Doug E. Fresh talks spiritual connection to Go-Go music: ‘I’m going to continue to share that celebration’
"Go-Go has always been in hip-hop and we've always appreciated it as beats that we would play that we love," the rap legend exclusively tells theGrio.
Much can be said of Doug E. Fresh. He is a rapper, human beat-boxer, and entrepreneur best known for rap classics like “The Show,” “La-Di-Da-Di” and “Risin’ To The Top.” The rapper also has a stellar reputation as one of the most consistently exciting live performers in rap history.
Most importantly, he is an authentic American griot; a shepherd of hip hop history, a mentor of rap royalty like Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One, and the late Biz Markie. Doug is a master of paying it forward for one generation after another. So, it makes sense that he would pay homage to one of those who inspired him, the late Chuck Brown.
In September, Doug released his latest album, This One’s For Chuck Brown: Doug E. Fresh Salutes The Godfather of Go-Go. The project is a live recording of tracks from Doug’s catalog, refashioned into Go-Go arrangements to honor the late music pioneer. Doug spoke with theGrio about the album, his admiration and relationship with Brown, and the synergy between hip hop and Go-Go.
Doug says his first introduction to Go-Go music was in 1982 when he would hear Brown’s ubiquitous classic, “Bustin’ Loose,” while in game rooms during his youth but didn’t make the connection until 1985 when Rev Run of Run DMC insisted he see Brown up close and personal at a tour stop at the Capitol Theater in Washington, D.C.
“He told me, ‘Have I ever seen the Go-Go set?’ And I said No,” Doug said. “He said, ‘Well, tonight is gonna blow your mind because Chuck Brown is here. And it’s crazy,’ he said. You’ve never seen nothing like this.’”
When Doug went to the show, he realized Run was right. He was in awe of the crowd’s reaction to Brown and his band. “It was 20,000 people moving in harmony. It was like they were all on the same wavelength.”
What was even more surprising was after the show when Doug went backstage to meet Brown, he found that the “Godfather of Go-Go” already knew who he was, disclosing that Go-Go bands all over town had been covering his rap tracks. This began a long, fruitful working relationship between the two legends. They collaborated on stage together throughout the years, including Brown’s last show before his passing in 2012.
Since their first meeting, Doug would incorporate at least one Go-Go song per album going forward. He explained that Go-Go can be heard in several Black music genres, particularly Hip Hop and contemporary R&B. However, the essence of what makes Go-Go what it is often gets diluted in the mix of the records.
“Now, Beyoncé’s song “Crazy in Love?” That’s Go-Go. But even though it was Go-Go, the percussions are not sitting up so high that it’s in its purest form. What creates the pure form of it is the level, the levels that you put it up you, see,” Doug said.
“Go-Go has always been in hip hop and we’ve always appreciated it as beats that we would play that we love. But at the same time, when you bring down the percussion, it becomes more hip-hop and less Go-Go. And when you bring up the percussion, it becomes more Go-Go and hip hop, and it’s interesting.”
Doug also explained that Go-Go would always be diluted to a certain respect because people can’t fully appreciate its full magnitude without seeing it in person. For that reason, he decided to record the album live to give the listeners the closest representation of what it is to be fully immersed in the music.
“I want to introduce that whole Go-Go energy,” Doug said. “And when I made this album, I did it so that when people are home they can at least feel the same kind of energy or close to it, that they were going out to something live because people don’t make live albums no more for that live effect. And I knew it was a chance. But hey, creators take chances.”
Beyond just the percussive similarities, Doug also connected the two genres with the method of communicating with the audience, call and response.
“One of the foundations of hip-hop is call and response. Before the rhyme, call and response was at the root of it. And the guy who created that was DJ Hollywood. And so Hollywood, Lovebug Starsky, Busy Bee, Kurtis Blow, these are the architects of call and response. So am I, I learned directly from Hollywood. So that skillset, I’m the last of that line.”
With that in mind, Doug embarked on the difficult task of going through his catalog to find the right songs to be reimagined in Go-Go form. He said that numerous songs worked, but the ones that wound up on the album were that perfect blend of Go-Go and hip hop spirit.
“The way that “I’m Getting Ready” was played, and “Play This Only At Night,” and “The Show,” the way that all of these kind of came together naturally, I felt like this represents Go-Go in its purest form with all of the injections of the hip hop and the battle of the drummer, Biz Markie slided [sic} on there without me knowing what’s coming and scratching. So I felt that this represented everything that needed to be seen on this particular project because this one’s for Chuck.”
As it turned out, the album would also be a swan song of sorts for Biz Markie. One of Doug’s numerous proteges and comrades in hip hop, Biz made a surprise appearance on the album’s version of “The Show,” and it wound up being one of his last live performances prior to his 2020 hospitalization that ultimately led to his passing earlier this year.
“I never knew that this would be the last that we would perform together like that live, you know,” Doug said of Biz. “And for me, it makes me feel like I think it was supposed to happen that way. Biz started with me, and it seems like he’s finishing with me.”
Beyond Biz, Kane, and KRS, Doug has also been a teacher for Notorious B.I.G., Puffy, and Public Enemy, whether showing them how to relate to an audience, engage with others on stage, or other kinds of general music advice. However, he feels that the art of paying it forward, like how Brown did for him as well, has dwindled in hip hop culture, and he hopes that he can still inspire others to help each other.
“So while I’m here, I’m going to continue to share that celebration, and share how we can better ourselves as artists and reach the people with something that means something instead of just being, you know, just about me, me, me, me, me.”
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