Go-go is a popular music subgenre associated with funk originating in the Washington, D.C., area during the mid-60s to late-70s which remains popular in the Washington metropolitan area as a uniquely regional music style. Some early bands credited with having developed the style are the Young Senators, Black Heat, and singer-guitarist Chuck Brown. Go-go is a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and old school hip-hop, and as such, primarily a dance hall music with an emphasis on live audience call and response.

In the 1990s and 2000s, more and more of a hip-hop influence became apparent in go-go, but there is also a retro movement going back to its original style of marathon sessions incorporating popular contemporary R&B songs. In recent times, law enforcement has affected the performance of go-go music, due to gentrification of the old neighbourhoods.


Go-go is a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and old school hip-hop, with a focus on lo-fi percussion instruments and funk-style jamming in place of dance tracks, although some sampling is used. As such, it is primarily a dance hall music with an emphasis on live audience call and response.

In technical terms, "Go-go's essential beat is characterized by a syncopated, dotted rhythm that consists of a series of quarter- and eighth notes (quarter, eighth, quarter, (space/held briefly), quarter, eighth, quarter) which is underscored prominently by the bass drum and snare drum, and the hi-hat... [and] is ornamented by the other percussion instruments, especially by the conga drums, rototoms, and hand-held cowbells."[1]

Unique to go-go is an instrumentation with 2 standard Congas and 2 "Junior Congas", 8" and 9" wide and about half as tall as the standard Congas, a size rare outside go-go. They were introduced to Rare Essence by Tyrone "Jungle Boogie" Williams in the early days when they couldn't afford full sized Congas, and are ubiquitous ever since.[2] A swing rhythm is often implied (if not explicitly stated).

Its name arises from the persistent percussive beat, but it incorporates elements of many other genres.[3]



Although Chuck Brown is known as "The Godfather of Go-Go" and his tremendous influence in this music is unmatched, Go-go is a musical movement that cannot be traced back to one single person, as there were so many bands that flourished during the beginning of this era that they collectively created the sound that is recognized as Go-Go of today. Groups such as Black Heat,[4] Experience Unlimited(E.U.), Sir Joe Quaterman & the Free Soul, The Moments, Ray, Goodman & Brown, The Unifics, Peaches & Herb, Terry Huff & Special Delivery,[5] Act 1, The Dynamic Superiours, The Choice Four, and The Fuzz are the bands and the chorus groups that played great soul music during pre Go-go era.[6]

In the mid-1960s, "go-go" was the word for a music club in the local African American community, as in the common phrase at the time going to a go-go popularized by a million-selling hit of the same name by The Miracles. Dancers could expect to hear the latest top 40 hits, as many as twenty at a time, performed by local funk and soul bands, including Chuck Brown. In 1965 The Young Senators (later known as "The Emperors of Go-Go") were formed, and there began a fierce competition with Chuck Brown and Black Heat on the local club circuit. They later became known for their hit "Jungle".[6][7][8]

Chuck Brown was a fixture on the Washington and Maryland music scene with his band the "Los Lotinos" as far back as 1966. By the mid-1970s he had changed the group's name to "The Soul Searchers", and developed a laid-back, rhythm-heavy style of funk performed with one song blending into the next (in order to keep people on the dance floor). The beat was based on Grover Washington Jr.'s song "Mr. Magic",[9] though Brown has said in interviews that both he and Washington had adapted the beat from a gospel music beat found in black churches.[10]

Another popular local cover band in the early 1970s, Aggression, would use rhythm breaks to keep fans dancing while they prepared for the next song, fixed guitar strings, etc. As Aggression gained popularity, they started holding dance contests during the rhythm breaks, which subsequently grew in length. The audiences began to look forward to these contests and the band's style evolved to where the beat would stop only occasionally during the course of a show.

In 1976, James Funk, a young DJ who spun at clubs in between Soul Searchers sets, was inspired (and encouraged by Brown himself) to start a band—called Rare Essence (originally the Young Dynamos)—that played the same kind of music.

Experience Unlimited (a.k.a. E.U.) who originally formed in 1974 was a band more influenced by rock (their name a nod to the Jimi Hendrix Experience[11]), that started out in the 1970s. After witnessing Rare Essence in the late-1970s, they modified their style to incorporate the go-go beat. Kurtis Blow's "Party Time" subsequently put them on the map to be later tracked down by Grace Jones and to take the King of Go-Go Production, Maxx Kidd to an international music adventure with Island Records, to make E.U.'s greatest hit "Da Butt" for the soundtrack of the 1988 film School Daze, written, directed and produced by Spike Lee.

Trouble Funk had its roots in an early 1970s Top 40 cover band called Trouble Band, then fronted by drummer, Emmett Nixon. With the inclusion of Robert 'Dyke' Reed (keyboards, guitar, vocals), Taylor Reed (trumpet, vocals), James Avery (keyboards, vocals), Teebone David (percussion), and Tony Fisher (bass, vocals), the band changed its name, and, in the late 1970s, after seeing the light at a gig they played with Chuck Brown, they, too, adopted the go-go beat. The band was signed to the Sugar Hill Records label in 1982 and recorded with Kurtis Blow. Trouble Funk recorded the go-go anthem "Hey, Fellas".

Go-go's first national chart action came when Black Heat (the first D.C. go-go band to be signed by a major record label) released their Billboard top 100 hit "No Time To Burn" from their second album on Atlantic Records in 1974. They then toured with such national acts as Earth Wind & Fire, Parliament Funkadelic, Ohio Players, The Commodores and others. Later, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers released their "Bustin' Loose" single in late 1978; it reached number one on the Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs R&B charts, and held that position for a month during February and March 1979 (peaking at #34 on the Pop chart).

The 1980s

In the 1980s, some go-go bands such as Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk, EU, Rare Essence, Hot Cold Sweat, The Junk Yard Band, AM/FM, Slug-Go achieved success, while others did not. Trouble Funk put out a few records on New Jersey-based label Jamtu before signing with one of the more powerful hip hop labels, Sugar Hill, where it released a six-track LP called Drop the Bomb in 1982, which included the hit "Pump Me Up" which had already been a regional hit years before.

In 1984, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell heard Chuck Brown's "We Need Some Money" on the radio in New York, which ultimately led to him signing some of the brightest stars of the go-go scene.[12] Trouble Funk and E.U. were both signed to Island, while Chuck Brown, Mass Extinction, Yuggie, Redds and the Boys and Hot, Cold, Sweat were signed through a distribution deal between Max Kidd's T.T.E.D. and Island subsidiary 4th & B'way.

Along with the recording contracts Blackwell was handing out, he also wanted to make a go-go film and soundtrack; a D.C.-based version of The Harder They Come, perhaps. The resultant film, Good to Go (or Short Fuse, as it was called on video) was plagued with problems: co-director Don Letts was let go halfway through production,[13] the film became less about the music and more about drugs and violence, and despite the fact that most of the post-production was completed in the fall of 1985, the film was held for release until late-summer 1986. When it did poorly on release, it seemed that go-go had missed its best chance to break into the mainstream.

The Junk Yard Band started out in 1980 as a group of kids (as young as nine) from the Barry Farm, Washington, D.C. projects. Unable to afford instruments for their band, they fashioned drums out of empty buckets and traffic cones, tin cans substituted for timbales, and, in place of a brass section, they used plastic toy horns. Adding real instruments to their gear a little at a time, by 1985 they had joined the ranks of D.C.'s finest; they were scooped up by Def Jam, who released a Rick Rubin-produced single "The Word" in 1986. Not much happened with that record—at first. However, within a year or two of its release, the flipside, "Sardines", had become (and remains to this day) the group's signature song; it even performs it in the 1988 film Tougher Than Leather.

Rare Essence signed with Mercury/PolyGram Records but its one single for that label—"Flipside," released in 1986—was unremarkable.

E.U. got its big break in 1986 when it was booked to play a party celebrating the release of Spike Lee's debut film, She's Gotta Have It.[14] Lee liked what he heard, and tapped the band to perform a song in his next movie, School Daze. "Da Butt" (written for the film by Marcus Miller and E.U. keyboardist, Kent Wood) made it to number one on Billboard's R&B chart (#35 Pop) and scored the band a Grammy nomination (they lost to "Love Overboard" by Gladys Knight & the Pips). Hoping to build on their success, in 1989 they released Livin' Large on Virgin Records. Two singles from the album ("Buck Wild" and "Taste of Your Love") made respectable showings on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart but they failed to repeat the success of "Da Butt." (The album peaked at #22 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart and #158 on the Top 200.) A second Virgin release, Cold Kickin' It, came out the following year but failed to make much of an impression on the national charts. Experience Unlimited had a resurgence in the mid-1990s by partnering with the jazz and gospel singer Maiesha Rashad, performing under the name "Maiesha and the Hip Huggers". Maiesha and the Hip Huggers have headlined events and concert venues such as B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill, DAR Constitution Hall, Black Family Reunion and D.C.'s Stone Soul Picnic and Unifest. In 1988, R&B singer Jesse James and Fay Marshall released soul singles(T.T.E.D. Records).


As time passed, more and more of a hip-hop influence crept into go-go. Early MCs like D.C. Scorpio gave way to DJ Kool, whose 1996 indie release, "Let Me Clear My Throat"—based on a sample from DJ Mark the 45 King’s “The 900 Number”—was picked up by American Recordings and in 1997 became go-go's last certifiable hit single (#4 on Billboard's Rap singles chart, #21 on the R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart, and #30 on the Hot 100).[15][16][16] As the hip-hop content in go-go increased, the complexity of the musical arrangements decreased. Where bands once featured horn sections and multiple guitarists in addition to a phalanx of percussionists, many current go-go bands have stripped down to just keyboards and percussion. Another trend is to have a dedicated percussionist with plastic "wood blocks" performing much of what used to be handled by the Junior Congas.

There is, however, a retro movement going back to go-go's original style of marathon sessions covering currently popular R&B songs such as Northeast Groovers. Many of these bands use the term "Grown ’n Sexy" to indicate a focus on appealing to audiences over 25. In 2006 and again in 2007, there was a Grown and Sexy Category at the WKYS 93.9 Go-Go Awards ceremony held at DAR Constitution Hall, which the Familiar Faces won in 2006, and L!ssen Da Grew^p won in 2007.[17]

Some go-go artists have been able to transition into other areas of entertainment. Anwan "Big G" Glover — a founding member of the Backyard Band — became an actor, playing Slim Charles on HBO's The Wire.[18] D.C. band Mambo Sauce also had hits with "Miracles" and "Welcome To D.C." which both cracked the Billboard charts. Welcome to DC also became the official intro song for all of the Washington Wizards & Mystics home games and the video for the song was in rotation on VH1 Soul and BETJ and received airplay on MTVJams, MTV2, MTVU and BET.[19] Kevin Kato Hammond, former lead guitarist for Little Benny & the Masters and former rapper for the band Proper Utensils, started the online magazine Take Me Out to the Go-Go in 1996. In addition to the magazine being a source of information on go-go shows, it serves as a community forum in which go-go fans routinely submit their own articles on issues unique to the genre. Take Me Out to the Go-Go has expanded to include a radio show on GoGoRadio.com, as well as several YouTube channels, one of the most notable being XclusiveGoGo.

Additionally, musicians from other genres of music have incorporated elements of the go-go aesthetic into their compositions and stage acts. Jazz/rock musician Mike Dillon, leads a band called Go-Go Jungle, often playing long, non-stop sets that incorporate go-go beats and raps interspersed with other subgenres of funk, jazz, and rock. Another example is Bob Mintzer's composition "Go Go" from the Yellowjackets' 2003 release, Time Squared. Composer Liza Figueroa Kravinsky composed the Go-Go Symphony, an original full orchestra symphony that incorporates the go-go and bounce beats. She founded the identically named Go-Go Symphony ensemble,[20] which performs the Go-Go Symphony and other mashups of go-go and classical, sometimes in partnership with other full symphony orchestras. The February 21, 2014 world premiere of the fully orchestrated Go-Go Symphony and similar pieces, performed with the Capital City Symphony, received standing ovations and rave reviews.[21]


In the late 2000s and early 2010s, it became harder for go-go bands and local venues to hold concerts as law enforcement in both Washington, D.C., and neighboring Prince George's County in Maryland viewed the concerts and bands as inciters of violence.[22] New go-go music is still being produced, but remains local to the area, depending on live shows to share its full effects. However most of the venues have closed, with some residents putting it down to gentrification which has forced many African-American residents out of previously low-income neighborhoods. One area, Shaw, which was 11 percent white in 1970, was 62 percent white by 2015. Some new residents, however, have embraced go-go and locals are optimistic that it will continue to thrive. After one new resident's complaint about noise in the street, there were protests, which grew into a block party with go-go performances.[3]

See also


  1. Lornell, Kip; Charles C. Stephenson, Jr. (2001). The Beat: Go-Go's Fusion of Funk and Hip-Hop. Billboard. pp. 12. ISBN 0-8230-7727-6.
  2. Take Me Out to the Go-Go. "Take Me Out to the Go-Go". Archived from the original on 2011-07-17.
  3. Duffy, Conor; Olson, Emily (5 May 2019). "Washington DC noise complaint triggered a debate about rich hipsters gentrifying black areas". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  4. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/black-heat-mn0000092301
  5. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/terry-huff-mn0000028733
  6. Lornell, Kip; Charles C. Stephenson, Jr. (2001). The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, Part 3. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-60473-241-2. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
  7. The Young Senators (artist). "'Jungle' (multimedia)". Retrieved 2010-08-06. Proclamation issued in Washington DC proclaiming June 11th as The Young Senators Day
  8. Jimi Dougans (formerly of the Young Senators). "Anthology". Retrieved 2010-08-06.
  9. Chang, Jeff (June 2001). "Wind me up, Chuck!". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-01.
  10. Baily, Nick (August 2007). "Chuck Brown". Global Rhythm.
  11. Lornell, Kip; Charles C. Stephenson, Jr. (2001). The Beat: Go-Go's Fusion of Funk and Hip-Hop. Billboard. pp. 95. ISBN 0-8230-7727-6.
  12. Lornell, Kip; Charles C. Stephenson, Jr. (2001). The Beat: Go-Go's Fusion of Funk and Hip-Hop. Billboard. pp. 210. ISBN 0-8230-7727-6.
  13. Good to Go on British Film Institute Web site, retrieved 6/19/2007
  14. Lornell, Kip; Charles C. Stephenson, Jr. (2001). The Beat: Go-Go's Fusion of Funk and Hip-Hop. Billboard. pp. 219. ISBN 0-8230-7727-6.
  15. http://www.billboard.com/charts/1997-08-23/rap-song
  16. http://www.billboard.com/charts/1997-06-14/r-b-hip-hop-songs
  17. Smith-Barrow, Delece (2006-11-30). "Awards Celebrate Go-Go's Funk". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-03.
  18. Washington Post Going out Gurus Archived 2006-11-10 at the Wayback Machine
  19. "WAMADC.com :: View topic - WAMA News 01-17-2008". Archived from the original on 2008-01-29. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
  20. http://www.gogosymphony.com
  21. .
  22. http://www.washingtontimes.com, The Washington Times (2011-12-18). "P.G. cracks down on clubs beset by violence". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2017-09-21.

Further reading

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