Rare Essence has a new album out. When was the last time you checked the insurance policy on your roof?
After nearly four decades together, this percussive powerhouse has cemented its reputation as the most consistent entity in go-go, Washington’s indissoluble dialect of party music. And now, on the band’s first proper studio album in 15 years, Rare Essence is promising to “leave the club roofless.” Better watch your head.
The album is titled “Turn It Up,” and it’s front-loaded with songs that demand exactly that. Along with a title track that goes for nightclub rooflessness with rhythmic ruthlessness, the strut of “VIP” exudes radioactive confidence, while “Tryna Go” finds guest-crooner Raheem DeVaughn softening the groove with his feathery falsetto.
Rare Essence has released a steady gush of live recordings over the past decade, but hearing this cool blast of new material feels refreshing. Various vocalists from the go-go community appear throughout — Ms. Kim, DJ Kool, Kacey Williams of Black Alley — and sharp ears might notice a few cameos from Milton “Go-Go Mickey” Freeman, whose maestro conga-pops give this music its exhilarating buoyancy.
The album’s timing feels right. Washington’s go-go community has faced an array of challenges over the past 20 years — especially once the forces of gentrification began to engulf the city, erasing so much history and shuttering so many go-go venues. Many now worry that go-go music might be endangered.
The band nods to this predicament during “It’s On Tonight,” a groove burrowed smack-dab in the middle of the album. In the song’s second verse, vocalist Shorty Corleone urges his fellow go-go stewards to keep the faith: “Promoters, musicians, and managers… You deserve more spots, more clubs, more gigs, more shows, and more dough, more of the go-go!”
But ultimately, he puts go-go’s survival in the hands of the fans: “This is your music! No time to bail, y’all!”
He’s right about that. Go-go will stay alive for as long as the people keep listening to it. So do what the record says and turn it up. Let your neighbors hear what Washington sounds like.