Within the past decade, notable documentary work has been done to frame the histories of many of hip-hop culture’s legendary regional movements (Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Los Angeles) into the larger landscape of both rap music and American history.
Fascinatingly enough, if a hyper-conscious connoisseur of these movements, their occasional intersection with — or direct influence by — Washington, D.C., is a known fact. Thus, the space for Almost To Awesome, a new documentary currently in development, emerges. The film contains snippets of over 150 interviews and tells the story of how America’s capital city has spent four decades chasing its claim to a regional-to-global stake in pop culture-defining rap music and hip-hop culture.
For full disclosure, I serve as a story editor and interviewer for the project. As a journalist for nearly the past 20 years and a native Washingtonian, hip-hop’s unique influence in the area — from go-go heads to hustlers, backpackers, bottle poppers, and more — has deeply influenced my existence.
Ideally, the collaboratively executive produced work between the vaunted Cool Kids Forever Films and well-regarded Black Market Management brand corrects history. Though it took nearly five decades for a D.C.-based rapper to reach the top of the Billboard charts, the depth and scope of the D.C. metropolitan area’s regional impact upon the genre are incalculable.
As hip-hop ages into its fifth decade of existence, reflecting on how the DMV has been one of hip-hop’s vital formative centers is essential. Namely, this is because the area has quietly become entrenched as a center of where the culture next heads. Indeed, Washington, D.C. was once almost, and now awesome.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cool Kids Forever and Black Market Management set upon an ambitious goal of interviewing 200 targeted names from D.C.’s hip-hop history. This included ten days of trips to Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York City, plus filming in ten different locations in the nation’s capital. Impressively, via strict adherence to stringent testing, masking, and social distancing protocols, the team was able to interview 75 percent of targeted artists and only lost one week of filming due to safety hazards.
Interview footage with the likes of DJ Kool (of “Let Me Clear My Throat” fame), Stinky Dink (“One Track Mind”), and innumerable current era godfathers of D.C. hip-hop culture highlight a fascinating concept to consider: in retrospect, go-go-based rap artists like DC Scorpio and Fat Rodney bear significant comparisons to rap legends L.L. Cool J and Notorious B.I.G., with the same levels of suave respectability and street-hustler adoration, respectively. This is one of many notions that emerge.
A lengthy conversation with globally renowned DJ, rap industry talking head, and suburban Maryland-born rap connoisseur Peter Rosenberg proves vital as he’s rarely ever spoken at length about his roots in the area. As well, conversations with nightlife icons, tastemakers, and label executives like Kenny Burns and Trillectro’s Modi Oyewole unlock how impactful D.C. was when internet-driven marketing and globalism emerged in hip-hop. Moreover, the children of African immigrants like Oddisee, Tabi Bonney, and Wale — who benefitted from this era — reflect the truth of these statements.
Moreover, via a plethora of their modern-era creative colleagues, like radio DJs Malcolm Xavier and Little Bacon Bear, plus touring DJs like DJ Marauder, we learn how modern-era artists like Logic, Goldlink, and Rico Nasty highlight the one-time Chocolate City developing into a thriving multi-ethnic cultural hub. Moreover, a wide swath of younger performers like Baby Swipey and 3OhBlack highlight how the once Go-Go-dominated street culture is now being evolved into a viral-ready tool.
This has yielded many digital-to-radio ready potential rap icons — all interviewed or contacted to be interviewed — influenced by formational trap rap roots popularized by Fat Trel and Shy Glizzy. Moreover, the crossover punk-pop lane opened by the likes of Rico Nasty also shows gentrification’s unexpected positive impact on the widening scope of D.C.’s influence.
Usually, it requires the achievement of a Billboard chart-topping song to achieve spotlighted excellence in the pop-cultural mainstream. However, by diligently and proudly working in the shadowed margins between what the film’s title defines as “almost” and “awesome,” the D.C. metropolitan area has grown a rich musical heritage. Ultimately, as D.C.’s renown now becomes ultra-important to the future of rap music, D.C. — as it turns out we always have needed to do — shines a light back upon itself. Thus the area’s potential impact on national and global rap’s ever-dynamic and profound future more radiantly brightens.