Go-go, the official music of Washington, D.C., is the focus of the documentary “The Beat Don’t Stop,” which recently premiered on TV One.
The documentary shows the evolution of go-go music from its humble beginnings in Chocolate City during the soul music era to what it has become today.
“I believe that the beat of go-go music is in our DNA,” said Maiesha Rashad, a go-go icon and frontwoman of the all-women band Maiesha and the Hip Huggers. Rashad died June 15 after a recent diagnosis of stomach cancer.
Numerous D.C. and national music legends such as Mike “Funky Ned” Neal, Sugar Bear, DJ Kool and Doug E. Fresh are featured in the documentary, highlighting the energy, spirit and showmanship reflected in the essence of D.C. culture that took the local music scene by storm.
Created and grown across quadrants of the District, the rise of go-go music is somewhat of a microcosm of a bigger story of race, class battles and lifestyle of the city.
In the documentary, go-go veterans recall the tribal-like pride of their youths when their favorite musicians would shout out their neighborhoods.
“Your neighborhood becomes part of the song. It’s like, ‘Oh, my man from Sursum Corda,’ ‘my man from Southeast,’” said music producer Kevin L. Blackmon. “That’s what we’re waiting to hear on. We became the songs. Who needs lyrics? We are the lyrics. They’re talking about us.”
The beloved Chuck Brown’s influence and reign in the go-go world is also evident in the documentary through the remembrance and homage paid by musicians and journalists alike. Brown not only paved the way, but led the direction for later generational leaders to come.
As the crack epidemic ravaged the city in the 1980s, the genre caught flack for the violence occurring at go-go concerts and parties across the city. The narrative highlighted what many viewed as a racially charged prejudice against the art form, which its defenders say was unfairly scapegoated amid the drug-fueled violence in the city at the time.
Nationally, radio did not initially respond to the raw instrumentation and unique format of go-go. It was Cathy Hughes’ WOL station that served as the first station to embrace go-go, when others wouldn’t.
“I always sought to represent the underrepresented,” Hughes said. “I always gave voice to the voiceless. And go-go was very much in that.”
E.U.’s “The Butt” became a huge hit in the mid-1980s after Donnie Simpson broke the record on radio, introducing many outside of D.C to go-go for the first time and opening the doors for its exposure in national markets.
“We were creating culture ourselves that people throughout the country adapted to,” said community activist Ronald L. Moten, one of the organizers of the Don’t Mute DC movement that eventually led to the city formally adopting the genre.