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The last time D.C. was able to boast three world sports championships within a decade, the year was 1992 and Washington’s NFL franchise had defeated the Buffalo Bills 37-24 at Super Bowl XXVI. Simultaneously, Rare Essence’s “Lock It” was the hottest go-go song in the city, and made the soundtrack for the film Strictly Business. The D.C. of 2019, sadly, isn’t what it was in 1992. For fans of all things classic Washingtoniana, 2019 is a constant reminder of how disheartening urban renewal can be. There are upwards of 30 cranes in the sky at present in the city. It’s literally hard to look skyward and get a sense of clarity for what’s next for D.C..
But on Oct. 30, 2019, D.C.’s ability—when the situation is right—to reclaim its roots and celebrate championship glory reminiscent of another era, became apparent.
The day before Halloween, 2019, should be remembered as the first situation showcasing the best direction D.C. can take: Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie proposed to the Council that go-go should be officially recognized as the music of the District of Columbia; D.C.-area hip-hop export Wale performed at NPR’s Tiny Desk Festival; and yes, also, the Washington Nationals joined the Washington Capitals and Washington Mystics in bringing a third world sports championship to D.C. in two years. An old-style D.C. day in brand new surroundings, it proved that metaphorical new dogs could learn old tricks, too. It was the most hopeful of D.C. days in quite some time.
“Eat the good mumbo sauce, trust the local people, and don’t ever, ever, ever mute D.C.,” Wale stated at the end of his performance in front of a capacity crowd surrounding Bob Boilen’s fourth-floor desk at Northeast D.C.’s National Public Radio offices. Tiny Desk Fest is actually a big deal. And D.C. being the home of the wildly popular NPR brand and its ironically not-so-intimate concert series is emblematic of so much of this city’s expansion from “sleepy southern capital” to “global socio-cultural hub.” Given that Megan Thee Stallion is the other rapper who has performed at the Fest so far—she of #hotgirlsummer hashtag fame—gives one a sense of how significant Wale currently is as an artist.
Wale’s artistic boom came in 2009, as D.C. both began its cultural ascent and its unmooring from its entrenched cultural traditions. Here’s a Wale- and emergent D.C.-related point worth considering: The funky, feet-beating, conga-saturated call-and-response march on uptown D.C. that Moechella hath wrought likely could have been averted. Wale took ten years to truly evolve into an emotionally available and nationally renowned artist. Last night, he finally presented himself as a fully realized creative force worthy of full praise. If 2009 Wale had the catalog and welcoming charisma to melt an entire room of largely just-arrived Washingtonians with a six-piece go-go band playing soul ballads like “Lotus Flower Bomb” and current pop favorite “On Chill,” and then turn the proceedings over to Tre Johnson to sing iconic UCB go-go anthem “Sexy Lady,” #dontmuteDC may not have been necessary.
As for the day at the Wilson Building, I helped a few friends prepare their testimony highlighting go-go’s appeal as a local, national, and global ambassador of goodwill for America’s capital city, celebrated. Instead of being seen as anachronistic preservers of memories, those who testified were saviors of the city’s common good.
When author, journalist, and noted go-go advocate Natalie Hopkinson stated at the hearing that #dontmuteDC was “a violent and ugly process,” because “the people are here but you can’t hear the sound,” she was correct. Moreover, when she noted that “go-go and affiliated cultural industries have employed hundreds of Washingtonians and allowed D.C. to survive mass incarceration, providing jobs, purpose, and creativity,” she spoke truth to power and accurately stated the genre’s profound history. The statement’s most profound strength? It created a mission statement for what go-go can best provide all city residents moving forward.
After leaving NPR and checking in via text with friends who were at the Wilson Building, I arrived in my apartment to find the Nats down by two runs in the seventh inning. Anthony Rendon was coming up to the plate. I remembered a similar scene from more than a month earlier: On Sept. 24 I saw the Nationals play the Philadelphia Phillies in the early half of a doubleheader. I went because I had a free afternoon, and booing Bryce Harper would be mindless early-fall entertainment. But once in the park, something caught my eye. I saw that the Nationals situational hitting had improved immensely. I remarked to the guy keeping a box score near me that the Nats ability to get it going when they absolutely had to get it going was on the level of teams that win the World Series. “I hope,” he cackled, and marked down a backwards “K.” A Nationals hitter had struck out looking.
Back in real time, I pulled a snack from the refrigerator. With a garlic parmesan chicken drumstick in my mouth as Rendon sent Houston hurler Zach Greinke’s pitch over the left field wall at Minute Maid Park, I screamed, “Yep! We’re gonna do it!”
An hour later, we had.
Oct. 30, 2019 was the day that D.C. finally did it. After enduring so much, we, as a city, finally saw our best self became apparent. In this moment we discovered—unmuted and undefeatable—our best future.