We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
VH1’s new series The Breaks is about hip-hop, but D.C. go-go represents in episode six, which airs March 27. A brief club scene features Caktuz and his band, The Dopesh!te, performing a bit of Junkyard Band’s go-go classic, “Sardines.”
Why go-go? Turns out the show’s executive producer, Silver Spring native Seith Mann, is a fan: “When I think about the music I was listening to in 1990, it was the hip-hop of the day and go-go,” writes Mann in an email. “As somebody that grew up in the area, it seemed like featuring the music of artists like Chuck [Brown], R.E., and Junkyard was a natural way to not only take us back to that time, but a musical way to define the character of another city.”
Caktuz, an actor, musical artist, and filmmaker, explains that he landed the gig thanks to a previous connection with Dan Charnes, who authored The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. That book inspired the original VH1 film The Breaks and the new series. Caktuz, who grew up in Highpoint, North Carolina, “by way of D.C.,” describes his own music as “Carolina blues or trap rock.” But he is a serious go-go fan, and has collaborated with a variety of go-go acts.
Along with Caktuz, The Breaks’ go-go band features bassist SilleStar, vocalist Kenny Black, and drummer LeAngelo Jacobs as well as two sons of legendary go-go conga player Milton “Go-Go Mickey” Freeman: Mickey Freeman (keyboard) and Boogie BeeJay (congas).
“In doing this, I definitely wanted to make sure it was done right, and so I took it upon myself to check with some of my OGs in the culture,” says Caktuz. “I wanted to make sure I was driving this car the right way.” With what might be best described as savvy marketing skillz, Caktuz is planning the online debut of his own musical crime drama, Wanderlust, the same day.
The choice of “Sardines” makes sense. That record, which wryly evokes widespread poverty not far from the Reagan White House—“I got sardines on my plate, I don’t need no steak”—is also one of classic go-go’s great call-and-response hits. “That’s a song people easily connect with,” says Junkyard manager Mo Shorter. “I think it’s a big compliment in two ways that they chose to use ‘Sardines.’ One, because that show is hip-hop oriented, and they put the go-go piece in there, and two, because the choice of that song.”
Mann had another reason for shining a spotlight on go-go. “For a show whose mission is ultimately to illustrate how and why a music that was born as a relatively obscure subculture of an inner city evolved into one of the world’s most dominant cultures, it was a tremendous storytelling opportunity for us to highlight a musical genre that has not had the exposure on the national or world stage that hip-hop has,” he adds. “Plus, I just love go-go. I had to put it in.”