It’s hard to explain to folks who aren’t from the DC area. Actually, I’ve met natives who have no concept of go-go but that’s another social/economic/racial discussion. You can get some pretty accurate musical and historical background but the first time you step into a go-go you’ll either be profoundly puzzled or something will resonate deep within you. I’ve seen it happen both ways, that’s why I’m often hesitant when out-of-towners tell me they want to experience go-go when they visit DC.
To put it bluntly, go-go is some really black shit. It’s visceral. It’s the drum. It’s been hyper-regional for the entirety of its existence. It’s something that you don’t feel like you have to represent because once you’ve been inoculated with it at a young age it’s always in you.
My musical upbringing included hip-hop, the church, my mom’s record collection, and Top 40 radio. Go-go fit in a bit differently because it was something that was fully integrated into the world I experienced outside of my home. It was the language, aesthetic and landscape of a kid growing up in different hoods in DC in the ’80s. I left DC when I was 13. The timing was good because crack was ravenously devouring the city. I put my Junkyard tapes away and threw myself into hip-hop which really shaped my teen years. By the time I returned I was a college student and strident hip-hop head. The go-gos were too violent and I was a budding backpacker.
I’ve seen a lot of the world since those days. I’ve explored many musical paths. And now, I rarely go to go-gos anymore. It’s not really “rarely”, it’s more like “almost never”. My social universe doesn’t intersect with the go-go world. Sometimes I try to force an intersection. I’ll drop go-go joints in my DJ sets. The problem with that is that my core audience and the crowd at most of the gigs I play are not DC natives. I can fit in one classic Essence joint maybe, or of course that one Def Jam single that everyone loves.
And if I were to play for primarily DC natives, they wouldn’t really embrace all of the other musical lanes I like to travel in, with a few exceptions.
I know folks like me. They may have lived in other countries. Their music collection might have Radiohead next to Manu Chao next to Art Tatum. They might have advanced degrees from fancy universities. But drop a crankin’ ass socket on ’em and they’ll work it like they were sweating at the Metro Club.
We’re a small tribe. As a result, I have fleeting reunions with my old friend. I’ll crank up the radio when I’m driving if I happen to catch a ‘PGC or ‘KYS go-go segment. If you see me at a stop light I am not having a seizure. I trade digitized versions of old PA tapes with friends on the internet. I scour the used record bins for classic go-go vinyl releases. I’ll grab PA tape re-releases from the kiosk at PG Plaza or the sweet CD-R section at CDepot.
I’m renewing my relationship with my old friend. I don’t know how exactly that will come out in what I do musically but, maaan… I MISS THIS SHIT.
It’s no coincidence that I’m gravitating towards NEG lately. For me they represent a great intersection of classic breakdowns and musicianship with the percussive aggression of modern go-go.
WARNING: THIS VIDEO IS RATED “SC” FOR “SERIOUS CRANK”
and of course, the good JYB…
KNOCK ‘EM OUT THE BOX, WINK!!!! (direct link, embedding disabled)
This one puts a lump in my throat… Cap Center, Heavy One (R.I.P.) on the buckets (direct link, embedding disabled)
When I was a shorty I wanted to be these dudes SO BAD. I’m damn near crying now.