Drake caught a lot of flak over the weekend for his attempt to appeal to the crowd during the D.C. stop of his Summer Sixteen tour. Drake’s earnest, if awkward, which is kind of Drake in a nutshell, riff on his hit single “One Dance” featuring the signature congas of D.C.’s homegrown music genre would have been mostly appreciated if he hadn’t mistakenly attributed the instrumental he was singing over to the wrong band. That, of course, was not that “Backyard sh*t.” That was that Chuck Brown sh*t.
Now this probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to people outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area–and sadly, it’s beginning to mean less and less inside the beltway these days–but it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate the great Chuck Brown on his birthday while explaining Drake’s gaffe a little further for those outsiders who don’t understand.
The band Drake referenced last weekend, Backyard, is a legendary go-go band from Washington, D.C. Many people outside of the area may be familiar with their front man Big G aka Anwan Glover. The tall, gravelly voiced, Northwest D.C. native famously played the tall, gravelly voiced, Baltimore shooter Slim Charles on The Wire.
Gaining prominence as the premier band in the city in the mid-1990s and holding on to that title for many years to follow, Backyard was known as the “Bad Boys of Go-Go.” They did street-oriented, harder music that included a lot of covers of hip-hop, more rapping, including freestyles from legendary rapper Los. They also had a reputation for having real connections to the streets and neighborhoods of D.C.
As legendary as Backyard is Chuck Brown is the legend. Brown is the unquestioned Godfather of go-go music. He is go-go’s Kool Herc. Without him, nothing else that followed exists. His innovation, blending call and response, blues, funk, and soul, with heavy percussion and non-stop pockets of continuous music are akin to early Bronx DJs finding the best parts of records and figuring out how to make them last forever. Chuck, and his contemporaries, influenced music well beyond the DMV from Trouble Funk’s rapid fire percussion helping LL Cool J “Rock the Bells” to Beyonce’s heart-racing horn break and congas in “Crazy in Love.”
So to be clear, when Drake used one of Chuck Brown’s last local hits called “Chuck Baby” as the backdrop for an impromptu “One Dance” remix last week but name dropped Backyard Band, it threw a lot of D.C. natives like myself for a loop.
I’m having trouble thinking of a good analogy, but think of it like an outsider trying to appeal to a group of hip-hop fans, but instead confusing Grandmaster Flash with Wu-Tang Clan.
I think most people appreciate Drake attempting to connect with the fans, but we love our homegrown talent and legends here and just wished he had gotten it right.
That said, it’s a teachable moment, and I hope people try to learn more about Chuck Brown, Rare Essence, Northeast Groovers, Backyard, Junkyard, UCB, TCB, and all of the other bands that created the sound of my formative years and something that belongs to the natives of Washington, D.C.
Thank you Chuck. Happy Birthday and Rest In Peace.