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Hip-Hop Fridays: Gogo, Hip-Hop's Cousin, Comes South by Jaymes Powell Jr.

With tires squealing and the sound of a distinctive music blaring from their windows, a fleet of SUVs with District of Columbia and Maryland tags swerved into the Waffle House parking lot on Raleigh's New Bern avenue.

A group of men clad mostly in black burst from the vehicles and into the restaurant like superstars in a video, catching the attention of patrons, most of whom wanted to know who these Waffle House invaders were.

The answer was obvious to a few: It was the Backyard Band, one of Washington's top gogo bands.

The implication of their appearance is obvious too: Gogo music, a sound embedded in the nation's capital and its surrounding suburbs, is being imported to North Carolina by the droves of Washington-area transplants who now call this state home.

And though it hasn't yet penetrated North Carolina's native fabric, observers say, gogo has been able to get more of a grip here than in other areas because of the similarity of D.C. and Triangle African-American culture.

In D.C. speak: Bamas in North Carolina are feeling gogo a little but young.

"It's almost like at home, the way the crowd reacts down there," Paul Edwards, Backyard Band's drummer, said in a phone call. "We get mostly people from D.C., but you get [North Carolina natives] coming up too, expressing they're happy we're here."

Gogo, a distant cousin of hip-hop music, was born in D.C. in the 1970s. Heavy with percussion and chock full of ad-libs and call-and-response verses, it has become a hyper-paced live music event. In 1988, director Spike Lee helped give a diluted version of the sound broader acclaim when gogo band EU performed the hit song "Da Butt" in his film "School Daze."

BYB was in town to play a show for the St. Augustine's College homecoming. St. Aug's and Shaw University, with many students from D.C., often invite gogo groups down. Entertainment event planners like Raleigh's Dynasty 5 import gogo bands to perform for the grown-and-sexy 25 and up devotees.

Last month, Dynasty 5 brought Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Gogo and a Charlotte-area native, to downtown Raleigh's Sheraton. And while there were no girls getting naked or doing the trancelike dance termed "beating their feet" (two new gogo phenomena that are rarely, if ever, at Browns' shows for older folks), the vibe at the Sheraton almost seemed like a gogo club in D.C., said Washington-area native Hanif Omar, 31, who now lives in Durham.

"It was great. It was the size of a decent gogo in D.C.," said Omar, who first came to the area to attend N.C. Central University. "Almost everyone I knew from D.C. I saw at Chuck Brown. I was surprised. It wasn't really publicized."

Corey "Fat Cat" Primus, who works for a group that books gigs for BYB, said North Carolina crowds show more love for gogo than other D.C. outposts such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Hampton Roads, Va., or Florida. Indeed, Omar and other transplants said importing their culture is easy here because many District African-Americans have roots here and the natural groove of life isn't too different.

That feeling may have a historical explanation. Professor Miles Simpson, NCCU's interim sociology chairman, said D.C. ex-pats may find North Carolina an easy fit because of the state's ties to D.C. via the Great Migration. That was when thousands of blacks fled the South seeking better lives and job opportunities in the North.

"You're not changing cultures, you're moving town to town," Simpson said, noting that Midwest cities such as Detroit were fed by states such as Alabama and Mississippi, with varied historical African-American experiences. "[Culturally], the adjustments may be minor."

Still, Donal Ware, a 32-year-old D.C.-area native who owns a Triangle-based nationally syndicated sports talk radio show, said despite all the ease of sliding into North Carolina's groove, many former D.C. residents -- and gogo heads -- still stand out, even as they seek to fit in.

"Washingtonians really represent where they're from," said Ware, referring to D.C. clothing brands such as HOBO. But he admits that gogo seems to fit in the Triangle more than it did in Baltimore, where he went to college. "I think North Carolina has always embraced gogo anyway."

Ware and Omar noted that seemingly every African-American they knew growing up had North Carolina roots -- including them -- making the Tar Heel state and its culture open to the creation of its descendants.

"For me, it's tied to the migration. My grandfather migrated from Laurinburg. ... For me to come back here is comfortable because of that," Omar said.

"We connect ... I don't know if the people in D.C. realize it, but when you get here you do. That's why [D.C.] is up south."

Jaymes Powell Jr. can be reached at This article appears in The News Observer

Jaymes Powell Jr.

Friday, September 8, 2006

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