"I'm Rick James, bitch."
With those four simple words strung together, Dave Chappelle became a pop culture phenomenon. For years, Chappelle found success on the stand-up circuit and with supporting roles in a variety of films ("Con Air", "Robin Hood: Men in Tights", "You've Got Mail"), but it wasn't until "Chappelle's Show" debuted on Comedy Central that he absolutely exploded. The sketch comedy series was uproarious, irreverent, and frequently quotable ("Cocaine's a helluva drug."). Suddenly, the show was done.
Chappelle walked off the series, and a $50 million deal, while in mid-production of the third season. Perhaps, success came too hard and too fast for the comedian or did the network higher-ups decide to grab a tighter grip around their newest meal ticket? Whatever the case, nobody will talk about how the show "jumped the shark" as Chappelle quit while he was ahead.
"Block Party" takes place in September of 2004, after the $50 million deal, but before Chappelle threw in the towel. On the 18th, Chappelle plans to throw a block party at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn. The party will feature an assortment of Chappelle's favorite hip-hop artists, including Kanye West, Mos Def, The Roots, Common, Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Jill Scott, Big Daddy Kane, and the Fugees, whose reunion for one night came about at the last minute.
The film starts a few days earlier as Chappelle visits Ohio, specifically his hometown of Yellow Springs and the nearby Dayton. Chappelle says, "Hi", to old friends and makes like Willy Wonka by passing out golden tickets to the various people he meets. The tickets entitle the recipient to a bus ride and hotel room. Chappelle gives them to two black students he bumps into, his barber, and the lady who runs the convenience store where Chappelle buys cigarettes. He also happens upon the Central State University marching band and invites them to come along too. The kids are in for quite a thrill as they get to make an entrance with Kanye West (who opens the concert) and receive some one-on-one time with Wyclef Jean.
The party location is a character unto itself. On the block, there is a daycare center once attended by Biggie Smalls and a piecemeal building called the Broken Angel House. The House is owned by an eccentric couple and the interior looks like a bombed out version of Chutes and Ladders. The party goers were all told about the location in person, secondhand, or through the internet. Despite going down to the wire, everything goes off without a hitch, even some unwelcome rain doesn't dampen the celebration.
And that's what "Block Party" is, a celebration of the hip-hop culture. The performances are interspersed throughout the picture along with interviews and footage of the goings-on behind-the-scenes. Folks expecting this to be "Eddie Murphy: Raw" or "Chappelle's Show: The Movie" will likely be disappointed. Don't expect to see skits and impressions. Still, Chappelle cracks plenty of jokes and goofs around quite a bit. He comes off as naturally funny and a genuinely nice guy.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film was shot in digital, so there's just a bit of grain and the colors are a little dull. This isn't a bad transfer, it just has to do more with the limitations of the medium.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, which is just great for listening to the concert. It will literally be music to your ears.
September in Brooklyn: Making of Block Party runs almost half an hour and goes into the planning and making of the concert. This is by no means your standard EPK fluff piece, it's much more of an extension to the actual film.
Ohio Players runs about 20 minutes and follows the various concert goers that Dave Chappelle invited from Ohio. We see them packing up, traveling to Brooklyn, and hobnobbing with celebrities. Again, this is much more of an extension to the actual film.
You'll also get an option of playing the film with extended musical performances.
I'm not much of a hip-hop fan. I was only aware of about half the performers and only listen to one (The Fugees). As such, I found myself skimming past a few of the songs I didn't particularly care for. That doesn't make "Block Party" a bad film. There's plenty of warm and funny moments throughout. It was as if Chappelle wanted to tell the world, "Yeah, I got $50 million, but I'll never forget where I came from." I'd say, mission accomplished. For fans of hip-hop and Chappelle, "Block Party" is definitely recommended.