American stand-up Dave Chappelle tries to erase some of the guilt he felt after signing a $50 million contract with cable channel “Comedy Central” by organising a free, star-studded rap concert in Brooklyn.
“Block Party” interweaves clips of Chappelle handing out Willy Wonka-style golden tickets (the lucky owner receives free transport to the venue, food, and a weekend stay in a plush hotel) to members of the public who would never usually go to a rap concert, with rousing performances from the live show. The astonishing list of performers includes Kanye West, John Legend, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Big Daddy Kane, The Roots and, for the first time in 8 years, the reformed Fugees.
Even for a non rap enthusiast, hearing Kanye West singing “Jesus Walks” as he marches through the streets of Brooklyn accompanied by a 50-strong brass band is an unadulterated joy. And seeing Lauryn Hill reunited with Wyclef Jean and Pras for the “Killing Me Softly” finale is a strangely emotional experience.
It is also nice to see the performers toning down their swearing for once – the audience included hundreds of local kids - so that the rap comes across more a joyous celebration than a foul-mouthed tirade as is too often the case.
In between the tunes, Chappelle proves to be the perfect host, mixing jokes from his stand-up routine - “How many white people does it take to change a light bulb? None, they’ll just get a nigger to do it for them” – with freestyle wit such as the rap “battle” with a man pulled from the crowd who he christens “Mr.T”.
Apart from Chappelle’s comic interludes, the music remains the main reason for seeing “Block Party”, and four extended performances from the likes of Dead Prez, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane are the high point of the special features package.
However, it seems strange that Gondry and co. don’t allow us to see complete version of every song featured on the soundtrack, particularly as most of them are cut to shreds in the film. Elsewhere, we get a "Making of" featurette that chronicles Chappelle’s struggle to get the whole thing started, and a 20-minute vignette entitled “Ohio Players: the bus ride” featuring the young brass band that star in the concert. Sadly there is no talk-track from the director or his star.
The hunt for the best soundtrack of 2006 is over thanks to this uplifting, if slightly disjointed, documentary from Michael “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” Gondry.
In fact, the only real problem with “Block Party” is Gondry’s insistence on cutting haphazardly in and out of the songs rather than allowing us to see the full performances in all their glory.
Staring: Dave Chappelle, Kanye West, John Legend, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Big Daddy Kane, The Roots, The Fugees
Directed by: Michael Gondry
Extras: Extended music acts, Ohio Players: the bus ride, 'September In Brooklyn': the making of the film documentary