Washington, D.C., and its culture absolutely changed my life. I was first introduced to D.C.—outside of the national stories about Marion Barry—in a pre-freshman program the summer before my freshman year at Morehouse College in 1997. A few of the students in the program were from D.C. and they all stood out for their fashion choices, vocal inflections and attitude. I’d wager that program—Center of Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering—was largely the first time most of us had been exposed to the cultural dynamics of other U.S. cities. (I grew up in Germany for the most part, so I was more exposed to other countries than U.S. subcultures).
One of the things D.C. folks exposed me to was go-go, or at least introduced it to me as an actual musical scene and culture. I’d seen School Daze and knew of E.U.’s song “Da Butt,” but I don’t think I really knew of it as a “thing.” School Daze came out in 1988, so I probably saw it sometime when I was somewhere between 9- and 12-years-old; at that point, I was just starting to truly dig into music in a cultural way.
The D.C. folks had an ENTIRE ass subculture to themselves. It was always easy to point them out on campus, and the debates about which go-go band cranked the hardest were always entertaining because when they invited us into their discussions, they’d load up cassette tapes with the worst sonics of all time, making it pretty hard to see merits to any argument—think Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) with worse studio equipment. Almost all of their evidence was some live show recorded and then transferred to tape, dubbed thousands of times and thrown in the car to sound like absolute shit.
But eventually, I got used to the lo-fi sound and during Homecoming of 1998 (I’m pretty sure it was 1998), Backyard Band came down to Atlanta to perform at The Masquerade. Experiencing the culture live changed the whole game for me. Granted, we were in Atlanta, but literally every Atlanta University Center (AUC) student from D.C. (which between the four undergrad institutions of the AUC could have easily totaled in the 500-plus range) turned the city into D.C. that night.
I saw things on that stage from which I have yet to recover, but the vibe and feel and culture was present. I started delving into the music, adopted D.C. as a hometown of sorts (even though to that point, I’d yet to even visit), and bought as much go-go as I could find. The most popular groups at the time, or at least the ones for which you could find musical selections at the old Earwax Records store on Peachtree Street in Atlanta were Junk Yard Band, Rare Essence and Backyard Band. One record I picked up was Junk Yard Band’s 1994 studio album, Creepin’ Thru Da Hoodz, and the song that I enjoyed most on it was “Loose Booty.”
Junk Yard Band “Loose Booty” (1994)
I still love this song and this recording. For one, it’s a studio recording, so it actually sounds good in the car. Though go-go recordings have gotten better—I still have a dude I buy go-go CDs from near the New York Avenue NW and New Jersey Avenue NW intersection by the I-395 tunnel and they don’t sound half-bad—there’s nothing like clear sound that knocks in the car. Also, this song has a hell of a swing to it, but once that heavy percussion work gets in there is absolute energy. Then they interpolate Silk’s “Freak Me” into the song. The shit just works on every level and I love it. It’s far from the most popular or best go-go song, but it just works and I love when I hear it in clubs.
In the wake of the #DontMuteDC movement and D.C.’s attempt (hopefully not futile) to stave off the entire erasure of the city’s culture, go-go has become front and center in the battle of Old D.C. versus New D.C., which means you hear a lot more go-go in the city. Still, while you hear go-go more than ever in D.C., the music seems to be fading from prominence even in predominantly black neighborhoods. I live in one of those neighborhoods where block parties are the norm and I don’t hear nearly as much go-go as you’d think.
While the music has remained mostly local, there have been several starts and stops at going national (“Da Butt” charted, and various songs by other groups have gained traction more recently; think Rare Essence’s “Overnight Scenario” and cover of Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces Of Me,” Backyard’s cover of Adele’s “Hello,” Wale’s “Pretty Girls,” etc.). From its beginnings with Chuck Brown, you could spend a significant amount of time learning about the different styles and the culture, clubs and Washington, D.C., as a whole through go-go.
And what better way to celebrate during Black Music Month than with an ode to booty—with one of the blackest musical genres from one of the (at least at the time) blackest cities to ever do it.