Block Party

Dave Chapelle’s Block Party proves that rap culture has gone postmodern.
The film has all the telltale symptoms, from complex questions of authenticity to camp worship of seventies television and bad hair. All that’s missing is an utterly unreadable master rhetorician – a rhyming Jean Baudrillard – though the enigmatic Mos Def is as incomprehensible as any postmodern mystic.
It’s difficult to know what will come out the other end once “cool” has been thoroughly whitewashed and wrestled from black culture, but one thing is for sure: Dave Chapelle is the great white hope for millions of pathetic Caucasian kids who wish they’d been born a shade more chocolate.
Appearing in an Izod shirt and sounding like Tiger Woods lite, Chapelle is proof positive that blackness has been lost somewhere along the line. There’s something rotten in Denmark when black people have to work this hard to be Negro, but what’s even more strange is the confessional tone of Block Party, the way Chapelle constantly undermines his own blackness.
Chapelle organizes the party from his home town in Ohio, among plain-speaking white folks who wouldn’t know a rapper from a stutterer. He offers free tickets to the yuppie black kids and band geeks in this mostly suburban slice of the heartland, but he’s seething under his skin, contemptuous of his kinfolk, those suburban sellouts who mark him as a poseur.
Chapelle picks a dilapidated Brooklyn neighborhood to stage his show. Having no connection to the area whatsoever, it’s an odd act of presumptuousness to call this free concert a block party. After all, Chappelle doesn’t really seem interested in the people of the neighborhood and appears to have picked the block because it strikes him as looking black.
(Note of fact: A lot of folks would call a party taking place in their backyard trespassing, not a block party.)
The 1970s never really ended, they just migrated to the slums, and Chappelle is enamored with the idea of gritty reality he finds in the block. Of course reality comes with real people – like the white hippie couple trying to renovate an old church – but Chappelle is more than happy to ignore them by shipping in busloads of black from wherever he can find them, just to show how dark-skinned he really is, mind you.
Chappelle interrupts the musical performances repeatedly, betraying his honky background by overacting the part. Surrounded by actual street-hardened brothers, he resorts to explaining the Negro experience by evoking television, as though The Cosby Show and Good Times explain everything you need to know about racial issues.
The musical performances are fine, I guess, though I resent the idea that I must not be cool if I don’t like rap. Block Party reminds me of Woodstock –The Movie... I have the same sense of disconnection from the actual music and the same vague, unpleasant feeling that I’m being lied to.
Block Party is one of the most anxious films I’ve seen in years. Like Hustle & Flow it undercuts the idea of “natural cool” that is so important to the comodifed Negro, but it is much more intellectually dishonest than Hustle. Where the fictional narrative shows an individual struggling with his own illegitimacy, Block Party hides its main character – Chappelle, really – behind music that still believes it has something to say.
Chappelle relishes the stereotypical and cultural clichés of the badass Negro even as he calls blackness into question. On an unconscious level he wants to be called to task, told that he’s constructed his blackness from TV and comic books, but the film’s energy steamrolls his confessional.  
Block Party is really a story of two pale Americas: One white and one rapidly becoming white. “We shook up the world!” Chapelle screams after it’s all over. The poverty of this film is he believes his own hype.


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