We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Every worthy sociopolitical movement deserves an anthem, and #DontMuteDC is about to get one of its own.
The new track “#DontMuteDC,” a collaboration between Rare Essence, producer/rapper Tone P, and red-hot local rappers Noochie and Lightshow drops this Friday on all platforms. From its very start—“They try to call our music noise, go-go, heartbeat of the city, sound of Washington D.C., old school to new school, RE, Tone P, let’s get it”—the song is defiant, powerful, and maybe even great, with unmistakable messaging and slashing guitars over aggressive, fast-paced percussion that’s not really bounce beat, and not really a socket beat, but something in between.
The song’s hook—“They try to tell us turn the noise down”—is provided by Rare Essence’s female lead vocalist Tabria Dixon and Tone P. The call-and-response styled chant that follows, “DontMuteDC,” is repeated by Tone P, who recorded himself 20 times in different pitches, reiterating the message that go-go is most definitely not getting out of anyone’s way.
Tone P, who is best known for his work with Wale, grew up on bounce beat bands UCB and Raw Image. He enlisted a remarkable array of talent for this track, which also showcases a range of generations as well as the influences of traditional go-go, bounce beat, and even some rock. The percussion was laid down by Rare Essence’s Samuel “Smoke” Dews and drummer Kenny “Kwick” Gross; Tone P’s District Funk partner Olu played guitar.
“What I do is take younger artists and get them on songs with older prominent bands because I think the unity between the two needs to happen to keep the culture alive within the youth,” says Tone P, 32. “There’s a lot of different energies on this record. We’re using music as a vehicle to create clarity, to bring people together, and to mobilize them to be more aware of things like voter registration and what’s going on in the community.”
The #DontMuteDC movement developed in early April, when some residents of a luxury high-rise down the street from Central Communications, the Metro PCS store at 7th Street and Florida Avenue NW, complained to T-Mobile, which owns Metro PCS, about the go-go that store owner Donald Campbell has played on speakers outside the shop for years. After T-Mobile instructed Campbell to bring the music inside, protesters began to congregate in front of the store. Even after T-Mobile reversed its decision, #DontMuteDC continued to gain traction, along with other grassroots movements including Go-Go For Justice, and Long Live Go-Go.
“The way that Donald Campbell has been promoting his business for at least 24 years is through that speaker that sits out front of his store,” says Rare Essence guitarist and bandleader Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson. “He’s known for that, not just in Northwest, but all across the city. So if they take the speaker inside, people may think he’s not there anymore.
“With Rare Essence being one of the pioneering bands of go-go music, it’s right for us to speak up about something that we’ve been involved in for 40 years, and may be on the brink of extinction if some people could have their way,” adds Whiteboy. “Noochie has a line in the song, ‘You already took the hood, now you’re trying to take the soul,’ and that’s what go-go has been to D.C. for 40-plus years, the soul.”
Rare Essence met Tone P about a year ago, when the producer came by a show at Lucky Strike. “He said that he would be interested in working with us,” says Whiteboy. “We knew his reputation, producing for Wale, J. Cole, and others, so we told him we’d love to.” By the time the #DontMuteDC controversy began, discussions about a collaboration were well underway. They agreed to address the issue, and then Tone P enlisted local rappers Lightshow and Noochie to rhyme on the track; also rapping are Tone P himself and Rare Essence’s Calvin “Killa Cal” Henry. Each of the four rappers brings a different style and consciousness.
For Killa Cal, the song’s tone strikes a perfect balance. “It’s not an aggressive stance to where it could get disrespectful or ignorant; it’s just a firm stance on our culture and our music,” he says.
His verse includes the line, “If Marion Barry was still around/ He would definitely shut it down/ Since we lost Chuck Brown/ That day we all vowed/ To do whatever needs to be done to protect the sound.”
He also takes on the notorious Howard University dog walkers with, “This is a revolution/ Stop disrespecting the movement/ And please stop walking poodles/ Through our learning institutions.”
Noochie describes the Metro PCS affront in more personal terms. “It’s literally like someone going into your house, and telling you to live a different way,” he says. The 23-year-old rapper, who performs as part of the OY Music Group, grew up in Southeast and Temple Hills; for as long as he can remember, he’s been a diehard Backyard Band fan.
For Noochie, the Metro PCS situation was an important reality check. “We’ve been saying gentrification is going on, and we’ve been seeing changes slowly happening, and now it’s like oh, shit, it’s really getting close to home,” he says. “That situation showed a lot of people in Maryland and Virginia what’s going on in D.C., that the culture is being pushed out.”
Tabria views the Metro PCS controversy is part of a larger cultural drift. “Since the Trump administration came in, it’s been disheartening to see the divide amongst people across the country. People in general are not coming together and supporting one another, and they are coming through bolder and stating their offensive opinions without a care for the… community,” she says.
Those attitudes have become all-too-common in D.C., she explains. “Colonizers believe that they can come in and change what’s been so near and dear to us, but one thing about D.C., we’re bold people, too, and we’ve carried legacies for a very long time. Go-go is not just music, it’s a culture that’s brought people together, especially in the black communities.
“In my verses, those lyrics are important because I’m shouting out literally the entire DMV,” she adds. “Go-go started in D.C. but it did not end there, and everybody from the District, Maryland, and Virginia holds go-go to our hearts.”
While go-go has generally been viewed as a party music, there have been a number of notable exceptions. Both Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers and Experience Unlimited explored weighty themes during their early incarnations. During the ‘80s, Rare Essence’s “Back Up Against the Wall” and Junkyard Band’s “The Word” dealt with the poverty so prevalent in some Washington neighborhoods. Rare Essence’s 1996 “No Bang No More,” was dedicated to band drummer Quentin “Footz” Davidson, who was killed in ‘94. Almost a decade earlier, a number of artists, including the music’s founder, Chuck Brown, and Anthony “Little Benny” Harley, collaborated on another anti-violence song, “D.C. Don’t Stand for Dodge City.” Over the years, various politicians have enlisted go-go bands to help bring in votes; often, though, there has been little payback for the bands.
(It’s worth noting that “#DontMuteDC” is not the first local song taking on gentrification. That distinction belongs to rapper Tarica June, whose withering takedown, “But Anyway,” went viral in 2016.)
While there is little doubt that the #DontMuteDC movement has energized the go-go community, it remains to be seen how the culture will move forward from here. “At the end of the day, I’m a realist,” says Noochie. “I’m more focused on making sure that instead of people being mad for a hot second and embracing the culture just for this moment, that we can keep this same energy moving forward to keep this music alive.”
Lightshow, who was raised on go-go (TCB, TOB, and Backyard Band, to be precise) in Southeast, is looking forward to what comes next. “Everything changes, and in that change you have an opportunity to grow–or succumb to the circumstances around you,” he says. “This is just going to show the type of resilience that the city has. We’re going to show how powerful and how resilient we are. I’m sure it’s gonna inspire people to up their craft and their creativity. I’m excited to see what comes from it.”