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It all started with an Instagram post. Back in the summer of 2018, Snoop Dogg shared a brief video of himself seated in a car, blunt blazing as he cranks to Rare Essence’s go-go classic, “Hey Buddy Buddy.”
Bicoastal discussions ensued, and months later, when Snoop brought his stage play, Redemption of a Dogg, to D.C. for a weekend of performances, he spent time in the studio with two of D.C.’s top go-go bands, Backyard Band and Rare Essence. Nearly two years later, the first of those recordings will be released this weekend as Rare Essence premieres its new single, “Hit the Floor,” Saturday at 10 p.m. as part of the band’s first livestream performance since March. After that, the single, released on the band’s own Rare One label, will be available on all music streaming platforms.
Snoop is not the first rapper to collaborate with a go-go band, but he is by far the most prominent. After all, Snoop has parlayed his fame as a hip-hop artist into a global brand as he moves through the world as a sort of weedy Renaissance man with solid street cred and razor-sharp commercial instincts. His brand spans film, television, advertising, and an array of business ventures that include smoking accessories and a vegan Dunkin’ Donuts sandwich dubbed Snoop’s D-O Double GG.
What this golden opportunity will ultimately mean for Rare Essence remains to be seen, but bandleader Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson has every reason for optimism.
“Having someone like Snoop with his high visibility can spread the music to millions of people who probably haven’t even heard of go-go,” he says. “To have an artist of Snoop’s status on the song—and the fact that he genuinely gets it—makes this that much better.”
Last week, Rare Essence put out a promotional video depicting Snoop dancing to go-go percussion during the filming of the video. Someone off camera remarks, “That’s that D.C. sound,” and Snoop replies, “It’s a feeling. Ain’t a sound, it’s a feeling—a feeling.” That moment suggests that Snoop doesn’t just like go-go, he understands it.
“Go-go has always been about a feeling. Whether the band is crankin, bouncin, or doing a grown ‘n’ sexy two step, there is a feeling in the room that can’t be denied,” Whiteboy says. “Snoop Dogg is a true go-go fan and he feels it.”
Snoop returned to D.C. last January to record the video directed by Joseph Pattisall, who previously did Rare Essence’s “Turn it Up,” as well as the documentary The Legend of Cool Disco Dan. Mostly black-and-white with a few flourishes that are nearly all in the band’s signature color red, the video includes a brief scene early on that will be immensely satisfying for all who despise Trump. Snoop opens with, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got Rare Essence in the house tonight, and they got a very special guest with them, I’m talking about the king of the LBC.”
From there, it’s essentially a Rare Essence party, albeit one that prominently features Snoop—who does the first verse and then a vamp at the end—along with the group’s vocalist Tabria Lampkin and rapper Calvin “Killa Cal” Henry, whose best verse contains the lines, “Gin and juice like ’92, we bout to drink again / In the Dogg House with Snoop we blowing dank again / Go-go aint dead you better think again / RE is here to make the world crank again.”
The story of how this remarkable record came to be involves several players, but most of the credit belongs to Whiteboy’s old friend Amir Boyd, a go-go head born and raised in Prince George’s County who is now senior national director of urban promotions for Interscope Records in Los Angeles. Two weeks after Snoop’s initial Instagram video, Whiteboy sent Boyd an early version of the song and asked him to pass it along to the star.
“I didn’t know Snoop at the time, but he had a song out with one of my friends, Lil Duval,” Boyd says, referring to the comedian who recorded “Smile (Living My Best Life)” with Snoop and Ball Greezy. Soon after, Duval was visiting Los Angeles and invited Boyd to Snoop’s complex.
“When I got there, Snoop was DJing in his studio, and he’s playing go-go,” Boyd says. “It was Chuck Brown’s ‘Block Party’ so I didn’t waste any time. I told him, ‘Yo bro, Rare Essence trying to get at you to record something.’ And he told me, ‘I love this go-go shit, set it up.’”
Boyd was in D.C. during the November weekend that Snoop recorded with both Rare Essence and Backyard, and he dropped by Charlie Fenwick’s Thump Studio, where Whiteboy was with Snoop and RE keyboardist, engineer, and frequent producer Roy Battle, who did pre-production work on the single.
“One of the God-given talents I have is bringing people together,” Boyd says. And for him, this connection was particularly meaningful: “I want everyone to win, but if you from home, I want you to win even more.”
That night, Snoop repeatedly suggested that a force even greater than the crank had brought them together. “He kept saying this wasn’t nothing but God, and that’s what this was,” Boyd says. “It wasn’t nothing but God.”
After preliminary tracks were recorded, Whiteboy turned to Chucky Thompson, the producer best known for his work as part of Sean Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment team The Hitmen, who has produced for the Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, and Mary J. Blige. Before he was making hits for Combs, Thompson was active in the go-go scene, playing with Petworth, Ayre Rayde, and Chuck Brown; he also mentored Backyard Band early on.
“Chucky is the perfect bridge between the DMV and the world,” Whiteboy says. “He knew without us having to say anything that the go-go sound needed to be front and center on the song.”
Thompson, who describes Rare Essence as “one of the pioneers in my whole music game,” enlisted songwriter Kevin “Uno” Blackmon, who penned Chuck Brown’s later hits, to help shape the track, which is credited to Thompson, Blackmon, Whiteboy, Battle, and Snoop. (Thompson is also producing Backyard Band’s collaboration with Snoop, which has been mixed but does not yet have a release date.)
Now in its fourth decade as a top go-go act, Rare Essence is deeply loved in the DMV: An Aug. 2019 concert at Fort Dupont drew more than 15,000 fans. Two major label signings in the past, with Polygram in ’84 and Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records in ’88, proved disappointing. Now, “Hit the Floor” represents another shot at larger success, this time completely on the band’s own terms.
“From the very first note that the song comes on, you know it’s a go-go record,” Whiteboy says.
Up until now, go-go’s biggest international hit was Experience Unlimited’s 1988 “Da Butt,” which appeared in Spike Lee’s School Daze. The film was crucial in launching that single, and while at this point “Hit the Floor” lacks that kind of platform, Thompson is certain of its appeal.
“If you out at a party, or you out on a Saturday, and somebody roll down the street playing the record in the car, you’re gonna react,” he says. Thompson knows this to be true because that’s exactly what he did: “I actually flew to L.A. just to play it on the streets and make sure that it felt right to the L.A. people that are Snoop fans. I wanted to make sure it felt good to those people just as much as it felt good to everybody back in D.C. … I got in the car and rode in the streets, listening to what it felt like.”
And after that, he went back into the studio to tweak it some more, and did the final mix in Minnesota. “I moved around for this record,” he says.
With a few exceptions, go-go traditionally has not fared well with major labels, and Thompson points out that even Snoop has remarked in the past that he could never understand why “D.C. never just did what D.C. does,” he says.
“When an actual record company gets involved with a go-go group and it comes time for a go-go record, they switch everything up to make a record that’s not representative of what we do,” Thompson says. “I understand this music. This is my music.”
Mindful of Rick Rubin’s work with the Junkyard Band for “Sardines”—“he basically had them go into the studio and record what they do”—Thompson did his best to balance the true go-go sound with the requirements of the broader music industry.
“This record is a representation of Rare Essence featuring Snoop Dogg; it’s like Snoop came to party with them,” he says. “It’s really what Rare Essence does.”
And this time, expectations are high.
“For a rarified group like Rare Essence to collaborate with a rap luminary like Snoop Dogg, it’s a match made in heaven,” says Billboard magazine hip-hop editor Carl Lamarre. “Both acts exude supreme range, longevity, and high levels of musicality, so I expect nothing but greatness from this collaboration.”
Meanwhile, the go-go community is waiting to see how “Hit the Floor” might elevate Rare Essence as well as the entire genre. “It can be a one-off with no real blast from it,” Boyd says. “It can also be something: They’re bringing Snoop into their world, but Snoop also bringing them into his world.”
While local radio here has generally been less supportive of go-go culture than it should be, it is inconceivable that “Hit the Floor” will not merit heavy airplay. And with Snoop’s feature, this single may turn out to be Rare Essence’s first real national hit.
“All these years, people always looking to say that D.C. needs to be on the map, but we’ve been on the map,” Thompson says. “We’ve been on the map so much that an icon like Snoop recognized these bands and he reached out to them to do something. That to me shows that what was created here in this town is making an impact in the world. We’re being recognized as a music town, as a sound, and a vibe.”