Marcus K. Dowling
We’re not too far away from a society where a scene like the one posted above from Experience Unlimited’s performance at Go-Go Live at Landover, Maryland’s Capital Centre could be fairly commonplace in pop-loving venues across the country. What’s even more entertaining is that EU’s playing “Shake It Like A White Girl,” a go-go hit that would later frame the hook of one-hit wonder rapper Jesse Jaymes’ 1991 single of the same name. Moreover, in all of the pieces reconnecting that should allow for pop music and R & B to make a re-connection, it’s the idea that we’ll complete a cycle that actually sees a moment where white girls worldwide will be shaking their rear ends to the pocket of a go-go beat. Let’s take a second to contemplate the “pieces that are coming back together,” why go-go is the space in which they fit the best and the necessary statement that makes about the future of Washington, DC.
As was stated in the interview published to the site this week with Rare Essence’s Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson, go-go music was borne of the sounds of bands like Earth, Wind and Fire and Parliament-Funkadelic, acts whose ability to straddle the line between live dance party jams and hot pop singles was legendary. If anything, it was the synergy between pop-ready disco’s desire to extend tracks into the realm of 10-15 minutes, soulful jam bands being able to mimic that need and pop radio co-opting the popularity of disco and soul music that created what became “R & B” a nice catch-all for the potent and melodic three-to-five minute meltdown of a mix that was culled from the longer free-form song format. In fact, go-go pioneer Chuck Brown’s 1978 national hit “Bustin’ Loose” is proof of the long-form to short radio blast theory holding weight. The album mix of “Bustin Loose” is nearly eight minutes long, while the radio-ready take on the song is a slim and trim four minutes in length.
As the 80s hit and disco as a pop music staple died, the need for a) intricate and long songs in mainstream music and b) acts with live musicians died. R & B remained, but both live instrumentation and a dependence upon the interplay between spoken word sections and singing died in the genre, too. How this impacts go-go is intriguing in that go-go has always been able to exist in the pop realm in one song moments. For instance, the aforementioned Rare Essence have had “Lock It,” “Work The Walls,” “Overnight Scenario” and “Pieces of Me” reach mainstream status. It feels almost as if there’s a remembrance every five-to-seven years by mainstream ears that we love driving grooves, soulful vocals, a little chatter and the sound of a live band with our pop music. Intriguingly enough, all of the parts exist in music in 2016 for go-go to exceed past a once-every-half-decade occurrence into being a staple sound with staying power.
Here are a few amazing facts about pop music in 2016 for go-go fanatics to contemplate:
- Though EDM “died,” dance music’s underground club culture — yes, the same culture that birthed disco — is actually still going strong. Underground club culture has a long history of supporting tracks bearing deep grooves, soulful vocals, spoken-word interludes and big drum breaks.
- Albums released in 2015 by rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper have effectively resurrected the idea that live instrumentation is a valid musical form that can be successfully utilized by pop artists.
- Arguably the top two urban artists in music are Future and Drake, rappers who don’t mind singing and have an affinity — especially in the case of Drake — for making songs that translate well to the dance floor.
Am I saying that all that’s needed for go-go to dominate pop music is for underground DJs to translate go-go into meaning “soulful house” as legends like Larry Levan and Afrika Bambaataa did in the late 1970s which led to Chuck Brown’s success and the likes of Trouble Funk and Junkyard Band having ties to Def Jam Records? Absolutely.
Am I saying that releasing go-go records to a mainstream population that’s not quite on the wave yet of figuring out that soul-leaning “house” records have a place on pop radio as a re-formed “R & B” is an uphill road? Absolutely.
Am I believing that there are DJs and underground dance scenes maybe even in Washington, DC who are probably itching to find records with deep grooves and rap-friendly breaks to flill the space between remixes of tracks by up-and-comers like Gallant, re-ascendant house music and the pop fare created by the already discussed Drake and Future? Absolutely.
Am I also saying that in go-go bands being less driven by mirroring traditions and maybe discovering the new sounds that lie beyond where James Brown got translated into P-Funk which somehow became Kraftwerk and then got boiled into techno and eventually trap? Absolutely. There’s something really funky that’s out there, some sort of “Funky Drummer” by way of the Shrimp Boat and Ben’s Chili Bowl with a touch of Sweetgreen tossed in for good measure that would be quite the delicious sound right now.
Am I saying that the first person that can get Drake and his OVO crew or Future and a producer like Metro Boomin’ in the studio with Rare Essence could make a whole lot of money out of making that moment happen? Absolutely, too.
There’s a real opportunity for go-go to be the most dominant pop sound in the whole entire world in very short order. If that happens, let’s realize that there’s something about DC’s evolution that will have the most chocolate of Chocolate City feels to it. If all of what we remember as classic Washington is going to be draped in tarpaulin for the next five years and revealed to us a condo with a Chipotle attached, maybe it’s only fair that the heartbeat that will still drive the city is provided by a drumbeat, much like Rare Essence, born in Ward 8.