The DMV area is overflowing with talented artists and musicians. Although I would like to see more Washington, D.C. artists achieve mainstream success, there are plenty who already have. Against all odds, a handful of artists have made significant strides in the music industry and are putting the DMV and what it has to offer on the map.
Whether discussing serious social and economic issues like D.C.’s income inequality and history of gentrification or incorporating go-go music or DMV slang into their songs, local artists have the potential to raise awareness that the District is made up of more than monuments.
A great way to analyze how Washington artists represent their hometown is by looking at their music videos.
First up is the iconic D.C. success story, the rapper Wale. Wale was born and raised in the DMV, and often comes back to his hometown to perform or give speeches, such as when he came to Georgetown to talk about the politics of the music industry in 2016.
Wale is fantastic at making references to the DMV in his music videos in small ways. From little visual tricks like focusing on the recognizable 202 area code when exchanging numbers with a girl to wearing a letterman with the equally well-known D.C. flag on the back, Wale is great at incorporating his hometown into his repertoire of music videos through subtle nods.
Although Wale’s videos typically do not have distinctly D.C.-based scenery, his subtle nods to the DMV are appreciated and reflect not only his D.C. pride, but also his interest in the political activism inherent to the area.
His best video, in my opinion, is “Bait,” which contains a number of D.C.-specific elements, including shots of Margaret Murray Washington School and Stadium Club. Also, while Wale himself sports a New Orleans jersey, many members of his crew in the video have D.C. or DMV shirts on. There are also plenty of references to the DMV in the song’s lyrics. At one point, he raps, “Made it big with go-go/And I made it with that dope flow/This one right here for DC/This one right here for Polo,” referencing go-go music, a D.C.-based subgenre of funk that he often fused with hip-hop, as well as Polo, the lead singer of popular go-go band TCB.
With respect to representing D.C.’s go-go, singer-songwriter Amerie excels, particularly on the catchy single “1 Thing.”
“1 Thing” subtly incorporates trademark elements of D.C. go-go. The song is a crowd-pleasing hit, and the video is immediately captivating to viewers. However, the song’s instrumentals fully utilize go-go rhythms that may not be instantly recognizable to people outside the DMV area. Therefore, “1 Thing” surreptitiously brings go-go into the mainstream music industry, where it would not normally be found.
Careful fact checkers will point out that Amerie is not, in fact, a DMV native. However, she moved into the area as a child, and enrolled in Georgetown as an undergraduate. It was during this time that she befriended a D.C. club promoter who then helped her meet a producer and launch her career. Her other songs have a wide variety of regional influences, but D.C. is certainly one of her foremost areas of inspiration.
Finally, rising rap star GoldLink is one of the best contemporary artists from the DMV. GoldLink has already achieved a strong regional fan base but continues to gain significant national and global attention as well.
Growing up in Maryland and Virginia, GoldLink’s approach to incorporating references to the DMV and go-go music is less direct. He does not focus as much on having actual go-go samples or D.C.-inspired visuals. Instead, he has been very public about wanting his audiences to understand that his music is deeply influenced by go-go because D.C.’s contemporary music as a whole has developed from it.
In addition, he frequently works with other DMV artists, be they singers, like Mya and Kali Uchis; rappers, like Ciscero, Wale and Shy Glizzy; or visual artists, like Darius X. Moreno, a NYC-based D.C. native.
For example, GoldLink’s popular track “Meditation” uses artwork by Moreno, who also designed the album cover for GoldLink’s “At What Cost” and works to incorporate the spirit and energy of D.C. go-go culture into his art.
Through clever lyrical references, musical samples and stunning visuals, DMV artists have time and again reflected their hometown pride in their music videos. All those who watch and listen will find themselves learning much about D.C. culture and history without even knowing it.
Claire Nenninger is a senior in the College. This is the final installment of A.V. ID.