To celebrate the anniversary of the theatrical release of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, we dug up some little-known facts about the documentary.
Back in 2004, Dave Chappelle was riding high as the hottest comedian on the circuit. His sketch comedy show, Chappelle’s Show, was a phenomenal success that catapulted him from a brilliant stand-up to an incredibly popular TV star. His critical look at race, relationships, Blackness mixed with his hilarious impressions of Prince, Rick James, and Lil Jon distinguished the show from all others at the time. In only two and a half seasons, the Chappelle’s Show created some of the best sketch comedies in the history of TV. Leveraging his newfound fame and relationships with artists that he admired annd was friends with, Chappelle curated a once in a lifetime concert event that was turned into a film titled Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.
Released on March 3rd, 2006, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, chronicles all the moments that led up to the free concert he threw in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn on September 18, 2004. Directed by Michael Gondry — who also directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — the star-studded lineup consists of Erykah Badu, Kanye West, The Roots, Yasiin Bey Common, a briefely reunitated The Fugees, and more. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is the Wattstax of hip-hop, a watershed moment that captures the zenith of the alternative hip-hop and neo-soul movements that emerged in the late ’90s into the 2000s. (Despite their cozy relationship, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is not on Netflix. But you can rent it at places like Amazon, Vudu, and iTunes.)
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the theatrical release of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, we dug up some little-known facts about the documentary.
10. Kanye West was the only headliner that wasn’t interviewed
Kanye West may lack a lot of things but he has always been overflowing with self-confidence. Watching the film, you can just feel that Kanye knew that he was on his way to becoming one of the biggest stars on the planet. Being backed by the Central State University Marching Band, his performance of “Jesus Walks” was almost a coronation of West as the “next one.”Interestingly, there is no interview with Kanye West during the film. Can you imagine what Kanye would have been talking about? What would have said about being the opening act? The film captures Kanye West in the midst of his ascendancy into megastardom but we don’t get to hear his thoughts about the historic night.
9. A-Trak was Kanye’s DJ during the film
Before A-Trak was an internationally known DJ and President of Fool’s Gold records, he was West’s DJ. The two met in London in 2004. A-Trak toured with West, on the first two headlining tours from March 2004 until April 2006. A-Trak would soon split with Kanye West and start his own record label which developed the careers of Kid Cudi, Danny Brown, and more.
8. John Legend was an unknown keyboardist at the time
The soulful voice that’s singing the hook to “Jesus Walks” during the film is none other than John Legend. Known then as John Stephens, Legend was making a name himself as a session musician. He played on Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything” and appeared on JAY-Z’s “Encore,” providing silky smooth vocals. During the filming of the Block Party, Legend was relatively unknown to most fans. But all that was about to change. Three months after the concert, he would release his debut album, Get Lifted, as one of the first artists signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. music label. By the time Block Party hit theaters, Legend was a known entity.
7. Director Michael Gondry suggested Brooklyn as the location of the film
One of the intangibles that made Block Party such an epic event is the location. Shooting the film in Brooklyn — off of Quincy Street and Downey Street — the birthplace of concert participants Yasiin Bey, Talib Kweli, Big Daddy Kane, and more, gives it a vibe that’s undeniable. Interestingly, the location of the film was suggested by its director, Michael Gondry. In an interview with Filmmakersmagazine.com, Gondry recalls why he believed that Brooklyn was the ideal space for the concert. He said, “So the first thing I did was to make sure the concert happened in Brooklyn — a place that really means something for the people who are there. I think it was my contribution because people were coming up to me with ideas like shooting in Central Park. I didn’t see it this way — I wanted to access the more intimate side and see more of the joy.”
6. Wyclef‘s song “President” debuted in the film
Just before the film comes to a close, Wyclef got a chance to drop some jewels on the CSU marching band. In one of the most intimate scenes of the film, Wyclef is speaking to the band about what they would do if they were President of the United States. When various members of the band started yelling out answers, Wyclef, while playing on the organ, started singing a remixed version of “President” and the band joined in.“President” was more than a song for Wyclef. It was almost a self-fulfilling prophet, foreshadowing his run for the presidency of Hatti.
5. A young J. Cole was in attendance
While there were numerous stars on stage, there was at least one future superstar in the audience: At the time, J. Cole was matriculating at St. John’s University when he got some intel about the concert. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cole recalled, “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party was probably the most awesome show I’ve ever been to in my life. It was incredible. Sophomore year of college. Long story short (aka this is gonna be long) I heard about this secret Dave Chapelle concert, you had to register and sign up online to go. The Roots, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Mos Def, Kweli, Kanye, Dead Prez.” In spite of standing for 12 hours and enduring horrendous weather, Cole made his way to the concert and even got some screen time. When Dave Chappelle asked the crowd, “Who raps? We got anybody that raps?” J. Cole raised his hand to volunteer. A sign of things to come.
4. The Fugees couldn’t legally appear on the soundtrack
Q-Tip tried to put us up on game when he rapped, “Industry rule #4080/record company people are shady.” Coming to the stage to introduce the final act of the night, Chappelle said,” Ladies and Gentlemen, make some noise for a miracle, The Fugees!” While the official soundtrack features all of the illustrious artists that appear in the film, one glaring omission is the Fugees. Because of the legal issues with their label Columbia Records, The Fugees were not given clearance to have their live set on the soundtrack. The classic cuts from the Fugees cannon proved to be the fitting end to an epic concert but their presence on the soundtrack would have been incredible.
3. Columbia Records didn’t give Lauryn Hill clearance to perform her solo songs
As great as all of the performances are in Block Party, it would have been next level if Lauryn Hill could have performed classics like “Lost Ones,” “That Thing (Doo Wop),” and “Ex-Factor.” But it wasn’t meant to be. Lauryn Hill was scheduled to close out the show with a solo set but Colombia records would not allow her to perform any songs from her classic album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Following the release of the album, Ms. Hill would have on-going legal battles with her label creating a contentious relationship between the two that never got back to being on good terms.
2. Erykah Badu and Jill Scott performed “You Got Me” with The Roots for the first time
When Jill Scott was coming up in Philly as singer and poet, she penned the hook for The Roots song “You Got Me.” But instead of having Ms. Jill record the song for the group’s album Things Fall Apart, the label executives thought it needed someone who was more established. Erykah Badu laced the track and it became The Root’s breakthrough hit. The rest is history. In a moment of hip-hop improvisation, Questlove pulled Badu onstage while Jill was performing the song and they connected for all the Black Girl Magic that the crowd could handle.
1. The film was shot right before Chappelle quit his show
Throughout the film, Dave Chappelle is having the time of his life. The joy that he’s experienced by bringing people together from Columbus, Ohio to Brooklyn is felt through the screen. But that would soon change when he would abruptly leave Chappelle’s Show, forfeiting a $50 million deal with Comedy Central. When asked by CBS News if fame was the reason behind his sudden departure, he said, “Fame, yeah, but not so much that I get on a plane to Africa. Fame is not that kind of scary. But it is – fame is a horrifying concept when it’s aimed at you, you know?” Chappelle said. “At the end of the day, it’s so – you don’t have that much control over it. You just try to conduct yourself as best you can.” Chappelle would eventually return and reclaim his status as one of the greatest standup comedians to ever do it.