Dave Chappelle recently appeared on "Inside the Actor's Studio" with James Lipton. During his introduction, Lipton described Chappelle as "the voice of a generation." Granted, Lipton's bombastic, over-dramatized statements are perfect fodder for parody on comedy shows like "Saturday Night Live," but this one regarding Chappelle's importance may just be realistic -- and "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" is convincing evidence.
Two years ago, Chappelle hosted a block party in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. Far from supplying a few kegs of beer and asking residents to bring a dish to pass, Chappelle rallied a dream team of hip-hop performers -- Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, John Legend, Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, The Roots and even the disbanded Fugees (a dream lineup of its own: Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras) -- to perform for free.
All of these acts have enjoyed some popular success, and everyone should recognize marquee names like West, who is arguably one of the most important rappers to emerge in this new millennium. However, from the plentiful backstage and pre-concert footage, it's clear that Chappelle had more than pop-culture status in mind when he configured this lineup; all of these artists personify the contemporary black experience, and most of them have highly-politicized themes running throughout their work.
In other words, they embody some facet of the persona Chappelle has honed on-stage and in two seasons of "The Chappelle Show" on Comedy Central -- which have gone on to become two of the bestselling DVDs of all time. In the tradition of Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy, Chappelle has inherited the role of chief purveyor of race relations, allowing blacks and whites alike to re-examine stereotypes and bigotry in a non-threatening, entertainment venue.
"Block Party" is a must-see for fans of Chappelle and hip-hop alike. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Gondry and his "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" cinematographer Ellen Kuras capture all of the concert excitement, along with extensive backstage and rehearsal footage.
It's simply hard not to like Chappelle, especially as he mixes with small-town folk in Ohio (where he lived for part of his childhood and currently resides), passing out "golden tickets" -- good for all-inclusive trips to Brooklyn -- to old, white gas-station owners and young, black student. For most, it would be their first trip to New York City.
With his laidback style of wit and sharp social commentary, Chappelle has the Midas touch.
"Dave Chappelle's Block Party", rated R for language, is now playing in select theaters nationwide.