Music has long been the soundtrack of protest, and the current time is no exception. As thousands take to the streets to call for an end to the widespread police violence that claims Black lives, music is a constant companion. Protesters chant, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” H.E.R. sings “I can’t breathe.” Johnniqua Charles tells a security guard, “You about to lose yo job,” and creates a #DefundThePolice bop on the spot.
This Black Music Month, TV One debuts The Beat Don’t Stop, a documentary that explores the roots and power of go-go, a music genre popularized by Washington D.C. hometown hero Chuck Brown that quickly became the rhythmic voice of the Chocolate City. Executive produced by Cathy Hughes and filled with archival photos and footage of go-gos and the people who rocked them, the film features interviews with go-go pioneers, proponents and historians, including Backyard Band, Doug E. Fresh and Angie Ange. Here are the top three reasons to spend time with this perfectly-timed doc.
The music is fire. Even for those whose only experience with go-go is E.U.’s “Da’ Butt,” immortalized in Spike Lee’s School Daze, it’s impossible to hear Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers sit in the pocket and not be moved. It’s a sound that’s distinctly Black, driven by a baseline that stirs the body and the soul. This documentary traces the story of go-go, from the first time Rare Essence’s Tyrone “Jungle Boogie” Williams laid his hands on the congas, to the days when Maiesha and the Hip Huggers showed us that women could move a crowd too, to Wale’s “Ice Cream Girl.”
The history is poignant. As Tone P of District Funk Records says in the film, go-go is the indigenous music of D.C. But the driving element—the drums—have roots that stretch back to Africa. The heartbeat they create has given us life us for centuries, carrying us through the horrors of slavery, moving our feet in moments of progress. That connection isn’t lost on Dr. Natalie Hopkinson, Howard University professor and author of Go-Go Live. “Viewers get to experience Black joy, community, connection and resilience. These are the characteristics that have allowed Black people to survive from slavery up until now,” she says.
The activism is instructive. For the last 25 years, it’s been impossible to pass the corner of 7th Avenue and Florida Avenue N.W. in Washington D.C. without hearing go-go played at danceable decibels. But in 2019, new white residents threatened lawsuits in an attempt to silence the music. The film documents how people held massive go-gos in the streets of the historically Black neighborhood as part of the Don’t Mute D.C. campaign, co-created by Hopkinson and activist Ronald Moten. The result was a major blow against gentrification. “When you mix music with protests, it’s a powerful sound that cannot be ignored. We were able to change policies in education, health and culture, and there is no reason why we can’t do the same on a national level,” says Hopkinson. “In a world that wants us to be colorblind, we are demanding to be seen in HD.”
The Beat Don’t Stop premieres on TV One on June 21 at 8 p.m. ET. Watch an exclusive clip below.