Bounce Beat + Beyond Event Announcement:
Mark your calendars for this upcoming weekend’s go-go themed event. On November 21, District Fray Magazine and Events DC are teaming up to host our third “For the Love of D.C.” concert highlighting the future of D.C.’s dynamic go-go movement. Guests will enjoy an immersive experience celebrating the next wave of go-go music and its cultural impact on the District. To learn more about the event and RSVP, visit here.
On a mid-October evening, the traffic along New York Avenue is at a slow creep, with honking horns nearly drowning out the songs trumpeting from open car windows. Many are attempting to find parking near Aqua Restaurant & Bar, the Friday night home of Backyard Band (or BYB to the initiated), one of D.C.’s most successful and illustrious go-go bands. On this particular night, BYB is joined by The Reaction Band, a headliner in their own right. Across the Maryland border in Temple Hills, the self-titled “Half-Band, Half-Amazing” New Impressionz is headlining their own show. And at Firehouse 1 in Silver Spring, two of the biggest go-go bands, Total Control Band (TCB) and Takeova Band (TOB), are sharing the stage.
A decade ago, this would be the rarest of nights for go-go in the D.C. area, when many of the aforementioned bands were adapting to the rapid shuttering of music venues. Today, go-go is in a much better space — though such a statement still sells this moment short.
The keepers of the go-go culture are nothing if not resilient. They’ve continually reinvented ways to stay relevant as the local music scene — and demographics — shift. Today, the genre is reasserting itself into the District’s bloodstream. And we, the allies championing its cause, know it can be so much more.
Though, evolving often requires a catalyst.
In April 2019, the Metro PCS store on Florida Avenue began receiving complaints about the volume of their go-go music from an adjacent affluent complex. The matter fractured the delicate harmony among neighbors at the nexus of Shaw and the U Street Corridor — and within the go-go community.
Tenured community activist and author Ron Moten of Don’t Mute D.C., a local collective of cultural activists, called for action. He enlisted bands and advocacy organizations to push back by partnering with Moechella and Long Live GoGo, a combined advocacy festival and movement pairing go-go with political and social initiatives.
Don’t Mute D.C. and Moechella/Long Live GoGo went from shutting down the intersection of 14th and U Streets with bands like TCB and TOB to creating a prominent platform for go-go. Over the last three years, their efforts have galvanized a growing movement of organizations and individuals.
Local comedian Mckenton Russell recalls Long Live GoGo’s breakout moment during the summer of 2020. The festival decided to introduce its series of purpose-driven go-go events in Los Angeles to the Leimert Park area, the home base for Black sitcoms like “Moesha” and “South Central.”
“Moechella in L.A. was lit,” Russell says. “From what I see, more people from all over were starting to f–k with it. Even my L.A. friends were f–king with it. That shit was a vibe. Shoutout to them for that.”
Russell uses his comedy as a driving force to introduce go-go culture to his audience, making them laugh with remixes and skits influenced by the genre. Like many go-go fans under the age of 40, Mckenton’s favorite band is TCB. The band took the DMV by storm in 2002 with the now-named bounce beat sound, a timbale-heavy contrast to the pockets, sockets and breakdowns go-go fans already know and love.
“Go-go is the band, the bounce beat is the drumline and TCB is Devon [from the cult-favorite coming-of-age marching band film “Drumline”],” Mckenton says.
He compares the movie’s stoic band director, Dr. James Lee, to tenured members of the go-go community who haven’t embraced the new generation’s contributions to the culture.
“Dr. Lee is any old head opposed [to change],” Russell says.
Go-Go’s Digital Renaissance
In the past, go-go lovers sold cassette tapes to retailers like the renowned P.A. Palace. Prior to that, fans would dub rerecorded copies for their friends. Websites with digital recordings came and went in the early 2000s.
Legends like Sugar Bear, Experience Unlimited and Junkyard Band got a taste of distribution on major record labels. Others like Critical Condition Band (CCB) and XIB took a more independent approach to selling their studio albums through retailers. Go-go sent shockwaves through the community when CCB’s 2007 “Diversity” studio album was available in stores like Best Buy.
Live go-go is the true draw of recorded go-go. It’s an unmatched, visceral experience, difficult to manufacture in a recording studio.
“Live recording is a major element in go-go because those CDs last a lifetime,” says go-go fanatic and photographer Johnnel Kyri, who goes by the alias VividDope.
His photography credits include Wale, Ari Lennox and Method Man, among other acclaimed artists.
“People definitely want to listen to those shows they attend to relive that moment [and] that energy.”
There are many variables to a band having a cohesive sound — from the members being present to everything being in sync. This makes for a resonant performance, otherwise known as cranking.
For the crowd, someone getting a shoutout adds a unique, spontaneous element. Hearing people’s names — and places and events — on a live CD holds special significance, immortal even.
In go-go culture, people tend to have more personal relationships with the crowd than the average band or artist. Dates and albums in go-go can be as rare as a Michael Jordan rookie card in mint condition. Somewhere in an attic is a Backyard Band tape from ‘95, or a Raw Image show from 2002 no one even remembers being recorded.
But with the emergence of platforms like Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal, bands have an opportunity to not only gain new listeners and reconnect with the old ones, but to cash in.
“We’re getting an influx of go-go streaming from a lot of bands,” says Angela Byrd, a lifelong go-go fan. “Black Bo done uploaded damn near the whole TCB catalog on streaming. I listen to ‘Twerk 4 Me’ by UCB every day now on Spotify.”
Byrd shares that downloading “Da Mad Chef,” a Spotify playlist dedicated to the former venue of the same name, introduced her to Still Familiar band. The playlist was curated by Glenarden, Maryland native and nationally recognized DJ Dominique Wells, better known as DOMO, another stalwart of the go-go community. This led Byrd to book the band for Art All Night, an annual D.C. arts and culture festival.
Byrd is the creator of MadeInTheDMV, an annual conference focused on bridging the gap between creatives in various fields across the DMV and providing resources to showcase the region’s vast talent. The Elizabeth City State University graduate is also a former writer for AllHipHop and The Source, who maintains a steady pulse on D.C.’s potential as a music stronghold.
“I think the state of go-go is great, depending on what your expectations are for it,” Byrd says. “Our venues in the area need to be more open to working with bands. In the next five years, I think we’ll have more people experimenting with the sound, [including] more producers. Some people look at it as a nostalgic genre. We love the pocket and bounce beat and all that, but the youth might not think it’s all that. [But] we are in a far better [place] in terms of support, from the local venues to the government.”
Byrd is referencing D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signing an official bill proclaiming go-go as the city’s official music on February 19, 2020. She also acknowledges that musicians in the go-go community must move beyond their silos to embrace more cross-genre ingenuity and a “rise together” vantage point.
“We need more go-go bands to [perform] our local artists’ music,” Byrd adds. “Take No Savage’s ‘Mood Switch,’ for instance: That’s the hottest song out right now. Why is every band not competing to see who can cover it the best?”
She cites producers like Tone P and Roger Beat transitioning from making keyboard beats for bands to hits for chart-topping rappers. But her biggest concern is making sure the youth love go-go as much as our elders.
“If we put the instruments in front of [them], they may create,” she says. “But if the youth aren’t in this, go-go may die.”
Byrd and many others in go-go culture are doing their best to aid the change they want to see.
Taimak “Teej Da Smooth Dude” Dargan started small before pivoting to throwing his own shows, implementing fresh ideas for parties and promoting new bands and rappers. He penned his story for his 2020 autobiography “The Prince of DC: A GoGo Tale.” While he’s optimistic for the future, his current issue with the state of go-go is the lack of visibility and marketing.
“People don’t understand that New Impressionz has the best party in the city,” Dargan says. “It’s in Virginia [and] better than Rosebar [a popular destination for go-go enthusiasts in Northwest D.C.],” says Dargan. “We’ve got to change the visuals of go-go. Everything is visual now, and content-driven. We need go-go bands to do more music videos, live recordings, etc.”
Dargan hopes to see go-go keep up with other genres in terms of promotion.
“Go-go still runs the city, but even when you check our local blogs, you see local rapper after local rapper,” Dargan says. “There needs to be a balance. There are plenty of bands on streaming sites. We just have to do better in promoting [them].”
Bands like TCB, TOB, High Quality and others have capitalized on mediums like Soundcloud, Spinrilla and Apple Music.
Though, that doesn’t mean they’re abandoning the organic forms of growth that sustained the genre in its heyday, especially with the resurgence of vinyl.
Traditionally, locals to Black colleges and the armed services helped go-go spread, disseminating the music via tapes, CDs, etc. DJs at Black colleges — from Morgan State in Baltimore to Morehouse in Atlanta — spun the latest crank for students at parties and on campus.
Bequeathing “The Crank” to Future Generations
Virginia State University graduate Malik Jarrett came up clubbing in venues like the now-defunct Market Lounge and repurposed DC Tunnel, now Echostage. Jarrett is the creator of EAT Clothing, one of the biggest go-go clothing lines to come out of the area. When he isn’t giving back as a coach for Beacon House Falcons Club in Edgewood, he’s spinning classic go-go at some of the city’s hottest clubs.
“I was just thinking my kids might not be able to have a go-go band at their wedding because there might not be any around,” Jarrett says. “Most go-go bands have been out for a while now. We need new ones, new sounds.”
Still, like Byrd, he remains optimistic.
“We have to get the youth involved in go-go [and] more programs [geared around go-go music] in schools. They have to love it, too.”
Many of go-go music’s leading stars are trying to do just that, led by its biggest star.
Anwan “Big G” Glover is the frontman for Uptown’s renowned Backyard Band and an actor who portrayed gang member Slim Charles in HBO’s “The Wire.” You can catch him via his Instagram, shuffling between promoting shows or commuting cross-country for acting gigs. But he’s also a grandfather gearing up to celebrate his 51st birthday.
“Big G, to me, is what Chuck Brown meant to the older generation who watched go-go come about and evolve,” Kyri says. “G is still one of the biggest figures we have in the DMV. G is still doing it. Backyard is still doing it: inspiring [people] since the early 1990s. Even members of bands call G ‘Pops.’ That [shows] you how much respect G has [within] the culture.”
It’s common to see fathers and sons at Marygolds for Rare Essence, or mothers and daughters at Fast Eddie’s for Backyard. But while many go-go bands keep performing without considering retirement, thought must be given to how the sound will be presented to the next generation to ensure they continue the love of go-go.
“One of my first memories of go-go was going to see Rare Essence with my dad as a kid,” Dargan reminisces. “It was a crazy, legendary moment.”
A decade ago, go-go bands were still formed in middle and high schools, usually beginning with members of the school band. Public school marching bands at local schools like Ballou, Parkdale, Cardozo and Eastern created just as many go-go stars as percussionists or woodwinds players.
Fast forward to present day, where many schools are struggling to keep students engaged in a remote learning environment. Running music programs is increasingly challenging — as is enlisting go-go legends to work with youth. It may take time and patience as go-go continues to reinvent itself in new spaces.
Recent developments show that go-go culture is digging in on guarding its throne atop the region’s music landscape — and mastering the art of sustaining buzz around the genre.
“It’s cool to go to spots like the Fillmore [and] have a chicken and mumbo sauce event and a band like Reaction on the same stage as [D.C.] rapper Yung Gleesh,” Kyri says. “Gleesh came from go-go [and] TOB, and now he’s doing the rap thing on a national scale. To bridge those gaps and tie it in with chicken and mumbo sauce — a carryout staple — and the music of the area right now is amazing.”
Go-go is increasingly becoming recognized and celebrated on a regional scale. On September 11, CCB performed with the Mighty Sound of Maryland Marching Band at the halftime show for Maryland vs. Howard. Groups like the Afro-Latin-based Adobo have introduced go-go to new listeners of all races and social classes through parties and socials.
Events like Crank Karaoke allow anyone to get up on stage with a full band, composed of an all-star crew playing the song of your choice. The Washington Football Team unveiled their beat ya feet dance team this season, bringing the iconic dance innovated by the late Marvin “Slush” Taylor of Anacostia to the NFL.
Multi-platinum rapper and devout Washington Football Team fan Wale has managed to integrate go-go in some fashion in every album he’s released. He’s even taken it to new heights on his recent release “Folarin 2,” enlisting Backyard’s legendary congo/timbale player Sauce for a song with Boyz II Men. TOB frontman and go-go prodigy Lil Chris croons on “Jump In,” which may be the best representation of go-go to hit mainstream airwaves in years.
“We got Backyard covering Adele’s “Hello,” and you got Uncle Snoop Dogg working with Rare Essence,” Byrd says. “It’s a good time for artists working with our bands and loving our culture.”
There’s an influx of go-go out there, but the genre needs to be brought to the forefront. Today, there are triple the number of social platforms dedicated to DMV rap as there are go-go. This speaks again to the exposure imbalance and lack of an organized anthology.
“I’ve lost so much go-go just between switching laptops or moving,” Kyri says. “We have to have a museum we can go to and commemorate every band, listen to music [and] recapture moments in our history.”
In the summer of 2020, there were several free go-gos throughout the city, filled with young men and women sweating from their commutes on trains, buses, rideshare bikes and scooters. From Moechella on 14th Street to TCB and TOB on a caravan through the Southside cranking for peace, the youth partied and participated. Regardless of the particulars of what’s wrong or could be better about go-go, this is a great sign for the future. Now is the time to build on it.
To learn more about some of the luminaries of the go-go scene, visit their websites or follow them on Instagram: Malik Jarrett at allhomage.com // @allhomage; VividDope at vividdope.com // @vividope; Big G at @anwanglover; and DOMO at domo.world // @djxdomo. For more on the featured organizations at the forefront of the go-go movement, visit their websites or follow them on Instagram: MadeInTheDMV at madeinthedmv.com // @madeinthedmv; Long Live GoGo at longlivegogo.com // @longlivegogodc; and Don’t Mute DC at dontmutedc.com // @dontmutedc.
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