We’re About the Business
Key voices from the Chocolate City discuss the Godfather of go-go's latest release
by Thomas Sayers Ellis
The following is a play-by-play account of Chuck Brown’s latest release, We’re About the Business, which was released on Raw Venture Records and Tapes, Inc. in the spring of 2007. Each song was individually dissected by a different writer from in and around the go-go community. With the release of We’re About the Business comes another musical brick in the funky house that Chuck began building over 30 years ago.
Track 2, “Love Theme from The Godfather”
Chuck Brown touches on just how classy he can be with his go-go rendition of Nino Rota’s classic “Speak Softly Love (Theme From The Godfather)”. Chuck taps eloquently on his signature bluesy guitar licks that have continuously reaffirmed his role as the Godfather of Go-Go for over 30 years. This is pushed by a safe finger-licking conga-popping drive that identifies the branding of Chucky Thompson. It instantly takes you back to the days of the late 80′s when Thompson was Chuck’s percussionist. Also guest appearing on the drums is none other than Backyard Band’s own Paul “Buggy” Edwards. Also adding warm tones on this track are Chuck’s horns: Bryan Mills (saxophone), Brad Clements (Trumpet), and former P-Funk horn and Chuck alum, Greg Boyer (Trombone). There is no question that this is the perfect song for Chuck, since he is obviously the Godfather, and since his love for the music he created is undeniable. Type of Pocket: Safe Finger-licking Pop. Grade: A. —Kato Hammond
Track 3, “Block Party”
“Block Party” seems to be Chuck’s bid for the summer song of 2007 (and perhaps the foreseeable future). On the one hand, with its lyrics about poppin’ wine, knockin’ cops, and barbecue, as well as its languid pacing and chick-scratch rhythm guitar (ala Jimmy Nolen of the JB’s), it’s completely old-school. When the track first hit my speakers, I thought we were back in the 1960s with a riff straight out of the Drifters classic, “On Broadway.” But the production values and the sound—the synthesizer and the “hollering” ala DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat”—bring us into the 21st century. The first time I listened to it, I was rather unimpressed. But now, by the time the song fades out at nearly four minutes, I’m happy to listen again. Not essential Chuck, but I think it’s one of those songs that grows on you. Type of Pocket: Summer Sizzler. Grade: B. —Dr. Kip Lornell
Track 4, “Eye Candy”
This song features samples from the ’70s and ’80s jazz-rock band, Weather Report. The samples are worked in really well, and even with the samples, Chuck claims the song as his own. The conga beats are laid down smoothly; not throw-down crank, but the beat grabs your attention—it is steady and constant. There is a cascade of voices, including Chuck’s, Raheem DeVaughn’s, and a female’s. The song starts out en route to a go go, then introduces Chuck and Raheem. Raheem and Chuck then address women and describe how the go-go affects them. Next they talk about the “eye candy,” but in a respectful way. There’s a whole lot going on in this song, but it’s not busy. This song bridges new and old, stylistically, and reminds me of Larry Graham’s album GCS2000. Type of pocket: Tight Groove. Grade: A. —Jordan A. Rich
Track 5, “Chuck Baby”
Chuck Baby. Chuck Brown. Chucky Thompson. That’s a whole lot of chuck for one song, but it works. “Chuck Baby,” the first single from Chuck Brown’s We’re About the Business, was produced by DC’s native son, Chucky Thompson, and features a collaboration with Brown’s daughter KK, whose smooth flow immediately reminds one of rapper Eve. Thompson’s studio-manufactured go-go beats manage to make Brown current, without losing any of his original “Chuckness.” Fans will be familiar with the chorus chanted by KK, “Chuck baby, don’t give a what. Chuck baby don’t give a uhh.” So though it’s not exactly vintage Chuck Brown, it’s definitely a nice mixture of the old and the new that enables Brown to sound new and fresh and not like the old man in the club trying to hang on to his youth. Unfortunately, just like a lot of current songs that are played on the radio, it leaves you saying to yourself, “I wonder what that would sound like if Chuck’s band hit it.” But, you will find yourself pressing the replay button when you get the end of this track (and rolling down the windows and turning up your volume). Type of Pocket: New Age Hype. Grade: B+. —Bobbie Westmoreland
Track 7, “Jock It In”
All Chuck wants us to do is unite when he sings “North, South, East, and West. I want to see who can clock it the best. Now we can all start figurin’, ain’t nobody bickerin.’” He wants us to party together, laugh together and sing together. When all is said and done, any one of us has a chance of clocking it the best. By “us” I think he means the young and the old, the city slickers and the surbanites, the uptown roamers and the south-side riders. At a time when organizations such as the Peaceoholics are vying to keep the go-go community as a single community and are thwarting off the violence that divides us, Chuck seconds the notion of fellowship with his song “Jock It In.” Chuck even fuses together various genres of music—a little jazz, some funk, and lots of old school-flavored go-go—to further drive home his point. Absent of pulsating congas and screaming drums, this soft, gentle beat calms your nerves and inspires you to not only enjoy the music, but to also enjoy the company of the person next to you. Type of pocket: Peace . Grade: B+. —Delece Smith-Barrow
Track 8, “Feelin’ Good”
I think of L.A. drummer Chico Hamilton (or one of his disciples) when I hear Chuck and the band on “Feelin’ Good.” Chuck is in the pocket with a west coast jazz sound, complete with cool go-go driven rimshots and chopstick-beats that again demonstrate the limitless nature of the go-go sound. Hamilton is not here; this is Ju Ju House holding it down, and along with Brian Mills pushing the beat with his hot soulful notes. You are, for just a moment, inside a smoky lounge in Los Angeles, right after World War II, feelin’ good. Chuck, using call and response with his band like a preacher, brings his famous D.C. sound to the world in a way that would make all the baddest cool jazz players of yesteryear pause and take note. All of them would want to sit in on this one, I am sure, and feel good. Type of pocket: West Coast Jazz pocket. Grade: B+. —Brian Gilmore
Track 10, “We Come To Party”
For a song or groove to qualify as a Chuck Brown classic it requires three essential elements: live percussion, fat horns, and Brown’s blues inspired guitar plucking. Unfortunately, “We Come To Party” has none of these elements. Maybe Brown and producer Chuckie Thompson were trying to do something more contemporary sounding. It just doesn’t work here. The mechanized loop of synthesized drums robs “We Come to Party” of any swing——that unique beat that a real drummer brings when he teases you with perfectly imperfect timing. As a result, the song is devoid of action or anything resembling a groove which, in the world of D.C. go-go, is the one crime that can get you banished to a house music club in Baltimore. The horns may have come from a real horn section but they sound re-inserted, looped, and uninspired. If “We Come To Party” is Brown’s homage to his Latin funk days (late 1960s), it sadly misses the mark.
While Go-Go has never been a genre that demanded traditional lyrical skill, Brown’s original Soul Searchers set the tone in the early ’70s with some of the finest lyrics ever sung over a funk beat. I’m referring to work that predates “Busting Loose” by six years. It is this fact that makes the rapid-fire rap in “We Come To Party” so disappointingly lost and out of place. Keep in mind the Godfather of go-go used to spit rapid-fire lyrics back in the day while singing. This was way before anyone envisioned rap music and hip-hop culture. I guess it’s just not the same when you’re a little older (Brown continues to outlive many of his more famous contemporaries) and your vintage Soul Searchers have been replaced in the studio by the latest high tech production gizmos. Type of Pocket: New Millennium Synchronized Drum Loop. Grade: C-. —Disco Earl
Track 12, “Everyday I Have the Blues”
Chuck Brown is truly a national treasure. Something about him reminds me of the late work of Miles Davis, who pushed new musical boundaries until the very end of his career, despite criticisms from purists who wanted him to stay the same. Chuck Brown is a much more endearing character. His rapping cadence really hasn’t changed since the early 1980s. Regardless, his music continues to evolve, unlike most 70+ year olds, playing with different styles and creating new ones. I wish a lot of these “popular” rappers and producers also possessed that ear so they could get out of this stupid rut Black music is in. In the interlude before track 12, the interviewer asks Chuck, “If God said, ‘of all the musical styles, you can pick one,’ which would it be?” A less humble Chuck would have said go-go, considering that it’s the only style he created. But Chuck, said he’d take the blues, because after all, he’s really just a country boy. And he kills it on the blues! There is so much blues in contemporary go-go, not only musically, but thematically. How else can you read the flood of R.I.P. shout-outs? You might not be able to hear the blue note, but at their heart, these are mournful ballads about young people who’ve left this world before their time. Type of pocket: Blues Bottom. Grade: A. —Natalie Hopkinson
Track 13, “The Party Roll”
The secret to that is in just deleting so much stuff, and that’s a hard thing to do.”The Party Roll” or otherwise known to the D.C. native, as “The D.C. Lotto” song, was made famous by Chuck while shooting a D.C. lottery commercial at the world-famous Ben’s Chili Bowl where I was working at the time. This groove will be the summer’s party anthem without a doubt. A new dance will dominant the dance floors in all the clubs in the metropolitan area. “The Roll” will be seen and done by kids and grandparents alike. Why? The title of the song is self-explanatory. The beat is the perfect party beat, allowing anyone to catch on. With the crowd sample of “roll, roll, roll,” whole clubs sing along. The pocket beat is simple; a Chuck standard. But, to me, that is the beauty of Chuck’s music. He doesn’t try to do too much with a simple groove. Yet, this groove is intoxicating and grows on you every time you hear it. A DJ’s fantasy. Chuck’s even giving dance lessons as he tells the story of how he got started—thoseEbony Inn days smacking on fried chicken. His lyrics are simple as the socket, but like I said, that is part of his genius. Just put this joint on, no matter where you’re at, and watch the “Party Roll.” Type of pocket: Basic Bouncy Socket. Grade: B. —NICO the GoGoOlogist
Track 14, “Love Nationwide”
It’s hard not to nod your head to this track as Chuck Brown seemingly takes us through a melodic time travel from the origins of go-go to the here and now. It encompasses the true beauty, essence, and true being of go-go music and for that matter, life.
The introduction starts off subtle and unassuming with heavy percussion and a small dose of the very familiar cowbell. A combination of gallop/slow-go conga patterns accompanies simple, yet well-placed guitar picks, which is a mix between blues and go-go swing that effortlessly takes off with a mind of its own. The church organ is surprising and streams in perfectly with the minimal vocals. It is not a vocal-riddled track. Instead, this groove focuses on the crafty musicianship of the Godfather and his band. Type of Pocket: Gallop/Slow-Go. Grade: A. —Nicole K. Jones
Track 16, “Funky Get Down”
Chuck Brown, go-go’s original visionary, completes this new chapter of go-go history with “Funky Get Down.” This song musically demonstrates the history Chuck recorded on the previous “Sound for the Town Interlude” and rolls out a blueprint for taking go-go to the next level: a clean, studio-produced sound (featuring Chuck’s trademark horn section), a four-minute track, and original, catchy lyrics and melody. The lyrics are not especially powerful, but that has never been a criteria for go-go bands. “Don’t hide, have pride in everything you do, and I guarantee it’ll make the best of you,” Chuck raps, showing that go-go lead talkers are not limited to remixing gangsta rap or freestyling about the hood life to make go-go. Stripped of all generational, neighborhood, or band-based differences, the Godfather’s message to the masses is clear: “Just let the beat take control of you.” Ironically, this song comes out as a local county government tries to erase go-go from the map in the name of public safety. The Godfather has given us the marching music to get our stuff together by: “Why don’t you and I, let’s just get downright funky and do that thing we know is gonna make us downright funky?” The question is: what makes you get downright funky? Type of pocket: Backbone (that simple, fundamental go-go beat that started a movement and organizes the creativity of all other bands to follow Chuck’s footsteps). Grade: B+. —Deidre R. Gantt
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