A year ago, when Raheem DeVaughn and I set out to create our new project, Footprints on the Moon, I never imagined the absurd experiences we would have. I was kindly escorted out of a Washington, D.C., club with R&B singer Christopher Williams, and heckled by El DeBarge and his entourage while performing in Anaheim, Calif. Raheem and I almost got into a full-on fistfight with members of the S.O.S. Band. I wish I were joking.
They haven’t all been this crazy, though; I met some of my heroes, including Auntie Maxine, aka Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), so I’m blessed. I get it. The others are just a few experiences I’m not saving for my memoirs. But nothing would have ever led me to believe that I would be battle-rapping Dave Chappelle at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., at 2:30 in the morning.
Here’s how it went down:
During Congressional Black Caucus weekend in D.C., Dave Chappelle was in town doing a series of shows at the Warner Theatre. Raheem and I were back home in D.C. to speak and had just spoken on two panels during the CBC Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, including a Hip-Hop for Justice conference that included such heavyweights as T.I., David Banner, Auntie Maxine and others.
So our final outing was scheduled for a Saturday night at the Renaissance Hotel, where Raheem was hosting a party and Biz Markie was deejaying. We get there and start taking shots of bourbon and Hennessy with Larenz Tate. The party is live. And then Dwayne Rawlings, a friend of many years and the brother of Donnell Rawlings, aka Ashy Larry, invites us to attend a private after-party at the legendary Blues Alley, hosted by Dave Chappelle.
Backstory: We didn’t know that Dave (yes, we’re on a first-name basis) was hosting this celebrity-laced jam session after-party, but we find out that it’s happening, so we are there.
We show up and immediately realize that this isn’t a normal event. There is a strict no-cellphone policy, so there is no recording of any of this, and that makes it even more awesome. I spot Common, Anthony Anderson and Angela Rye when I walk in, and can you hear that noise? It’s just me name-dropping.
Anyway, Raheem and I post up next to the piano and observe the room. Dave calls Common up to the stage, and he kills it with a live band. Harmonica master Frederic Yonnet is playing and turning the J Dilla-laced tracks into a heavenly experience, and I take in the moment like the backwood I wish I had. I breath it in, then blow it out.
Common exits the stage, and Dave turns to the musicians and requests “Between the Sheets” by the Isley Brothers before yelling out, “Are there any singers in the room?”
Audience members start to point toward the piano where Raheem and I are standing. Raheem takes the stage and murders it. Dave takes the mic and resumes his hosting, clowning Raheem: “Who is this nigga? I need to Google this nigga. Raheem Devaughn? Raheem Divine?”
He turns to the band and asks for “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” and the band looks puzzled. I shout, “Can I Kick It,” and the band nods in acknowledgment and breaks into song.
He asks for rappers, and I step on the stage and start freestyling over the beat:
I was born in N.E. DC
Round the corner from Seat Pleasant, P.G.
Up the street was the quadrant of S.E.
Lincoln Heights and Clay Terrace taught me bout beef
Played ball on Drew and Watts courts
Never joined the drug game but I got sport
Who thought 58th was cooking up art
While the rest of them dudes was cooking up rocks
Like C. Delores Tucker, Dave steamrolls over my verse and cuts me off. He starts questioning, “Who is this nigga? Who is he?” then proceeds to spit his rap. He spits a few lines about D.C., but I didn’t really hear him because of the shock that the lines I did hear showed he was coming for me. Dave Chappelle was literally battle-rapping against me.
I looked at Raheem, who gave me the nod to “go in.”
I humbly retorted: “No disrespect, but you don’t know me, but nigga I’m not from Maryland, I’m actually from D.C. I don’t swing on celebrity balls. I’m a real MC. I make crowds yell, ‘Yes, Yes Y’all.’”
Dave responded with a few more jabs.
I never got a second response. Ashy Larry suddenly jumped onstage and took the mic and began to spit a comedic verse. We’d become a part of Chappelle’s Show and this was a scene change. The end of a skit.
In the spirit of the moment, Raheem and I began to chant a chorus from our Footprints on the Moon album: “You deserve the world my Negus, It’s never too soon my Negus, For Footprints on the Moon my Negus.”
Dave bobbed his head with a grin. Common jumped back onstage, and Raheem and I fell back and provided supporting vocals while he breezed through some of his hits like “Go.”
I was proud of black people on this night. I was loving my black. Instead of breaking each other down in verse, we used the platform to showcase our skills. Sometimes you have to take a knee in order to stand up for your brothers. You can either build or destroy, and black men need to build one another up in all arenas.
The evening ended; we walked through the crowd. And although I still didn’t have my backwood, I was high. It was a blessing to be onstage on this night with this group of black people in this once-all-black city.
Sometimes real life is better than art, and on this night, for this moment, Shakespeare couldn’t have written it better.
Native Washingtonian. Actor. One half of the CrossRhodes. Currently on tour promoting his new record Footprints on the Moon.