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Hip-Hop Fridays: Dave Chappelle Reveals Embedded Messages by Rashida Restaino

Thirty-year-old Dave Chappelle was not an overnight success. Nor is his outrageous brand of comedy produced strictly for shock value.

His political commentary is honest as well as humorous but also has a hidden agenda.

In an interview on, Chappelle said his work is a direct reflection of the current state of America.

“Some of the things I draw comedy from are real painful things, you know,” Chappelle said. “ But it’s a certain delight in doing the characters because they all got certain feasibleness, no matter how bad they are, that makes them more palatable.”

The Washington D.C. native has appeared in movies since 1982. He has had several stand-up comedy specials and now is at the controls of Comedy Central’s top show, “Chappelle’s Show.”

He blatantly ignores the criticism and complaints that people form regarding him. It is that keeping-it-real attitude that makes his comedy so pertinent.

Nobody asked you to agree with him, but you at least can respect the way Chappelle expresses himself.

Some have argued that his depiction of a crackhead with his character, Tyrone Biggums, is offensive. But if you ever have encountered a crackhead, Chappelle’s description is humorously accurate.

It is what he chose as a sketch. Not only does he write all of his sketches with a friend of his, but he also comes up with new material every time he goes on the road.

“I’m sure when I do it, people ain’t going to recognize the significance of this,” he said. “But if my career goes further, people are going to look back and be like, ‘This guy was really putting it down.’”

Chappelle uses the control he has over his show to demonstrate his commitment to exploring the black experience for mainstream audiences.

According to the USA Weekend Web site, Chappelle comments on race because it exists at an institutional level — so deeply embedded into society that some people don’t even see it.

“Ask any black person if racism is over, and most will agree racism is alive and well,” he said. “But I’m not a racist person. I’m a racist in the same way every American is a racist.”

Critics say Chappelle abuses oppressive language by using the n-word as often as he says bitch.

In his defense, consider Chappelle’s influences. Comedians like Redd Foxx and Eddie Murphy started out using dirty words in their acts, but when they were put in front of mainstream audiences, they were forced to clean up their acts. Fortunately for Chappelle, he has not had to compromise the long tradition of profane social satire.

He uses a lot of Afrocentric symbols on his show to celebrate his Afrocentrism.

On “Chappelle’s Show,” when Dave is in front of the audience, in the background there is a large letter “C” in white, enclosed in a red, black and green rectangle — the colors of the Black National Flag. Call it a coincidence if you like, but this is one of those symbols that Chappelle uses to send a message to those members of the audience who identify with the meaning of that flag, a symbol of black pride.

There are some important messages included in the show.

He exploded in a skit where he was a juror for the O.J. Simpson trial where he talked about how there has been no further investigation into the murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace. Which leads me to my next point.

Chappelle is influenced by hip-hop; all of his musical guests are respected for their lyrics. He invites rappers who he actually listens to, regardless of whether they have a new release out at the moment.

His appreciation for the music is symbolic as well because hip-hop is the new sound of the contemporary revolution. Why do you think his introduction music is “Bigger Than Hip-Hop” by hip-hop duo Dead Prez?

In the subculture, Dead Prez is known for its revolutionary but gangsta tactics and musical message.

In the BET interview, Chappelle said there is a “serious priority list of what black people need to do.”

Dave Chappelle is using his show as a vehicle for his message of black pride, believe it or not. But he uses messages and symbols that only the few who are focused on it will catch.

“I hope people keep an open mind when they’re watching it.” That being said, a lot of people probably won’t.

Rashida S. Restaino is a columnist who writes for Northern Star Online. She can be contacted via e-mail at:

Friday, April 30, 2004

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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