Music

Dave Chappelle’s Power As Both Curator And Performer Shines During His Epic Radio City Run

When Dave Chappelle announced his 16-show residency at Radio City Music Hall with musical guests, fans knew he couldn’t finish the run without the legendary Yasiin Bey. On Wednesday night (August 23), a day before Chappelle’s birthday and final show at Radio City, the rapper-actor-activist retracted his own claims of retirement by performing a buoyant set featuring a reunion of Mos Def and Talib Kweli as Black Star.

Dave and Yasiin go way back. To get an idea of how long they’ve known each other, the comedian showed a clip from his 2003 appearance on The Chappelle Show where Mos Def was the first musical guest. The video noted that this was “20 years” before Carpool Karaoke even existed. It showed Mos riding shotgun with Dave as they drive around New York City. Mos is rapping lyrics to “Close Edge” from The New Danger, and Dave nods along with a focus and a smile on his face. It’s by far one of the most iconic scenes in hip-hop’s history, shedding light on the rapper’s talent, even if he’s sometimes been deemed conscious or too underground to succeed in the mainstream. Chappelle disagreed.

The essence of Chappelle’s entire Radio City gig felt like a live rendition of The Chappelle Show, as Dave curated a program of comedy and message-driven hip-hop for a mass audience. Chappelle had opening acts that ranged from former cast members (Donnell Rawlings) to Bill Bellamy, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Tucker. Cipha Sounds was our DJ for the evening, occasionally shouting out who was in the building; the genre’s gatekeepers like Fab 5 Freddy and Busy Bee, as well as contemporary stars like A$AP Ferg, who performed “New Level” and “Work” later. I was sitting in a row with respected New York rap promoter Peter Oasis along with Rawkus Records co-founder and Uproxx publisher Jarret Myer. Behind us, Robert Glasper and some friends were enjoying the show.

Throughout the night, Bey was elated. Flanked by two DJs, a droptop lowrider in the center, and black, red, and gold balloons on stage, he opened with a cover of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” before interpolating those same lyrics into “Close Edge.” Bey seemed to be enjoying the grooves of his own songs, conveying a positive energy that was both exuberant and warm. He’d occasionally pick petals from the red rose arrangements on either DJ booth, dropping them around the ground for added elegance. “You could be anywhere in the world, and you chose to spend it with us,” he said.

Later, Bey paid his respects to Prodigy of Mobb Deep by playing “Shook Ones (Part II).” He honored Phife Dawg by rapping his verse on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Butter.” And last but certainly not least, he saluted The Notorious B.I.G. with “Juicy.” This set up an easy tie-in to “Auditorium,” which featured Slick Rick in gaudy jewelry ripping his verse.

Three years ago, Chappelle used his influence to reunite Black Star during a smaller, 10-show run at Radio City, and here he did it again. If Bey announces a serious retirement, you may never see Black Star on tour ever again, so hearing these songs live felt like we were transported back to the Rawkus days. Black Star did “Astronomy (8th Light),” “Definition,” “Respiration,” and played hype man for each other’s solo songs. Hi-Tek joined the pair to rap Reflection Eternal collaborations with Talib, which is another rare sight to see.

Black Star wrapped up their set with their two biggest songs: “Get By” and “Umi Says.” Kweli was very adamant about saying “F*ck Donald Trump!” in “Get By.” On the other hand, Bey wanted to leave on an optimistic note with “Umi Says,” leaving us in high spirits for Chappelle’s closing act.

Chappelle has earned a reputation for his nonchalant style on stage. If you thought this would be a standard affair of him sitting down on a stool, smoking a cigarette, and cracking edgy jokes about everyday topics, well, sort of. Chappelle thrives in the live setting, working the stage and feeding off the audience whenever they scream obscenities and pleasantries to him. Throughout the month, there have been strong criticisms written about him because a large percentage of his new material contains jokes that bluntly address the transgender experience.

Tonight, he stuck to that same agenda. We got to hear his takes on hot button topics like Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military and North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill which restricts public restroom access for trans people.

With our phones locked up in pouches, he was happy to admit something personal about his comedy. “I’ve made a policy about myself,” he says. “I would never feel bad for what I say up here.” He later tells us that he doesn’t have a problem with transgender people, but just with the dialogue that surrounds transgender people. Yet, he’s also very aware about what is being said about him, deciding to use this time to address negative reviews about his Netflix specials, referencing Complex’s “Let’s Talk About Dave Chappelle’s Bad Rape Jokes” and others articles he’s read.

Later, the focus shifted to other targets of his ire like Rachel Dolezal (he wishes that she changes her name to a more African American sounding one if she’s going to commit — like Draymond Green), Michael Jackson (He’s the “Jay-Z for kids”), and Donald Trump (He voted for Hillary, but he says it felt “bittersweet”). In regards to the incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia, he plaintively says he doesn’t like the “Tiki torch whites,” which is actually a pretty funny nickname for white supremacists and Neo-Nazis.

Still, Chappelle has gotten backlash this year for telling people to give Trump a chance. While he addressed how ludicrous it is that Trump is trying to take manufacturing jobs from China, encouraging more coal mining in the US, and picking fights with North Korea, he finally agrees with the majority of the nation that “Trump’s doing a terrible job. He’s crazy.”

But, he closed with some interesting thoughts. Earlier in the night, he says that “Trump will save this nation by accident.” His finals words expanded on this idea before he left the stage, saying we should all “stay woke” because “Trump is a lie, but he could save us.” In some weird way, a looming catastrophe in Trump’s four-year presidency may yield some beacon of hope. Maybe.

Afterwards, he wanted to say rest in peace to legends Charlie Murphy, Dick Gregory, and Jerry Lewis. He thanked everyone who opened for him, including Mos and Talib who came back out to give him daps. Then an after-show tradition: Rawlings screamed “I’m rich biatch!” into his mic like old times.

Even if Chappelle walks a dangerous line with his stand-up these days, you can’t deny his ability to make some incredible things happen. Thankfully, we were there to watch a dream line-up of comedians and musicians come true.

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