Make sure to crash this ‘Block Party’

Dave Chappelle puts beats to his politics and a message to his ‘madness’

Keri Carlson

Fighting for a cause often seems frivolous these days. Those who protest the war, fur or Angelina stealing Brad only recall the temporary idealism of 1960s hippies. It’s hard not to envision youthful, change-the-world attitudes reduced to minivans and soccer games 20 years from now.

Perhaps this is why when Dave Chappelle walked away from his $50 million contract with Comedy Central, rumor had it Chappelle went crazy or on a drug binge. Why else would someone give up that much money? Dude’s a crazy crackhead Ö bitch!

Last month, Chappelle went on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to set the rumors straight. Chappelle asserted that with the money came major stress, and he thought the show was headed in the wrong direction. If Chappelle were to return to television, he told Oprah, one of the conditions would be that the profits from DVD sales go to the less fortunate. What a hippie.

But a better way to understand Chappelle’s decision and character beyond just the image from his sketch routines is to watch his film “Block Party.” The half concert, half comedy documentary follows Chappelle as he tries to do something meaningful with his money.

For anyone who has seen “Chappelle’s Show,” it’s obvious Chappelle is not safe or politically correct. So the question is: How does one act politically while still being cynical? Chappelle takes the George Clinton approach of “free your mind and your ass will follow”: He throws a party.

Chappelle threw the Brooklyn underground block party in 2004, soon after he signed the $50 million deal. Much of “Block Party” follows Chappelle mapping out his vision for the show. And there’s definitely a mythological sense of freedom and possibility that Chappelle creates around the concert by making it seem as though he could make anything he wanted happen. He even got The Fugees to reunite!

Some of the funniest scenes in the film come from Chappelle handing out tickets – a la Willy Wonka – in his hometown, Dayton, Ohio, to come to the Brooklyn show. Chappelle walks around town spontaneously handing out the “golden” tickets, asking passers-by, “Do you want to go to a hip-hop concert?”

The actual concert has some pretty spectacular footage of Dead Prez, Mos Def and Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu singing with Jill Scott on a Roots song. All the artists Chappelle invited fit well into the relaxed block party environment, but like Chappelle himself, there’s a strong social and political consciousness to their music.

Chappelle doesn’t seem to have illusions that his party will save the world. But at the same time he didn’t just throw a party purely for fun. It’s the small details in “Block Party” that make the film more than simply funny or about good music. Chappelle invites the local college marching band to come play, and while in Brooklyn he stops and hangs out with the kids at a preschool near the block party’s location.

They’re not the most grandiose gestures, but they’re genuine and heartwarming. And after “Block Party” it’s easy to see where Chappelle’s coming from. He’s seeing something bigger than $50 million.