Block Party (2006)

I wasn’t familiar with any of the nominations for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, but after having watched Block Party the Friday before, I was rooting for Three 6 Mafia.

And I agree with Jon Stewart — that’s the way to accept an award. (Although I giggled a bit, because it did seem like something parodied on The Boondocks.)

Of all the music I cover on, hip-hop is not well represented. Chalk it up to culture — I’m not from the streets, so hip-hop doesn’t speak to me.

But after watching Block Party, I got the sense hip-hop is, in reality, rock ‘n’ roll, a conclusion reached by better critics ages ago.

Having worked in a record store, I recognized the names of just about everyone featured in the movie — the Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Cody ChesnuTT, the Fugees (of course). That didn’t mean I knew how each of them sounded, and honestly, I mistook Scott for Angie Stone, for some reason.

When I left the theater, I remarked I could like hip-hop better if it were played live as it was in the movie, but even as I said it, I could see my rock elitism seeping through — as if a live drummer has inherent value over a drum machine.

It doesn’t really matter whether hip-hop is performed live — hello, Roots — or with two turntables and a microphone. The hip-hop in my peripheral vision — the stuff played to death on the alleged music channels — is all thug life and bling bling.

But during Block Party, Dead Prez rallied against the captivity of political prisoners, with an activist wandering on stage holding up the picture of somebody I’d never heard of.

The hip-hop artists featured in the film exuded the rebellious swagger and social conscience of the best of rock ‘n’ roll. Scott and Badu, in a mutual admiration society of each other, hammered home a theme Aretha Franklin extolled long ago — show me some respect.

Or as Tina Turner once sang, better be good to me.

Block Party isn’t totally a concert film, nor a comedy film. But it does cast hip-hop as the same driving cultural force as rock music. It’s here to stay, and it has something to say.

The movie follows comedian Dave Chappelle as he organizes and invites people to his block party, an event to commemorate the $50 million deal he signed with Comedy Central for the third and fourth seasons of Chappelle’s Show. Of course, this movie was made before the much-publicized delay in the show’s production.

Chappelle comes across as a down-to-earth guy amazed by the fact he gets to hang out with artists of whom he’s a fan. He describes the party as the concert he always wanted to attend.

The film also follows a number of folks from Chappelle’s Ohio home, from the convenience store owner who doesn’t know what to pack for a hip-hop block party to an entire marching band invited to perform. It’s fun to see them caught up in Chappelle’s own wonderment.

Block Party climaxes with the reunion of the Fugees. I must be mellowing out in my old age, because the band’s cover of Roberta Flack’s "Killing Me Softly" didn’t annoy me as it did back in 1996.

I watched Block Party at the Alamo Drafthouse South. My friend turned to me and said, "I’ll never get Mos Def to sleep with me if I keep eating queso fries." Myself, I was muchly curious as to how Mos Def looked like beneath those stylish shirts of his — the man is suave.

I liked Block Party but probably for reasons more music geek-driven than anything else. The comedy is great, and the framing device of the invited audience was a nice touch. But the peformances gave me the best understanding of hip-hop in years.