by promoting go-go events, running clubs, providing security and protection for the musicians (and clubgoers), and/or selling “gear.”

    The entrepreneurs who control the business side of go-go are often multitalented. The many roles played by these (mostly) men frequently overlap, especially in the realms of promoting, recording, and managing bands. Max Kidd, for example, has a long and complex history with black music in general, and go-go in particular, in...

  14. 6 The Media
    (pp. 180-205)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    From its inception, go-go has enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the mass media. Locally, theWashington Postand theWashington City Paperhave not only devoted space to the music, but Chuck Brown and the making of the filmGood to Go,for example, have been the subjects of upbeat, positive profiles in thePostby Richard Harrington and Alona Wartofsky. With the exception of pieces focused on the mid-’80s commercial interest in go-go, Wartofsky’s thoughtful 1990 article “The Indestructable Beat of the District,” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s fine oral history of go-go (“Dropping the Bomb”) in the January 14–20,...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  16. 7 Go–Go on Film
    (pp. 206-228)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    Of all of the musical genres heard in the District of Columbia—including jazz and funk—go-go is the most widely documented. There have been three important documentary films, and go-go has endured several brushes with Hollywood. The first of these resulted inGood to Go(1986), which was shot on location in D.C. in the summer of 1985. Both24/7(1998) andD.C.Divided City(2001), Bruce Brown’s latest feature film, are also liberally sprinkled with go-go.Good to Gowas initially looked upon as a venture that encouraged the local go-go community into thinking that the music was...

  17. Afterword: Go–Go 2001
    (pp. 229-234)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    Kip: I see a cloudy and uncertain future for go-go as we enter the twenty-first century. Some of the bands—most notably my current favorite, Rare Essence (I’m listening toRE 2000a lot right now)—continue to produce creative and interesting music. Their support in D.C. provides them with steady work, but how long will they want to hang with it?

    Charles: That’s a good question. Matter of fact, that is the question, because I believe Rare Essence represents the best future for go-go. Unfortunately, I do not see any other band on the circuit that can represent go-go...

  18. Epilogue: “Welcome to D.C.,” 2009
    (pp. 235-262)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.

    In April, 2008, just as we began thinking seriously about writing a chapter to close this new edition ofThe Beat!,Jacob Ganz, the producer ofBryant Park Project(NPR’s morning news magazine that originates from WNYC), invited Kip onto the show to discuss the recent passing of Robert Reed, keyboardist and a founding member of seminal go-go band Trouble Funk. Contrary to what you might expect, Reed was not shot outside of a go-go. He died as the result of pancreatic cancer at the age of fifty. From 8:40 to 8:54 AM on April 24, 2008, Kip spent fourteen...

    (pp. 263-265)
  20. D. C. ’s Go-Go Bands
    (pp. 266-267)
    (pp. 268-270)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 271-276)
  23. Audiography
    (pp. 277-281)
    Kip Lornell and Charles C. Stephenson Jr.
  24. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 282-282)
  25. Index
    (pp. 283-289)